Txt a Librarian

As instant message reference freed patrons from having to come to the library, text messaging reference frees them from their desks or laptops. Yale Science Librarians offer a text messaging reference service to meet this preference for mobility: patrons can text a librarian from study halls, classes, laboratories, dorms, offices, or even from the stacks without having to approach a librarian.

To deliver this service, we use an Apple iPhone which allows us to simultaneously provide instant messaging, phone, and email reference service. Using the iPhone also enhances our social networking services; we use it to post directly to our Twitter and Facebook accounts via texting. Using a mobile device instead of SMS/email

Joe’s Head shot

conversion software allows librarians to benefit from the same mobility our patrons now enjoy: we can even answer questions from the stacks.

The lack of programmatic precedents required us to devise new policies for implementing and evaluating this service, as well as a sustainable and scalable management model to ensure its success. Evaluating this service

provides unique challenges/opportunities because most SMS devices can save but not export text messages. Pushing a survey URL over text message is not feasible considering most mobile devices don’t support hyperlinks, so our library links to a simple evaluation form on our website. We also gather information about patron categories (undergrad, grad student, faculty, staff) and their departments by asking patrons to include their email address.

Marketing is not as easy as branding a screen name for IM reference, but advertising Txt a Science Librarian for example and having patrons add the number to their quick-dial list might be quite effective. Plus, by being so new and different it tends to market itself.

Text messaging reference is a great complement to diffuse and traditional reference services, so let’s give patrons

an opportunity to Text a Librarian!

Joe Murphy
General Science Librarian & Instruction Coordinator.

Kline Science Library, Yale University
(203) 432-9519

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10 thoughts on “Txt a Librarian”

  1. Very cool! The University of California, Irvine Libraries rolled out our campus wide “txt a librarian @ uci” pilot [affectionately known as “txt an anteater”) in January 2008. We use smart phones with unlimited internet and texting capability — ours is a truly mobile-research (m-research) service.

    How will UCI’s large, diverse university community respond to a text based research initiative? We don’t know, but we hope the pilot exemplifies our best impulse to explore creative new ways of sharing our research expertise with our users.

  2. Yeah–let’s txt back the raw LC or Dewey call numbers of relevant resources… or cryptic ISBNs or OCLC nos…!! *evil grin*

    or…if you have to give a more elaborate response to some txt ?’s

    “Call Ref Dsk Now!”

    “Wht iz ur email addr?”

    “Can I fax u? Do u hav efax?”

    “…Cm 2 Lib U idiot”

  3. We started a similar service 9/07 and just got to share our results with our regional IT friends via NERCOMP… fun stuff. We just use a simple LGenV at this point, no internet on our phone… but we’ve gotten some great use out of it. I think this service is also a great gateway service, as it provides some folks who may not use other modes of communication with a librarian a nice segue. Then we’re not so scary… especially if we will actually answer the question you just asked… “what is the proper utensil for splitting an english muffin.” We’ve gotten some really great simple questions as well… “What is the best database for government information” or “Hi what database should I use if I want to search for a company’s business strategy, its mission statement, and similar topics?” but most recently it was the statement “Librarians are hot” that I truly enjoyed…

  4. Thanks for sharing Laura, i love yr point about it being a gateway service. I know that would be true for me! Libraries that don’t offer texting are basically invisible to me.

  5. So who pays for it ? Libraries, at least here in the UK are underfunded as it is. It’s all very well for your billion dollar posh-boys schools, but in real life taxpayers will not stand for paying for something unless a majority of them will benefit. This seems like an expensive option, when face-to-face help is a kinder and often more productive experience. Do you text back for a clarification of what the person actually needs, or do you just text them the precise data for which they have asked, which may well not be what they really wanted to know ? How many times have you had someone coming in to ask for a book on, for instance, “Rome”, only to discover that the person is actually visiting the Vatican City and wants a guidebook. Texting may be a useful addition, but as for a libary being invisible without out it, dream on buddy.

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