The recent WebJunction Digital Reference Summit (full archive and related resources) included a presentation by Alison Miller about the rise of text message reference services. At the beginning of the session we polled participants and discovered that just 17% of the nearly 200 in attendance were providing text reference services, but that’s sure to change.
Alison provided a wealth of data to illustrate the current trends in mobile reference services and referenced the nearly 100 libraries offering SMS (text) reference service listed on the Library Success Wiki. There were a handful of questions raised during the webinar about whether or not the 160-character limit allows for an adequate reference exhange or if it only serves to provide quick answers to quick queries.
There are multiple responses to these questions in the recent Library Journal article by Ellyssa Kroski which asks, Text Message Reference: Is It Effective? In the article, Ellyssa references interviews with a half a dozen or so academic reference librarians and presents their answer as a resounding YES! She summarized:
- The 160-character limit does not seem to be an impediment; librarians simply send multiple messages or ask patrons to call or come into the library for further help with more complex questions.
- Libraries are receiving a wide variety of questions via text messaging such as troubleshooting, directional, circulation, and reference queries, with some libraries receiving between 50-90 questions per month via patrons’ mobile devices.
- And it doesn’t seem to matter that the reference interview may take multiple text exchanges, according to these librarians—the content and quality of the answers is more important than the medium of delivery.
Whether or not your library is providing text message reference, I think the verdict is clear. The libraries who remain technologically nimble in our changing times are where their users are.