m-Libraries Conference 2009, Second International m-libraries Conference

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NYU Results of an Analysis of More Than 300 SMS Transactions Conducted in the Spring, Summer, and Fall Semesters 2008

Alexa Pearce, Kara Whatley, Scott Collard

Last modified: 2009-07-03


The NYU Libraries began offering reference service via SMS as a pilot project in March 2008. The Libraries have been archiving the texts of these transactions in order to learn how to best incorporate the use of mobile devices into our existing and emerging services, including SMS reference. This paper will discuss the results of an analysis of more than 300 SMS transactions conducted in the Spring, Summer, and Fall semesters 2008. During the planning stages, the NYU Libraries anticipated receiving mostly short questions that could be answered in one or two 160-character text messages. However, the depth and range of questions have exceeded expectations. Users frequently submit questions via their mobile devices that can be classified as "in-depth reference" queries and do not seek to limit the number of texts in a conversation. Furthermore, users will incorporate elements of a traditional reference interview, extended over multiple back and forth texts. Still further, the reliance on fact-based, ready-reference queries raises the possibility that the SMS service could be keeping open a line of communication that, until now, we have considered to be closing or even closed in our other reference media.


This analysis also highlights the larger challenge that the NYU Libraries are facing in the provision of reference services, namely, how to efficiently integrate and interlink multiple service points, both physical and virtual. In many instances, a query that begins via SMS from a mobile device will proceed through additional venues, at least on the library side. As modes of communication proliferate, so do the points of service in a library. Accordingly, libraries need to develop strategies and procedures that enable more efficient interoperability among these service points.

Full Text: PPT