REFolution 5


Joe Murphy from Yale University’s talk was Sending out an SMS: Exploring Reference via Text Messaging with Mobile Devices. He sees SMS (Short Message Service) as an enhancement rather than a replacement for traditional reference services. He uses ChaCha instead of librarians, even when he needs an expert. He says text messaging is way more popular than IM, so this is the service we should have. At Yale Science Libraries they started using text messaging about a year ago. They use iPhone and have facilitated use via Facebook and Twitter. SMS can incorporate IM and also meshes well with social networking applications. Joe laments that at Yale, service is still 9-5 only, which just doesn’t work (they miss all the important questions that way). SMS also frees up the librarians because they can do reference from just about anwhere they get cell phone reception. He recommends the Apple iPhone as it’s about $75/month (plus the cost of the device) and it’ll be the biggest and best thing for a while (because of the updates that keep it from becoming obsolete), and it interacts so well with all these technologies. For those who don’t feel comfortable laying out this kind of money now, try Twitter from your desktop. In marketing their service they found word of mouth and handing out business cards drummed up the most business. Users of these technologies have come to expect that sometimes they’ll need to wait a bit for answers (e.g. until the next business day) – just be sure to post hours to control users’ expectations.


Re evaluation/assessment – Murphy cautions not to give up on it if you don’t get results right away, it may take awhile for the library’s service to become known since we’re so late to the game with these technologies. Training is also a huge factor – especially how to do it (technical and mental skills are so important and these vary by device), you need to be familiar with text shorthand and not feel guilty about not using full, grammatical sentences since most patrons could care less. He advises people to start using text on their own and between staff for a bit, before offering the service to patrons. Remember not everyone can handle urls on their devices and if you’re using tiny urls make sure they are static.


He thinks soon, we’ll be doing all our work online. He wants to be able to do everything he can do on the library web page (or on the web) via SMS. Twitter will continue to be huge and is a great place for all library services. We need to have a culture of change and staff and institutions should expect it. We also need to consider that eventually people will be able to reach us via their televisions. He cautioned that My Space is a great example of what not to do – the best you can do there is get an alert by SMS (and then you have to go somewhere else – a web page etc. to see it). He wants everything to come to him via SMS (which lets automatic updates come to all the devices/accounts… you use – he’s not willing to have to go anywhere to see anything). Right now he doesn’t see that anything beyond Twitter and Facebook will be useful in this increasingly mobile world. ChaCha is the only existing method where you don’t need to authenticate yourself (i.e. send an extra message) to use the service. And he told us to get over hating the small keyboards – get glasses or lasik and start using this technology so that you can meet your patrons where it’s convenient for them.

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4 Responses to REFolution 5

  1. RJ says:


    Maybe I am missing something here, but outsourcing SMS reference to a service like ChaCha that pays stay-at-home contractors $0.20 per answer, and who have no relevant information regarding specific library services, resources, policies, etc. doesn’t seem like the best patron services to me. Text messaging is not just more popular than IM, it’s now more popular than using a mobile phone to make a call. Should patrons call ChaCha instead of their library too?

    Shouldn’t we consider using the technologies available that have been developed specifically for libraries, and for librarians with varying technological expertise? Altarama and Mosio have both developed text a librarian services that do exactly that for SMS reference. In addition, there are free workarounds that utilize text-to-IM and text-to-email options for libraries that want to offer patrons SMS reference but are unable to financially do so via a paid service or an iPhone.

    I am surprised that one of the suggestions here for SMS reference is using an outsourced service that doesn’t involve librarians at all. The other is to use a phone (iPhone preferred) that is limited to a single user and is the least efficient solution in terms of archiving reference transcripts.

    I would say your eyes are just fine. Just open them to the existing opportunities.


  2. jshaffner says:

    Hi RJ,

    Thanks for your comments. Sorry I wasn’t clear. What Joe was saying is that for his own (personal, not professional) needs, he prefers using ChaCha.

    To clarify, when I wrote “this is the service we should have” I meant text reference as opposed to IM (if you have to choose one or the other).

    Also, though I didn’t mention it, Joe did suggest libraries partner (work with) with ChaCha, but he didn’t suggest that libraries outsource text reference questions to ChaCha. I’m in favor of keeping text reference in house though, so I left out that part…

    Also, see my 3/12 post “Free Opportunity to do Text Messaging @ Your Library” for Joe’s review of Mosio’s product, which in his session Tuesday he did mention he has high hopes for, eventually…

  3. RJ says:

    Hello again,

    Thanks for the clarification and info on your 3/12 post. It certainly is good to highlight the various options and solutions that are out there. At the end of the day, it’s what is best fit for the individual library, the librarians and the patrons.


  4. Pingback: Joe Murphy / Yale University Library > Librarian Extraordinaire | Joe Murphy / Yale University Library > Librarian Extraordinaire Programs for iphone| Joe Murphy / Yale University Library > Librarian Extraordinaire > | Programs For Iphone | ja

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