February 17, 2018

Pam Sessoms | Movers & Shakers 2009 – Advocates

Pam Sessoms, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill LibrariesPuzzle Master

One of Pam Sessoms’s first jobs was working at a gas station, where she got in trouble for being too generous. She let customers buy candy when they were a dime short and allowed nonemployees to use the “staff only” bathroom. Her current profession is better suited to her nature. “We are in the business of giving things away,” she says.

As electronic reference services librarian at the UNC–Chapel Hill Libraries, Sessoms is in the business of providing free information and working hard to make it easy for all librarians to do the same.

Her creation of LibraryH3lp (pronounced “Library Help”), a virtual reference tool that she codeveloped, is a case in point. LibraryH3lp makes it easier for reference librarians to respond to and field IM and chat reference questions. It started because Sessoms was frustrated that reference librarians had to juggle multiple pieces of software in order to handle questions coming in from the library’s commercial chat service and AIM, Yahoo!, MSN, and Google Talk. Also, librarians could not forward the IM questions to other librarians.

Sessoms would come home and “whine about” the problem to her husband, Eric, a software developer. “One night, Eric declared he was going to fix this,” recalls Sessoms. He devised an early prototype, and then the couple worked together at night and on weekends, refining LibraryH3lp to become “the only fully integrated chat/IM reference platform that lets more than one librarian at a time answer questions across a wide variety of protocols and transfer these chats to other librarians on the system,” says Sessoms. It’s now a “system that all libraries can take advantage of at a very low cost.”

What helped her see LibraryH3lp through? “Believe it or not, working on some projects for the pet ferret community,” says Sessoms. That included creating, with Eric, an online ferret veterinarian zip code locator and a searchable archive for a ferret health discussion group.

As for the future, she says, “I hope that all IM providers will be using the open XMPP (Jabber) protocol.” Sessoms also wants the web to be more user-friendly for the visually impaired—people like the blind scholar whom she aided in the library, sometimes by extracting references out of software interfaces that didn’t jibe with his screen reader.

“I seem to love puzzles,” she says, “and if there is a gratified person at the end of a solved puzzle, all the better.”


University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill Libraries

POSITION Electronic Reference Services Librarian

DEGREE MLIS, UNC-Chapel Hill, 1994

IT’S PERSONAL developed web sites for the pet ferret community