As new tools for communication come into vogue, it’s important for libraries to adapt. In order to stay current, libraries have integrated—and continue to integrate—a wide range of communication options in to their modern reference services, i.e., the telephone call, e-mail, instant messaging (IM), and Web page co-browsing. Now enter SMS.
Though prevalent in other parts of the world for quite some time now, text messaging, also known as SMS (short messaging service), via cell phones only recently has caught on as a common way of communicating in North America. (Use of SMS has long been prevalent in the Europe, Asia, and Australia). In settings where making a voice call might not be socially acceptable--classrooms, movie theaters, libraries—text messages provide a way to “chat” and exchange information silently.
So as SMS gains a place as a widespread communications media, it’s important for libraries to begin thinking about how to use it to better communicate with their users.
III to Build in SMS
To make it easier for libraries to include SMS in their communications options, Innovative Interfaces Inc. (III) says it build SMS messaging into future versions of its Millennium library automation system. Some of the functionality expected from the vendor’s SMS integration into its ILS includes the ability to send text messages to patrons’ mobile phones so library users can be alerted when requested materials are available as well as to help libraries provide other circulation-related functions.
Given that many library patrons interact almost constantly through their cell phones, receiving library notices through them will be more convenient and immediate than printed notices or even e-mail.
Edge Hill College of Higher Education located in Ormskirk, near Lancashire in the United Kingdom, recently signed with Innovative to migrate from its current Geac Advance system to Millennium. This library will also be Innovative’s development partner in its initiative to develop SMS capabilities for Millennium. Because text messaging has been prevalent there longer than in the U.S., it’s not surprising to see a U.K, library anxious to more forward with SMS.
Innovative has a short of history of adapting systems for portable and wireless devices. The company has offered AirPAC—an online catalog designed specifically for cell phones, PDAs, and other small devices—since June 2001.
More Sellers Support SMS
This isn’t the first example of products that support SMS. Civica’s Spydus library automation system has the ability to produce SMS circulation notices. Though a handful of libraries in the U.S. use Spydus, the library division of the company is based in Australia, and the majority of its customer base resides in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Taiwan, and other parts of Asia.
Altarama, a company specializing in virtual reference software, also developed a product that allows a library to integrate SMS in its reference services. “Reference by SMS,” introduced in November 2004, allows reference staff to receive queries by SMS on a computer and to send responses. Altarama is also an Australian company.
And, of course, Google has launched an SMS search service, though it’s still considered a beta service. Available since November 2004, the “Google SMS Service” enables one to send text message form queries to Google in order to find information items. Examples Google suggests include local business listings, movie show times, word definitions, current weather, and product prices. Unlike the Google Web search, the results are presented as simple text, not links to other sites.
Cell phone users utilizing SMS can transmit and receive text messages up to about 160 characters. Multiple messages can be chained together as needed for more long-winded responses, and while the majority of SMS messages originate and terminate on individual phones, it’s possible to generate them on a computer and receive them on that communication tool. And despite their many similarities, traditional e-mail seems to be in trouble while SMS is on the rise.
The few examples of library-oriented SMS applications demonstrate that we’re in the early stages of the product cycle, and the expanding adoption of text messaging by the general public indicates great potential. As libraries strive to offer services in tune with their users’ interests, SMS may be one communication method really worth investigating.