more on SELU’s SMS reference program

update, 20 october: fixed link to the SELU Library, thanks rob!

So it turns out that South Eastern Louisiana University Library’s SMS Reference program was covered way earlier in the year by tame the web and teaching librarian.

At any rate, this afternoon I phoned JB Hill who is their head of Reference. He was kind enough to speak to me for over 20 minutes about the program. Things I learned:

bq. -They are indeed using Altarama’s product, mentioned last year here in a post titled RefSMS.

bq. -Even though the server by which this operates is Down Under, and ever though the number to text is international, there isn’t an additional fee for texters beyond the price of a text. However, not all cell phone providers handle international texts. Hill stated that the fact that some people can’t text internationally, and the fact that some people would be unlikely to text internationally (for fear of additional costs) are barriers to entry for this service. Clearly the fact that one must have a cell phone is another barrier, but that’s slightly different.

bq. -Response to the program has been decent, but not yet stellar. This makes sense, considering that they’re quite ahead of the curve with this.

bq. -The variety of questions they are getting are different from other forms of digital reference. Namely, they are getting ready reference type questions. Hill surmises that these must come from students who have their phone on them, but no connectivity with which to consult Google. Their browser-based chat questions are generally more sophistacted than ready reference.

bq. -Altarama transforms emails to text messages (and vice versa) and has a neat function which optomizes text for delivery via SMS. It scans messages for words like “for” and “to” and automagically transforms them to “4” and “2.”

JB and I agreed that texting makes great sense in the ILS, for things like overdue and hold notices. Oh, one more thing, they have an appointment-based reference service, and would like to use text messages as reminders for students. He’ll be talking about their program at the next Virtual Reference Desk Conference in San Francisco.^1^ If you’re going, check it out and give us a report.

As cell phones merge with wireless devices that do VoIP, I wonder if texting will be outmoded by a richer, more powerful IMming. Many phones presently have, for instance, AIM on them, but many people prefer texting because it is less expensive than using data transfer. But will people still want to be limited to 160 characters if cost is no concern?

^1^Looks like there is a decent amount of content about IM at this conference, which of course warms my heart. As does the session titled, ““Hurry! Hurry! r u dum? *#%@!”… Assessing the Extent of Inappropriate Use of AskColorado” because I swear I’ve helped that person on MyWebLibrian.

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