Students now have a new excuse to chat online while working on a paper or a problem set. But this time they're not procrastinating?they're chatting with a librarian.

With the library's new instant messaging service through AIM, Yahoo, MSN, and ICQ, as well as a "Live Research Help" link, students can get an immediate response to their questions without stepping into the library.

"It's just another way for students to get help," said Instructional Media Services Librarian Carmen Greenlee, who will be answering the online inquiries along with Reference Librarian Carr Ross and Science Librarian Sue O'Dell.

"We have a of mix services?phone, walk-in, email, and now chat," Ross said of the newly piloted service. "Each one will appeal to a different segment of the user population and each is suitable for different types of questions."

Students can check if the reference librarian is logged on through the library's homepage or by adding the reference librarians' screenname (bowdref for AIM and Yahoo, for MSN messenger, 282630119 for ICQ) to their buddy lists.

Greenlee anticipates that the type of questions students may ask will parallel those which arise in other library services such as technical problems, difficulties in understanding terminology, and research-related inquiries.

"I won't be surprised if it becomes popular with students studying away and for students who are physically away from Bowdoin," she said.

Katina Podmaniczky '06, who tested the program with O'Dell, thinks that it is also a useful tool for students working in their rooms who have a question they do not feel merits a trip to a library.

"If they know that they can zap off an IM with any kind of research or reference question and get a quick response, I think they'll be likely to use it," she said. "Common questions that I might ask could be about citations or how to use a certain database service, for example."

Ross stressed that a student should not think he or she is out of luck if a reference librarian is not signed on.

"It's not like it's a dead-end when we're offline," he said. "We're not discouraging people from coming into the library. Depending on the question, we might ask them to come in and meet with us or give them a call. This just complements our other services."

Greenlee and Ross said that they are not worried about losing out on the benefits of face-to-face time with students, which they believe is unique to Bowdoin.

"There are a lot ways we reach out to students and faculty and this is one more," said Ross. "This is something we've had in the back of our minds and we wanted to put it into service."

Since the program has just begun, the librarians are looking for feedback, but Podmaniczky believes the program will be worthwhile.

"I think there is a need for this service in the sense that any way the library can make reference librarians available to students should be looked into and utilized," she said.

Ross said that the service, which has been launched at other schools, has been successful in some cases and not elsewhere.

"People are reacting well to it here, but we'll have to see," he said.