Reference Librarians: SMS / Text Messaging Skills Are Not Needed, Your Research and People Skills Are

Reference Librarians: SMS Skills Are Not Needed, Your Research Skills Are
Reference Librarians: SMS Skills Are Not Needed, Your Research Skills Are

As excited as I am to see that more and more libraries are seeing the value of offering text message reference service to patrons, I find it troublesome to read posts and articles claiming that “librarians need SMS skills now.” It’s unnecessary pressure being put on an already tough job market at a time when new technologies are flying quickly at everyone in the working world at an alarming rate. Texting in the U.S. is more popular than talking on mobile phones and you can bet that a large % of your patrons send texts on a regular basis, regardless if you are at a public, academic or corporate library. SMS reference services increase your patron outreach, provide them access to you wherever they are and mobile reference is definitely here to stay. But to say that this increase in text message usage means you need to get skills doing the same is like saying English teachers need skills in rapping because many of their students are writing hip hop rhymes. It’s helpful for them to be aware of and embrace it, but it’s totally unnecessary for them to grab a microphone and sign up for the next MC battle they can find.

Although a handful of us are active participants, being a texter is not a job requirement at Mosio / Text a Librarian. In fact, if a candidate stated that they sent/received 200 texts a day or that their last phone bill had 10,000 SMS messages on it, I would sincerely question what they spent their days doing. In fact, one of the people doing our market research is not a texter. Do you know what that person is great at? Research. That’s why we hired him, that’s why we love his work. He knows a lot about the mobile industry and can find information for us faster than anyone I’ve ever met. His skill set in research and his abilities to produce it for us is why he is here.

Should your library embrace and offer text messaging reference services?
Absolutely, according to many librarians and from the hustle and bustle of things around the office at Mosio, the entire industry sees it as a need.

Should you run out and buy a smart phone and get on a SMS plan so you can learn how to communicate with your patrons utilizing the SMS reference service?
No, unless you want to. If you’re curious and you want to try it out, we think that’s great. If you feel that it’s a big part of the future of libraries and think your library should offer it, even better. That is the most important part.

Here are three reasons why you don’t need to have SMS skills:

1) Mobile phones are an inefficient way to answer reference questions.
Texting on a phone is not and will never be faster than typing on a computer. Mobile data speeds will never be faster than internet speeds. Phone processors will never be faster than computer processors. Even if you send and receive twice as many text messages per day than the average American teenager, it doesn’t mean everyone else does and you still will not be able to help patrons faster.

2) You have and use a computer connected to the internet.
You don’t need a gadget along side the computer you use at the reference desk. If your library just bought a phone and signed a 2 year contract so you could offer text messaging reference, I’m sure there’s an element of excitement about having the phone at the library. The form factor is cool, but  you don’t need a phone, you just need the computer you’re already using.

3) There are better things you can do with your time to be of great assistance to patrons.
In a glance at five job posts/descriptions for reference librarians, there are three keywords that I found show up consistently: research, resources and experience. Patrons need you to help them find information, they don’t need you to be a good texter.

Our belief in this is why we chose the tagline “Patrons text questions. Librarians type answers.” Text a Librarian’s technology enables libraries to implement text messaging reference at their libraries without SMS skills. Patrons have those skills, but if you don’t, you’re not alone and we’re here to help.

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