Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Text vs. Telephone

I don't hide the fact that I hate, hate, hate any communication that requires typing or even writing. The only time I send my mother a birthday card is if I can convince the clerk at the Hallmark store to write out my birthday wishes for me.

I have terrible serial-killer handwriting, well maybe if a serial killer and a doctor who were siblings produced a twelve-fingered offspring, that's what my handwriting resembles. And my typing is just as hideous as my handwriting, only slower. It took me 13 hours to type this.

So I find texting a clumsy endeavor with continual backspacing and retyping. I also feel that a great majority of text reference users (including email, chat) really don't have any idea of how to ask a question nor to reply to requests for additional information. We specify that these services (email, chat) are best for short answers and that the librarian will likely not be a local librarian, but many users still ask for detailed research or for solutions that only their local library can provide. Luckily, these users can't see when I flip them the bird at the computer screen.

But since these are my own biases, I'll try not to include them in a comparison of text vs. telephone.

A text request can originate from anywhere, so some requests may come from customers outside of the library's normal service area. Questions may be sent from anywhere and answered without additional costs. Text messages may cost extra, but that's not the library's problem.

Phone calls can originate from anywhere, but a library could enact a policy against calling back someone who is outside of the immediate area or if the call requires an area code prefix or a 1. Otherwise, questions are answered from anyone. Phone calls can be of an indefinite length which could result in extra charges for the customer.

A text message or email waits until someone responds to it. A chat customer waits until she's picked up or she disconnects.

A missed phone call could go voicemail or the person could hang up and that potential customer would be lost. Telephone systems should allow a customer to wait in a queue indefinitely until the call is picked up. Missed calls should go back into the system and back into the queue. Ideally, calls should only be disconnected only by the customer, not by the system.

Text messages, by their very nature, are recorded and saved. And may be requested later. Why? It doesn't matter, but any patron record could be considered a public record if the communication involves a public entity. The message can be deleted, but could still exist on backup servers for longer periods and later retrieval.

Telephone calls may be recorded, but I don't know of any library that records calls. Unless the question is written down for a later call-back, there is no record of the caller's identity stored in the library. But queries requiring a callback have patron names and contact information and their question(s) and answer(s). What do libraries do with this information to protect patron privacy?

Oh, who am I trying to kid? I can't write about this stuff. Asses. Farts. Wieners. Asses. Farts. Wieners.

I only wrote this in response to this story about murdered former quarterback, Steve McNair: "Nashville police released the 50 text messages Monday night as part of a case summary and detailed the exchanges between the two hours before the July 4 murder-suicide."

Police might be able to release phone records, but not recordings of actual conversations in most cases. And it just seemed creepy that all these electronic messages can become public knowledge if there's cause. Like if someone needs to piece together the final moments of your life.

I hope my final sent text message is a vote on American Idol. For a guy who sings in falsetto and plays a Dobro.