Thursday, April 29, 2010

SMS Reference from Springshare, Woo-Hoo!

Blackwood library building, rose bush in the foreground

Soon after I wrote my thank you note to Springshare last month, our library signed up for a fairly new service from the same company, allowing us to receive and answer questions via SMS (text messaging). This has been on my mind for a while, but we didn't get it off the ground until now. And let me say, Springshare has done a beautiful thing.

We were already using Springshare's LibAnswers, which, in a way similar to NJIT's use of IntelliResponse, funnels questions typed into a search box into a data bank. This means that before a patron sends an email s/he can see if someone has already asked a similar question, neatly combining reference email and library FAQs. We're also already using Springshare's LibAnalytics, which tracks information about our reference transactions. With the SMS product, we're not only able to provide a phone number for students to text, but those questions arrive in our LibAnswers queue and can be added to our Analytics. Impressive, no?

One barrier in the past to providing an SMS reference service was the price. Although we have a large student body, we weren't sure how many students would really use the service (it kinda reminded me of this Onion story -- Post Office Extends Hours To 3 A.M. To Attract Late-Night Bar Crowd), and we were reluctant to sign up for something very costly. Before Springshare came along, I was looking for something that would allow us to provide text reference through our instant messaging service (we use Meebo). For various reasons involving money, that didn't look like it would happen soon. Through Springshare, we paid a flat fee for a local phone number and 4,800 text message credits, and the rest of the service is free. This will allow us to gauge whether there is enough usage to continue.

I was going to hold off writing about all this until I got a feel for how patrons were using it, but to be honest the SMS messages are so seamlessly integrated into LibAnswers that I haven't noticed a dramatic change. When a librarian replies by SMS, the form looks a little different than usual, and the replies are limited to a certain number of characters, but that's about all. Frankly, it's a relief that this has been so easy. No-one needs to administer anything outside of the Springshare module, and the initial set-up was simple. Meaning I can focus my energy on the other 700 (or so) things I'm working on...

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