I’ve always been a fan of collaboration and in the current economy it makes more sense that ever. Costs are less, staff effort and responsibilities are reduced – there are even surprise benefits like networking opportunities and getting great ideas from other libraries. When we wanted to do virtual reference at my old library, we quickly realized that it would be impossible to offer a quality 24/7 service without help.
Texting is ubiquitous yet many libraries don’t feel they have enough staff to offer yet another channel for patrons to ask reference questions. But if this is the way our younger customers want to reach us then we really should try to fill that need. So I was delighted to hear about the text messaging project that Alliance Library System is starting with Altarama. Free text messaging seemed too good to be true, so I checked with Lori Bell and she said that for the first six months there is no cost – just the contribution of time. They are actively seeking funding to grow the project and will be submitting grants over the next few weeks. If at six months they still do not have funding, they may can choose to start paying for the service. But even if that happens, she thinks that by dividing the cost among the libraries (especially if a number of libraries participate) it should be very inexpensive.
Of course, you could do it on your own – there’s Altarama’s SMSreference and Mosio’s Text a Librarian (thanks to Joe Murphy for this review). But if you do decide to start your own service, you might want to contact some of these libraries for some advice first.