Text Reference: Boon or Curse? February 3, 2010Posted by pupfiction in Uncategorized.
Tags: librarian, libraries, NYPL, reference, social search, texting
In a few weeks I will be (virtually) attending the Handheld Librarian Online Conference. I am particularly excited about Alison Miller’s keynote talk entitled, “Mobile Trends and Social Reference.” What most interested me about Miller was the fact that she makes a living working from home–both for the Internet Public Library, and by “responding to questions from a variety of Mobile services, including My Info Quest, Aardvark, Mosio and kgb” (handheldlibrarian.org). This led me to thinking about the changing face of reference and how many libraries are adopting text messaging as the newest form of reference. In fact, the New York Public Library announced yesterday, via Twitter, that they would be accepting text message reference questions. The quick blurb on their web site does not say whether the service is limited to those holding New York Public Library cards. One might wonder how they would even know if the questions came from card holders, as they do not require a bar code or user name. Perhaps they will look for New York area codes as they extend membership to all New Yorkers.
While I laud the attempts of libraries to remain on the cutting-edge in responding to patrons’ needs, I wonder if library reference will take a back seat to other, more widely used technologies such as Google and Bing apps on smartphones or, as O’Reilly’s Radar Blog believes, social search. Social search is different from search engines in that it queries a group of peers to find information, rather than scan web pages for keywords. (Six and a half in one, a dozen in the other, if you ask me.) One of the best known sites for social searching is Aardvark. (Others include Miller’s employers: kgb, Mosio, etc.) While commenters on the O’Reilly blog disagree that social searching will cause the demise of Google, I found myself wondering if social search was proven to be nearly as fast and more reliable than search engines if it could conquer such a feat. And just what could make social searching fast and reliable? Well, librarians of course! (And free, as well, since public librarians are paid through taxes.)
Text message referencing, as an emerging trend, could either be a boon or a curse to libraries. Clearly, the curse would be if people use social search sites instead of using the library. But it could be a major boon if the library is just as easy to access as these sites, but with more reliable results. Text message referencing once again resurfaces the fears librarians felt with the emergence and fast adoption of the web. While librarians knew their services couldn’t be replaced, they were afraid that their patrons wouldn’t understand why. Thus, we are once again called upon to prove our relevance.  We must outreach! Let people know the service is available. And,  teach information literacy! Make people understand why text messaging a librarian will get you far more reliable answers than social search!