Those seeking information from the Santa Monica Library now have a new tool at their disposal, text messaging. Starting this week, those who have reference questions can text their question to 309.222.7740 and get a response in 10 minutes during the hours of service of this new program.
This new service is named Text 4 Answers and is the first collaborative text messaging reference service operated by libraries. The Alliance Library System of Illinois is coordinating the pilot program for this service. Funding for the pilot will end on December 31, 2010. Libraries participating in this program in California include the Santa Monica Public Library, the Buena Park Library District, the Contra Costa County Public Library, the Sacramento Public Library, and the San Jose State University’s Graduate School Library.
Santa Monica City Librarian Greg Mullen told the Mirror more people are now text messaging on their cell phones so it was a logical next step to offer library services to texters. This service, like the library’s e-mail reference service is being offered free of charge and a person does not have to have a Santa Monica library card to be able to use the service. The program is being piloted to see if the public would find this type of service useful. He also emphasized that this idea stems from the library’s goal of “wanting to be available in whatever median a person uses” to obtain information.
When people text the library, their text message will go to software created by the Altarama Information Systems. This software has the ability to convert a text message so it can be viewed on a library computer screen. After the librarian types in the question’s answer all they have to do is hit send and the software will convert their response into a text message that can be received by whoever sent the question.
Mullen explained that the new program will take about two hours of library staff time a week and that the program’s workload will be spread across all the library’s branches. The hours of service are Monday through Friday, 6 a.m. – 8 p.m. and Saturday 7 a.m. – 3 p.m. These hours are possible because librarians from across the continental United States will be responding to questions. Santa Monica customers should include the code SMP in their text messages.
Santa Monica Library’s Coordinator of Reference Services, Wright Rix, explained to the Mirror that the questions have to be answerable in 140 characters or less. Questions received during the program’s soft opening included questions about library services and quick fact questions. An example of a question received was “What are the most popular chocolates in the United States, milk or dark?”
Wright also mentioned that, “the library is busier than it has ever been particularly because of the economic downturn. We want to continue to meet and respond to everyone. This service helps us reach the growing niche of users that like to communicate by text messaging.”