LibAnswers SMS Explosion!
The librarians at Johnson & Wales University, Rhode Island Campus are doing some innovative advertising of their LibAnswers SMS Reference Service – and their huge usage numbers prove that whatever they are doing is working! Since they launched the service to their patrons in September 2010, they have logged over 350 SMS questions. In September alone, they had over 250 incoming SMS.
We had to ask them, “What are you doing to create such a strong response from your patrons?” Check out their responses below as we asked them to share the secrets of their success, tips for other libraries who are launching SMS Reference and why they uniquely chose SMS Reference via LibAnswers over other SMS reference utilities.
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Q: Why did you decide to offer SMS Reference service in the first place?
A: Our decision had to do with the general perception that our users want to rely on online and mobile connectivity rather than face-to-face. People are no longer tied to their desktops or laptop so we need to be able to offer a reference service that also isn’t tied to a computer or requires them to come in to the library. Plus with LibAnswers SMS Reference, you don't need a phone to answer questions, it is all web-based! So it made it easier for staff to jump on-board.
Q: Your SMS Usage Stats are huge! Tell us about your advertising strategy and how you got the word out.
A: Well, we thought we ‘overdid’ the marketing. Our September numbers are the biggest we’ve ever had. We decided to advertise in every media venue we had at our disposal but it seemed that print advertising had the biggest impact. We created tear-away signs that are in the bathroom stalls in the libraries, in the dorms and cafeterias. We decided to leave almost empty tear-away signs up because it sends a message to students that we are a hot commodity. We also created regular signage, table tents, a banner right when you walk in the door, we put it in our library newsletter and small signs throughout the library saying “Don’t leave your stuff unattended, text your question to...”. For Web advertising, it’s on our library homepage as well as on every LibGuide we create; our LibAnswers site, the University’s portal site and we regularly post our number on our Facebook Fan page.
We announce our number at the beginning of every library instruction class and encourage students to send in a text. We are experimenting with using Keywords in the classroom so students can send a keyword ‘Welcome’ to our number and get an immediate response! Plus we get some advertising at the reference desk. Students see us responding to an SMS and they get curious, "Oh you guys really do answer them!"
Check out Springy's Best Practices for Advertising SMS Guide!
Q: What do your patrons think about the service you are providing for them?
A: Our patrons love it, we get so many ‘thank yous’ and when we announce it in classes, students say “that’s sweet!” One particular SMS came from a distance-education student who said that with our service, “she didn’t feel so alone”. We are also finding that our international students really like it because they are more comfortable using SMS than coming to the reference desk because of language barriers.
Want to read more about what patrons think of SMS Reference services? Read Philip's interview below!
Q: Is there anything you would like to share with other libraries (academic/public/special) that are on the fence about offering SMS Reference services?
A: Doing SMS Reference at the reference desk is far easier than providing instant message reference while on-duty. I would recommend to libraries to start with SMS Reference because it is an easier communication-mode and interface to learn and easier to coordinate with face-to-face reference services.
Q: How do you feel about offering SMS Reference?
A: Offering SMS Reference is giving us credibility and showcases our dedication to customer service. Also, it is setting the bar at the University. Students, faculty and staff are seeing the library as the first point of solid reliable information. They know who to call, or in this case text, when they have a question. And in an era where everyone is touting the demise of the library it is so good to know that we are still in high-demand.
Q. What made you decide to switch from Mosio TextALibrarian to SMS Reference in LibAnswers?
A: Affordability, affordability, affordability! We are always keeping an eye on the bottom-line and the SMS Reference module in LibAnswers is very affordable. We are very happy with our other Springshare products (LibGuides & LibAnswers) and the customer service that Springshare offers is outstanding. So being able to contact them for assistance with all of our products reduces our contact points. Oh, and having a local phone number instead of having to text a keyword to a number makes it so much easier for our patrons to remember. Lastly, the librarians elected to switch because it reduced the number of interfaces that they have to deal with on a daily basis. Now, they just login to one interface. It couldn't be easier!
From the Horse's Mouth -What Patrons Think of LibAnswers SMS Reference
After Springy training spent a fun-filled morning chatting with Johnson & Wales University, Rhode Island Librarians on all things SMS, we ran into a student employee and library enthusiast, Philip Santini (class of 2011), who was more than willing to share his opinion of libraries offering SMS reference. Check it out!
Q: What is the student perception of the JWU- RI Library offering SMS Reference?
A: Students find it very helpful and they seem to enjoy using it. Whenever I walk around the library, I hear a lot of students talking about it, and they even ask me, “Can I really text in my question?” It is sparking a lot of interest amongst the students about the library and what it can offer them.
Q: Do you think the JWU-RI Library’s advertising campaign has been successful?
A: Yes! I see a lot more people coming into the library and it looks like they are reaching a larger audience. I’ve noticed more and more students coming into the library in the past few years and I think it’s because students think that the library is a cool place to hang out.
Q: Why do you think more people are coming to library than ever before?
A: Offering library reference services via text-message is just so cool and it is attracting students not only to the physical library but also to the library’s resources. SMS reference is a gateway - it is bringing people into the library and into using the library’s stuff!
Q: What would you say to other libraries, if undecided, about why they should offer SMS reference?
A: A lot of times, students can’t make it into the library. Either they are working a part-time or full-time job in addition to going to school. Also, students aren’t ALWAYS near a computer. What if they have a question while they are riding a bus or sitting at a study-carrel? Offering library assistance via text-message is literally putting the library at the fingertips of the students.
And, I don’t know if you are aware of this, but it can be nerve-wracking to ask a question at the reference desk especially if you are an international student. (Author’s Note: Library Anxiety!) I notice this more and more because I work as a reference desk student-employee. People just hate coming to the desk to ask a question, so offering reference via text-message allows them to ask questions but in a way that is comfortable for them.
And lastly, libraries should offer SMS reference because it is what that their customers want!