Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Text messaging with our patrons

I just returned from a meeting this morning of the METRO Virtual Reference SIG (Special Interest Group) where our little gathering of eight or nine librarians discussed ways that text messaging systems on cell phones could be used for reference service and other forms of library communication. Linda Arret from Altarama gave a presentation about her company's product, Reference by SMS. This product helps libraries set up a service whereby SMS messages from patrons can be converted to e-mail inquiries; the librarian then composes and sends the reply message in an email editor (such as Outlook or Lotus Notes); the service then coverts the e-mail reply into a SMS message that is sent back to the user's phone.

It's no surprise that our students love their cell phones and that this might be an interesting way to add another channel of communication with the students. My colleague in the SIG, Charles Livermore (a librarian at St. John's University), suggested another interesting use for SMS in libraries: send a text message to a user who is waiting for a reserve item to be returned. Informed at the reserves window that the textbook he/she wants is already checked out for the next few hours, the user could leave us with his/her cell phone number so we could send them a text message as soon as the item is returned to the window.

I haven't thought through the implications yet of trying to do reference via SMS, but I think it is worth exploring. I should also note that many others have already written about this:

Shifted Librarian here and also here

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