Swem reference institutes new texting service

    A new service offered by Earl Gregg Swem Library allows students to receive reference help from the comfort of a third-floor study room, or anywhere else on campus.

    Swem’s reference desk launched a texting service in March, shortly after the end of spring break. The application allows students to solicit the reference desk with a text message through the reference desk’s Google Voice account.

    Swem Reference Librarian and Library Instruction Coordinator Paul Showalter introduced the idea to Swem’s reference services after using Google Voice.

    “I’ve been using Google Voice for several months and really like its functionality and ease of use,” Showalter said. “Plus, it’s free. So, I figured it would be worth trying at the reference desk, where we’re always looking for ways to make ourselves more accessible to our users.”

    Currently, the texting services are carried out through the reference desk’s computer.

    “We have a [Google Voice] extension integrated into Chrome, the browser that we use at the reference desk,” Showalter said. “When someone sends a text message to our GV number, a little icon animates in our browser toolbar and chimes. Whoever is staffing the reference desk at that time can just click on the icon and compose a response message right inside the browser. We also have the option to receive and respond to texts by opening up GV in a browser tab. Either way, it’s all done from the computer. We don’t need to use a cell phone.”

    Showalter said that due to the recent release, the reference desks currently receive only a few texts a week. But he expects student use to increase as time passes.

    “The service just rolled out after spring break, so it’s still catching on,” he said. “We only get a few texts a week now, but we expect that number to grow. When we started our instant messaging service at the reference desk a few years ago, it too was slow to take hold. Now we get a bunch of IMs every day. I suspect the texting service will follow a similar curve. The main thing is that it’s an option that’s there if people need it.”

    Swem Science Librarian Karen Berquist said that the reference desk logs all reference questions asked each day on a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, which allows the reference department to look at trends regarding questions. Berquist said approximately 25 text messages had been sent since the service was launched.

    Head of Reference Services Don Welsh said that staff members are always working on basic statistics for the reference questions spreadsheet, part of an ongoing project titled “Laying the Foundation: Benchmarking Reference Data for Current and Future Assessment.” The spreadsheet records the date, the question, the person who asked the question and the type of question asked.

    According to Welsh, in 2009, 2,395 directional and technology questions were asked as well as around 7,000 specifically reference-based questions.

    Of these questions, Welsh said that Swem’s reference desk recieved 2,301 questions via instant messaging, which amounted to approximately 33 percent of the questions asked through this communication application.

    “We think that the number of [instant message] questions will go down as texts go up,” Welsh said.

    Megan Elmore ’13 said she used the texting service to ask for a reference regarding a database collection for biology. Elmore said that it took the reference desk four minutes to answer her text message.

    “I was pleasantly surprised because the reply was prompt, and they also gave me a more detailed response than I was expecting,” Elmore said. “I would definitely text again in the future.”


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