Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Text Messaging In An Academic Library / J.B Hill , Cherie Madarash Hill, Dayne Sherman

Hill, J. B., Hill, Cherie Madarash and Sherman, Dayne / Text Messaging in an Academic Library: Integrating SMS into Digital Reference / The Reference Librarian / 47 /1/ 17 — 29 /July 2007 /DOI: 10.1300/J120v47n97_ / http://dx.doi.org/10.1300/J120v47n97_04

ABSTRACT

In spring 2005, Sims Memorial Library at Southeastern Louisiana University initiated “Text A Librarian,” a service that enables Southeastern students, faculty, and staff to use the text message feature of their cell phones to send questions to and receive answers from the library. Librarians at Sims use a dedicated text messaging telephone number and “e-mail/SMS” conversion software, provided by Altarama Systems and Services, to send and receive text messages.


Excerpts

INTRODUCTION

[snip]

Text messaging, also known as SMS (i.e., short message service), is a technology for sending and receiving messages to and from cell phones and other handheld devices. “SMS was created when it was incorporated into the Global System for Mobiles (GSM) digital mobile phone standard. The length of a single message can be up to 160 characters, and this limit has forced users to adapt the English language to create an abbreviated language peculiar to SMS” (Hutchinson 2004).

[snip]

With such a large number of students using cell phones and text messaging as a means of communication, some universities have begun to incorporate this technology into the delivery of educational content, the creation of classroom activities, and administration of tests (Horizon 2006). It seems only natural for universities to respond to the on-demand learning interests of students and take “the next step in a long tradition of technology-mediated learning” by incorporating the instructional use of phones and other hand-held devices via mobile learning (Wagner 2005).

Just as some universities have begun to integrate cell phones and other handheld devices into instruction, some libraries have begun to reach out and serve students’ information needs through the use of text messaging technology. In the past few years, text messaging reference services have been initiated.

In spring 2005, Sims Memorial Library at Southeastern Louisiana University became (to the authors’ knowledge) the first library in the United States to develop a text messaging reference service. Southeastern’s “Text A Librarian” service enables students, faculty, and staff to get reference assistance by using the text message feature of their cell phones, and has been integrated into the library’s “Ask A Librarian” digital reference service that provides reference assistance via e-mail and text messaging during library hours and via chat, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

LITERATURE REVIEW


There is quite a bit of literature on text messaging technology, and there are some reports of experimentation with the technology in higher education. However, since the use of text messaging for reference purposes is relatively new for libraries, little is available in the existing literature.

[snip]

TEXT MESSAGING REFERENCE AT SOUTHEASTERN

[snip]

In a continued effort to meet the needs of a new generation of technologically oriented students, the Sims Memorial Library initiated a text messaging reference service in March 2005. The “Text A Librarian” service enables Southeastern students, faculty, and staff to send messages to and receive answers from librarians using the text message feature of their cell phones.

[snip]

PROMOTION OF THE “TEXT A LIBRARIAN” SERVICE

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In the Fall semester 2005, Sims Library began a promotional campaign of the “Text A Librarian” service. The intent of the campaign was to raise awareness on campus of the availability of the service, as well as make the text messaging contact number available numerous places in addition to the Library’s Web site.

[snip]

HOW DOES “TEXT A LIBRARIAN” WORK?

Librarians at Southeastern use the “Reference by SMS” service provided by Altarama Systems and Services . An Australian-based company, Altarama has contracted with redcoal.com , a Sydney-based provider of wireless Internet and mobile messaging products, to supply text messaging numbers and “e-mail/SMS” conversion hardware and software for the “Reference by SMS” product.

The “Reference by SMS” service provides a unique text messaging phone number that is advertised on the Library’s Web page and in print publications. To use the “Text A Librarian” service, Southeastern students text a question to the Library’s number. The message then goes to the redcoal.com server in Sydney, Australia. It is converted to an e-mail message and sent to the Library’s “Ask A Librarian” e-mail account.

[snip]

Procedurally, the “Text A Librarian” service has been integrated into the “Ask A Librarian” e-mail reference service. The reference librarian at the reference desk monitors the e-mail account, answering e-mail and text message questions as they come in, as time permits. As such, the text messaging reference service in an asynchronous service with the same turnaround time as the e-mail reference service. Patrons are advised that they should expect answers within 2-3 hours during times when the library is open.

[snip]

USE OF THE “TEXT A LIBRARIAN” SERVICE

To date, the use of the “Text A Librarian” service has been less than the Library had hoped. Of the digital reference activity during the Fall 2005 and Spring 2006 semesters, text messaging was a relatively small portion, constituting only 6 percent. .. [W]hile the number of questions received via text messaging at Sims may increase as the number is promoted, the percentage of digital reference questions received via text messaging will likely continue to be relatively small.

CHALLENGES FOR THE SERVICE

While the “Text A Librarian” service has received favorable reaction on and off campus, the volume of text message questions remains low. Perhaps use for text messaging reference on a college campus will al ways be low due to the nature of the technology itself. Text messages are limited to 160 characters per message, restricting utility to short reference communications. With other more convenient reference options available such as e-mail and 24/7 chat, patrons may choose these more robust forms of communication that are better suited for college-level research questions that can not be adequately answered by short answers.

[snip]

CONCLUSION

In 2005, Sims Memorial Library at Southeastern Louisiana University launched the “TextALibrarian” service in order to serve a commuting student population that includes regular users of cell phones and text messaging. Using Altarama’s “Reference By SMS” product, the Library was able to easily develop the service and integrate it with the existing e-mail reference service. To date, use of the text messaging reference service has been limited. However, the library plans to continue to explore avenues in using cell phone and other portable technologies to address the information needs of a new generation of learner.

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