Texting as a Platform for Library Reference and Information Services


Published: October 21, 2012 by Dr. Lili Luo

In 2010, I received an Early Career Development Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to study the practice of text reference service, investigating how texting is being used as a new venue to offer reference service, and how text reference service can fulfill users’ information needs and engage new users like teenagers, the fastest growing group of individuals using text messaging. Now the project has come to fruition and the findings may help generate best practices guidelines, and therefore lead to an enriched view of texting’s affordance as a reference service venue.

This grant project draws upon the rich pool of data available via My Info Quest (MIQ), the first collaborative text reference service participated by over 20 multi-type libraries across the nation. MIQ was launched in July 2009. It is self-organized and managed by volunteering member librarians. It offers service during the following hours (as of July 2012): Central Time Monday – Thursday 8:00 A.M. – 10:00 P.M.; Friday 8:00 A.M. – 6:00 P.M.; Saturday 9:00 A.M. – 6:00 P.M.; and Sunday 2:00 P.M. – 4:00 P.M. User may expect an answer to their questions within 10 minutes. Mosio Text A Librarian is used as the technology platform to manage questions and responses. In the two-year project period, we conducted a number of studies to examine text reference service from the following perspectives:

• Types of information needs of text reference users
• Competencies requisite for text reference service
• User perception and use of text reference service
• The collaborative text reference service model

Findings of this project indicate that for library users, text reference service is a suitable venue for brief and straightforward information needs, their use of the service is contingent upon their awareness and perception of the service, and they appreciate the ease of use, convenience and speediness of the service; for librarians, it is important to comprehend the affordance of texting and master the skills to interact with users effectively and efficiently in this service venue, such as being able to compose answers to users’ questions concisely, quickly and accurately and interpret users’ information needs with limited context in text messages. These findings can be integrated into marketing and promoting the service to increase awareness and generate interest, as well as in designing training and educational content to prepare librarians for providing text reference service.
We hope that the library world will benefit from this multi-perspective depiction of text reference service produced by this research project. Professional organizations such as Reference and User Services Association may also take into consideration discoveries from this project when updating their behavioral and performance guidelines to incorporate the best practices of text reference. Ultimately, an enhanced understanding of library users in the age of texting will help library and information professionals gain a more grounded view of how to successfully assist users in their information seeking process using the texting technology, and help serve libraries’ missions of providing services for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the user community in a world filled with constantly evolving technologies.


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