If you thought Reference by Instant Messaging was progressive, what do you think about Reference by SMS?

For those of you not familiar, Short Messaging Service (SMS) is the feature available on the majority of cell phones that people use to send not voice messages but text messages to other cell phones (or some IM services too). SMS is catching on in the United States. I phrase it this way because it is absolutely huge in other parts of the world. It is so big in Europe and Asia that they are making airline reservations via SMS over there. European broadcasters have made SMS voting a source of income and American Idol “received over 2.5 million SMS votes for their show. Jenny recently linked to a good article about SMS catching on if you’d like to read more.

Also, you might remember from a few weeks back that SMSers can query google with this technology. This is where libraries come in, no? I’ve been waiting some SMS integration in libraries for a while now. Even something as simple as Innovative living up to their name and offering SMS hold/overdue notices would make me happy.

A very nice colleague sent me an announcement from an Australian company, Altarama, that is now offering an SMS product for libraries to use for Reference. Excerpts from their site follow.

Altarama introduces Reference by SMStm at VRD 2004 in Cincinnati Complementing its range of products that enhance the reference function of libraries, Altarama announces Reference by SMS, the first service designed specifically to allow libraries to seamlessly expand their reference delivery methods to include SMS (“simple [sic?] message service”).

More commonly knows as “text messaging,” SMS has seen its popularity explode among students, business people, and nearly everyone else with a cell phone.

Reference by SMS provides a phone number specific to a library that can be advertised for sending text messages to the library, which are automatically converted and delivered to an email address that the library specifies. The librarians monitoring that email address create responses in their normal email using a plug-in tool designed to assist with short replies, and the responses are automatically converted from email to text message, and delivered to the patron’s cell phone. No new operating procedures are required!The page also states that it costs libraries about $75 per month to use their service (after an initial setup fee, I’m sure). This leads me to believe that their pricing scheme could be $x per bundle of messages or something like that.

The only thing that I’m not totally crazy about is the email component to their system. Perhaps they thought an email plugin would be easier or less invasive for librarians but maybe it was just easier/cheaper for them to make. However, I’d rather see a small program that would pop up SMSs as people send them. This would really look the same as IM Reference to the librarians, so there wouldn’t be much more to learn*. The real gain would be for the user, who would have a reference librarian in their pocket. What a good way to make ourselves a bit more ubiquitous.

*Librarians might be forced to learn some SMS fonetic shortcuts because text messages can be a maximum of 160 characters. It is doubtful that this would be a huge limitation though. Software could either split longer messages and send them sequentially if there was the need. I bet people would mostly use SMS Reference for simple short things like phone numbers and directions.

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