No, it’s not the secret service of the Soviet Union – it is, however, the commercialized reference desk. KGB, or the knowledge generation bureau as they sometimes call themselves, provides a two-way text reference service straight to mobile devices. Anywhere. Anytime.
Which begs these questions: What about the reference desk? Why not ask a librarian?
You’ll never hear me say or read that I think the reference desk is dead – because it’s not. But I will say that we can see in the KBG that there is a niche for text message information resources and they are filling it. The question I personally wonder about is how libraries should respond.
KGB has the distinct advantage of being a company with a clear vision to provide this particular type of reference service. Libraries are obviously multifaceted in the ways they provide information resources and this dilutes, to some extent, the ability to provide a highly used text reference service.
I would venture to guess that the success depends on marketing. KGB has created a marketing campaign, traveled the country, and has a very clear brand. If libraries are to create their own “KGB” service it will all come down to how it is pushed to the user and the community the library serves.
So I ask Michael’s fervid readers this:
Should libraries respond to KGB and offer their own text reference services?
TTW Contributor: Kyle Jones
I’ll give you a minute for that to sink in, because if you’re a connected person, you may want to ponder the consequences of unintentionally sending creepy bullshit to colleagues and business contacts who are too busy to care what you’re “geo-tagging” at a given time. I know, because I’m one of them. Hi.
I am still playing with Loopt but this post is food for thought. My updates (I’m at the corner of…. or I’m in Spider Lake…) go to trusted friends on Loopt but also to Facebook and Twitter. Hmmm…
From the Chronicle February 29, 2008
http://chronicle.com/weekly/v54/i25/25a01501.htm (I think it’s expired )
As iPhones and other “smart phones” become more popular on campuses, and as computing becomes even more mobile, it seems that some form of Twitter-like service may become part of student and faculty life. But the technology has potential costs in terms of money and privacy. Some observers, essentially arguing that there is such a thing as too much information, say that Twittering will never catch on the way blogs and
David Parry, an assistant professor of emerging media and communications at the University of Texas at Dallas, says he was reluctant to try the technology. Mr. Parry’s first instinct was that Twittering would encourage students to speak in sound bites and self-obsess. But now he calls it “the single thing that changed the classroom dynamics more than anything I’ve ever done teaching.”
Last semester he required the 20 students in his “Introduction to Computer-Mediated Communication” course to sign up for Twitter and to send a few messages each week as part of a writing assignment. He also invited his students to follow his own Twitter feed, in which he sometimes writes several short thoughts – not necessarily profound ones – each day. One morning, for instance, he sent out a message that read: “Reading, prepping for grad class, putting off running until it warms up
a bit.” The week before, one of his messages included a link to a Web site he wanted his students to check out.
If you have access to the Chronicle, checkout the full article. I’m intrigued with adding Twitter to one of my courses to see how it goes over.
Mobile technology is shaping the way we live, work and learn. Since education can now take place in the classroom or virtually anywhere, ACU is committed to exploring mobile learning technology that makes sense for our students and their future.
ACU leaders have given top priority to researching and developing a “connected” 21st century campus, integrating technology into course curriculum and campus life. Several pilot applications have already been developed for Fall 2008.
A fictional day-in-the-life account highlights some of the potential benefits in a higher education setting when every student, faculty, and staff member is “connected.” The applications portrayed in the film are purely speculative; however they’re based on needs and ideas uncovered by our research – and we’ve already been making strides to transform this vision of mobile learning (mLearning) into reality.
Creating connections via a converged device in a university setting is huge. I applaud the forward thinking and sense of innovation that went into the charge of “researching and developing a “connected” 21st century campus.” The focus on students — they use technology in every aspect of their lives — does my heart good. Can you see your campus connected – students, staff, faculty — and using technology like this to learn and engage? What role might the library play?
This is a model to watch and ponder not only for universities but for university libraries. Again, take a look at the video before you decide to keep the ban on cell phone use at your library.
Oh! And what happens though. when IT hates the iPhone?
From the comments on:
comes this response from TTW reader Graeme Williams:
I’m a library user, not a librarian. We have a beautiful library in our town, but usage is dropping slowly year by year. I think the general point is exactly correct, although I’d call the problem one of friction rather than invisibility. It is, after all, possible for a sufficiently determined person to locate the library, obtain a library card, and borrow a book, provided they have proof of residence, so the library isn’t literally invisible.
My children use their cell phones far more than I do. My son sends and receives more than a thousand text messages a month. If you have a text interface, you’re clearly going to be more accessible to him, whether you’re lending books or selling pizza. Since he always has his cell phone on him, any other method of interaction is going to be less convenient for him — it’s going to involve more friction.
I’m like a lot of people in that I’ve gradually moved a lot of activity on to the web, whether it’s renewing my car registration, checking my bank balance, buying a book, or borrowing one. The library web site is just about the least convenient interface I use regularly. Just as one example, if I do a search and locate a book I want, I need to log in to request it, but when I do that I lose my search. The terminology is just a little bit specialized, and it’s not even consistent: after I log in to “my account” I can see “my patron record”. Can you imagine Amazon or LL Bean having a “patron record”? I’m not that interested in bashing the library for having a poor web site, but you can see that any confusion in the user interface is going to mean more friction, and that will ultimately translate into fewer borrowers.
I think this perfectly illustrates the idea of creating or enhancing library services to meet users in their worlds. I am so sorry to have missed Jenny Levine’s keynote at CIL about stressing the human aspects of our services but from all of the wonderful blogging I’ve read, I think this example fits well too.
Some say that IM is on the verge of extinction and that forging into such territory for virtual reference so late in the game is a waste of a library’s energy. You can surely count me as one of those who agrees with that statement. I predict, as do many others, that virtual reference needs to fit in users’ pockets – in their cell phone.
We need to look at the trends happening now (according to PEW, 2006):
-47% can’t live without their cell phones
-35% use SMS and 13% would like it added to their features
The preceding stats were from the general respondents. Look at what the younger population (18-29) has to say:
-65% use their cells for SMS
-36% want their IMs to be forwarded to their cell
-40% would give up their landline completely for a cell (Note: I’ve done this already)
-56% want access to mobile maps and directions (could we include this into a broader grouping such as “want for general information?”)
Some of us look at our phones and say “jeez, it’s just a phone.” I personally don’t do text messaging because it hasn’t become a part of my communication habits (as an aside, my director jokingly put that I must be “old” seeing that I usually fit in with the tech habits of digital natives). Others see the phone as something greater than what Alexander Bell once did. Obviously, the PEW stats indicate such – the phone is more than a phone – and I’d venture to guess that those stats have risen dramatically over the past two years.
Let’s not stop here, shall we? These are statistical trends, but there other trends, observational trends, that we simply can’t ignore.
Walk into your local Verizon wireless store or AT&T and look at what they offer. More and more these big name cellular companies are introducing Smart Phones (phones with applications, advanced hardware, WiFi access, cameras, and more). These are what’s wanted and what’s needed (by some). Take a look at what the Mobile World Congress introduced this week. More Smart Phones. More technology. More features.
It’s safe to say that Apple knew this a year ago. So what did Apple do even though they knew cell phone users wanted more features (applications specifically)? Apple basically said “you don’t need more applications than what we give you – just be happy.” The couldn’t have been further from the truth. No one was angered more than the high tech iPhone users when they were limited by Apple to its default application settings. These high-end users wanted a software developers kit (SDK) to create more applications and they wanted it that instant. Apple is the whipping boy here – other phone companies have gotten the same treatment.
Finally, Apple was forced to see the light and said “fine, go build your applications – sheesh.”
Guess what. Over 70 applications that provide information services have been created. Nearly 900 total applications have been developed across all categories. Is your library one of them?
We can’t deny the trends. But we can and should adapt our virtual reference services to forge into the cell phone world. Adapt SMS reference, create mobile applications to search the OPAC and federated search tools, and – the biggest one of all – develop your website so it’s viewable on a cell phone or other mobile device.
I’d bet my MacBook Pro that this is the future of virtual reference (and that’s saying something!).
TTW Contributor – Kyle Jones