What meaningful question can possibly be asked (or answered) in no more than 160 characters? The Libraries hope to gain insight into the utility of the ubiquitous phenomenon of text messaging via our experimental “txt a librarian @ UCI” service.
Readers of Update are surely aware that text messaging (or “texting,” or sometimes “sms” for “short message service”), by which messages are transmitted from one cell phone to another, is a popular form of communication, notably among undergraduates. Message length is generally capped at 160 characters, but this constraint has not impeded the flood of global texting. Indeed, the Mobile Data Association recently announced that some 4,825 billion messages were sent in the United Kingdom during September 2007, which means an average of over 1.2 billion messages every week. That’s a lot of communication, and UCI librarians would like to learn whether students might find it “cool” to ask library-related questions by texting.
The “txt a librarian @ uci” pilot debuted in January and is embedded in our menu of “Ask a Librarian” tools. (ask.lib.uci.edu) Librarians who respond to messages use “smart” phones with unlimited Internet and texting capability, making this a truly mobile research service. The service hours are modest at present: Monday - Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. We promise a response within two hours for questions received during those hours. Not surprisingly, we have already seen that many students’ questions also arrive on weekends and evenings. In addition, their familiarity with texting helps give us a practical sense of how best to use the medium. They understand the strengths and limitations of messaging, using it principally to communicate an immediate need for help, facilitate an appointment, or get a quick answer to a short question.
How will a large, diverse university community like UCI respond to this new service? Time will tell, but we hope our pilot project exemplifies the UCI Libraries’ best impulse to seek out creative new ways to share research expertise with our users.
For more information contact Brian Williams, Research Librarian for Criminology, Law, & Society (firstname.lastname@example.org or x40473).
Jackie Dooley, Jim Galbraith, Carol Hughes, Susan Lessick, Gerald Munoff, Cathy Palmer, Brian Williams
Editor: Jackie Dooley
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