If you have heard about SMS Reference but weren’t really sure what it was all about or how it worked, thanks to a newly available podcast from PALINET you can listen to a conversation with J.B. Hill, Head of Reference at the Sims Memorial Library at Southeastern Louisiana University. The Reference Department at Sims was the first U.S. customer of Altarama, an Australian-based firm that markets the SMS reference technology. The podcast does a good job of covering the basics of how SMS Reference works, pros and cons, and expected costs. Basically the Altarama product allows students to text a message from their cell phone, and the library reference staff receive that message as an e-mail message. The librarians then respond by e-mail and the student receives the response as a test message to their cell phone. So, no, librarians don’t have to be skilled thumb typists. The estimated start-up cost is about $1,000 to $1,500, there are monthly fees, and a fee for each text message received and sent – not unlike standard cell phone text service. One drawback is that text messages are limited to 160 characters, so unless you are really concise, you may need to learn those texting abbreviations.
Given our recent posts about taking advantage of technologies that are popular with students for social interaction, and cell phone texting certainly fits into that category, is this a new opportunity to reach out and connect with our users where they are, or might it just be seen by students as another inappropriate co-opting of their technology for academic (non-social) functions. Given that quite a few libraries are already using instant messaging for reference, some with a modest degree of success, perhaps this is just an extension of the idea of using a popular communication technology to expand the reach of reference.
While you’re at the PALINET podcast page, feel free to listen to one by yours truly on the use of RSS and blogs for connecting with students in their courseware sites – as well as some general discussion about googlization, simplicity vs. complexity, and keeping up.