Text Messaging-Based Library Services
Do you use text messaging on a regular basis? I bet most of your younger library user population does and many of your older users do as well, or at least are beginning to. Have you considered offering library services based on text messaging? If not, perhaps you should.
Libraries have long answered questions ranging from simple ones such as, "when is the library open" to more complex reference questions using the spoken word over a telephone. More recently, the same has been done using the written word via email. With the tremendous rise in popularity of text messaging, it appears to be the next logical step in how libraries communicate with their user population.
In its simplest form text messaging can just be another way to communicate. Instead of talking on a telephone or using email, just send text messages. It can be more than this however. Text messaging may already be part of an existing library service or a system already in place and only requires activation to begin taking advantage of it.
At the University of Tennessee Libraries, for example, we have the Primo search and discovery system and the Aleph Integrated Library System from Ex Libris. Primo comes out of the box with the ability to send text messages and allows users to send themselves or others search results via text message. Aleph has the ability to send automated notices to users such as when checked out items are overdue. Activation (which we have not yet done) requires that the library secure the outside services of an SMS Gateway provider. This SMS Gateway provider accepts the text messages sent from Primo or Aleph and distributes them across whatever cellular network the recipients use.
Text messaging can also form the basis for new library services such as text messaging-based reference services. Such a service is no different from offering reference services via the telephone or email and can be done as simply as sharing a texting-capable telephone among library staff to using a more complex commercial product such as Text A Librarian that allows for texting from any computer and has advanced features such as a knowledge base of past asked and answered questions, report generation, statistics gathering and analysis, and so on.
Look around your library and see how many people in the library are texting. Talk to them as you get opportunities and ask if they would like to be able to communicate with your library staff via text message. It is my opinion that text messaging-based library services, no matter how basic or complex, will be a welcome addition at your library.
For further reading and additional information please see the following:
Google Voice for Mobile
Implementing a Text Reference Service on the Cheap
Free Unlimited Texting with Google Voice [How To]
Text A Librarian
Text Message Reference: Is It Effective?
Librarians Answer Reference Questions With Text Messages
David Ratledge is Associate Professor and Head, Library Technology Services at The University of Tennessee, Knoxville. firstname.lastname@example.org