Posted by guestblogger on October 12th, 2009
This month we are lucky enough to feature a guest blog post from Andrew Walsh, Senior Assistant Librarian at the University of Huddersfield primarily looking after the Schools of Law and Accountancy.
Andrew currently leads on three mobile ‘phone projects in the library, an internal Teaching and Learning project to introduce QR codes into the library; a project to use mobile ‘phones to improve information skills (thanks to the UC&R innovation award 2009); and a project to research students perceptions of library contact via SMS (a Library and Information Research Group award). His post today is about the text a Librarian service recently set up at the library.
Although Andrew works in an academic library it is clear that this is something that has great potential for public libraries too. It is often said that the future is mobile!
We’ve been experimenting with using mobile ‘phones in the Library and Computing Centre of Huddersfield University over the past year or so. We’ve always been keen on providing a range of ways for our users to contact us, so introducing a text a librarian service seemed an obvious way to reach more of our users, especially as most of our students seem inseparable from their mobiles and in house research suggested they are more likely to take note of a text message than an email.
Although encouraging mobile ‘phone use may seem to conflict with normal practice in libraries, it’s worth pointing out that we still discourage people within the library from speaking on their mobiles so they don’t disturb others. There is no reason why they shouldn’t send text messages with their ‘phones on silent, or use their ‘phones as mobile computing devices (for example we’re also using QR codes to provide context specific help and information in the library).
We were a little surprised when we first investigated introducing a text a librarian service that this service wasn’t already widespread, but there seems very few libraries in the UK and Ireland providing it. We could only find two examples – Stockport Libraries and the National University of Ireland, Maynooth though it seems to be taking off in the USA recently, with services such as Mosio’s Text a Librarian helping it to become mainstream.
Looking around at other examples around the world there seems a range of options for those of us interested in launching a text a librarian type service including using a “real” mobile ‘phone; using existing functionality built into email systems; buying in standard web based text portals; or developing bespoke systems in house. We went for a web based text portal provided by MeerCat communications as this was already being piloted elsewhere in the University so was quick and easy to set up. It also gave us the flexibility to develop other services in the future, including sending a series of tips and tricks on using the library to students who were interested in signing up to such a service. There are several providers of similar portals in the UK including JANET Txt for the UK education community; and txttools who provide services to many UK colleges and universities (including working on integration with some library management systems).
For our service, people text LIBRARY followed by their message to 81025 and should get a fairly quick response during working hours – it’s normally checked on the Ask a Librarian desk which is staffed 8:45-20:00 during the week, with slightly reduced hours on a weekend in term time.
We’re happy the service seems to be working okay and that it has helped us dip our toes into the easier end of text messaging based services before trying the more complicated end of text messaging – such as sending library notices out by text!
I’ve also recently written more generally on text messaging and libraries – see Walsh, A. (2009) Text messaging (SMS) and libraries. Library Hi Tech News, 26(8), pp. 9-11.
Are there any public libraries out there about to embark on a text a librarian initiative? If not are there any at least considering it? We’d like to hear more from you.