I'm guilty of checking my email often when I'm on the desk, since it's always available. Messages can stack up pretty quickly, so I don't really see the harm in checking in during a lull between patrons. When I'm working on a project, though, I can easily go an hour or more without feeling the pull of email. I agree wholeheartedly that a quick, brief response to email is the best way to manage the flow. It's also expected. There's nothing worse than a project being held up because somebody isn't taking the time to respond to a request.
I use email to manage my workflow. Anything I can deal with immediately, I do. The things that still need to be addressed, I keep in my inbox, so I'll be reminded to get to them. I also have lots of folders for the various things I work on, and keep quite a bit of information there. I end up referring to these often, so it's a handy place to keep stuff. Our system is set up well, in that email is kept for only 3 or 4 months. So the oldest messages 'fall off the end', just about the time I no longer need them. I do have paper copies of crucial emails, but those are rare.
Email vs. IM vs. Texting:
My own middle-class experience has been that kids in late-elementary school to middle-school LOVE to IM. Then when they become mobile and have cell phones (high school age), texting becomes the communication of choice. Myspace also seems to be popular, until the end of high school. It seems that when kids move on to college, Facebook becomes the computer communication platform, while texting still remains important. At least this has been true in my family and at the library where I work.
My kids can text at the speed of light, but for me, it really isn't convenient. The tiny keypad and tiny display just don't work well for me. When I need to text, I go into my email, type the message, and send it to the text account. I know that's kind of backwards, but it works for me.
If we ever got to the point of providing text reference, I imagine that's how we'd be responding, on our end. The user would be texting from a phone, but we'd be responding on-line, via email, to their text. In our library, there is usually a staff person dedicated to the phone room, who could also be monitoring IM reference and text reference. At least in theory, I think we could add more options (text & IM reference) without a lot of extra resources - in staff or equipment.
I've participated in webinars before, that were sponsored by database vendors and provided more advanced training for their products (i.e. Standard and Poors). They required pre-registration, computer access, a quiet environment, and phone access (to communicate during the training). The number of participants was also limited to a fairly low number. I took a look at the OPAL 'Tips for Conducting On-line Book Discussions'. And it looks like things have progressed a lot! The experience was very painless and seamless. There was no need to download any software, which is a major advantage in a public library. The sound quality was excellent and the power point slides were a nice addition for those of us who are visual learners.