Sunday, October 18, 2009

Texting equals WIN?

Re: Text Message Reference: Is It Effective? by Ellyssa Kroski -- Library Journal, 10/15/2009.
“Communication between librarian and patron isn’t hindered at all. We have varying degrees of comfort, among librarians but out patrons don’t seem to notice. In fact, our staff encourages someone who is texting to stop by and see us or give us a call to continue the conversation in-depth.” said Nikhat Ghouse, Digital Reference Librarian at the University of Kansas’ Anschutz Library.
I don't think you will find one article or study on the use of text messaging or SMS in a library situation that didn't include some reference to asking the customer to call or visit the library.

It absolutely blows my mind how people define "success."

Does anyone actually say, "Sure, it was stuck, but the paramedics got it out and I'm told the surgery to reattach it was a success" after losing his penis to a vacuum cleaner? If so, I'm sure it's followed by, "And you might want to leave because I have to cry now. But when I get home, can you help me pack my stuff? Because after this, I can't show my face in this town anymore."

Yes, success!

I find communication successful when mutual understanding and cooperation leads to problem solving.

Like in the library: when we both understand that you are bat-shit crazy, it's easier for me to help you find what you want. Every librarian knows that the reference interview is is not a one-sided process. It's like therapy. It's the kind of help one would expect from a $20 an hour therapist.

But librarians do this shit in 15 seconds. In a reference interview, the customer and I share enough information is 15 seconds for me to do my job correctly. We share language, spoken or written words, gestures, grunts, bodily fluid transfer, screaming, thrown object deflection, and 80,000 volts of good old Con Ed delivered by hand taser. And then I drag the customer to the shelf to get the materials he needs.

Why don't librarians admit that these services, SMS, Twitter, etc. are simply ways of promoting library services. They are not EFFECTIVE tools to assist customers. Unless your customer asks the kinds of questions her grandma could answer.
And it doesn’t seem to matter that the reference interview may take multiple text exchanges, according to these librarians—

Why not? Why is texting better than a phone call? Why do I have to send multiple messages to someone and wait for another message to return, and then, possibly respond to a second or third customer while I wait for the first to reply?

At least in a chat environment, I only have one person to work with. Yes, I answer the phone or pick up a second person, but that's my choice. I don't open the door to the lie of making the first customer believe that I'm waiting solely for his response so I can give more information.

What if this guy doesn't get back to me for five minutes? "I'm back." "Who are you?" "The guy you were just talking to." "Dude, I talk to a lot of people, what was your question?" "Man, I'm not going to repeat it. Why can't you do your job?"
Joe Murphy of Yale University Libraries told me, "I am as able, if not more so than in person, [to provide effective reference via SMS] because ... text messaging is a dominant form of communication for me and my peers."
Oh, so that's it. It's the secret form of communication for Skull & Bones Yalies. Why the fuck didn't you say so? Maybe your buds need to know when the Lightweight Men's Rowing Crew races Princeton? (October 25. T-shirts are $20.)

And speaking of the telephone, "The 160-character limit does not seem to be an impediment; librarians simply send multiple messages or ask patrons to call or come into the library for further help with more complex questions."

It's bad enough that we've had access to telephones for 80 years and idiots still start every question with, "Can I ask you a question? Are you ready for my question?"

"Hello, this is the effing library; how can I help you?"

How much clearer can I be when I answer the phone? You should be prepared to ask your question. You should not observe that you think it's amazing that the library offers this service. The service exists and is happening right now and you are a participant.

When you comment on things as you are doing them, the people around you will walk away. Yes, you may comment that it is a lovely day. Yes, you may express joy. Once. But you can't dwell on the minutiae of existence. When you say, "This is a delicious tuna salad sandwich," that's it, you're done. You can't go on to glorify the balance of celery with the chunks of tuna, nor may you mention whether there's dill. We will fucking kill you.

The tool is only as efficient as the user. And we are all participating in the art of communication. Yes, it is a fucking art.

When you take up a new tool like texting, you'd better be open-minded enough to accept that the tool might not solve these ancient problems. I don't see that texting makes communication better. It just opens the door to people too lazy or too stupid to find the library.

Yes, it's a warm and fuzzy solution because all your peers do it. And it's new. But for fuck sake, understand that it's MAINLY a cool toy that still only promotes the REAL library services involving face-to-face communication.

I am not closed-minded. My opinions evolve when presented with new information. But look at the quotes on the article. Look at how the new service adds "50-90 questions per month," barely a half-day's worth of in-house transactions, and many of those "encourage" the customer to stop by the library anyway.

So, yes, I want to see these transcripts. I want to see how the generation that sends 10,000 texts a month communicates ideas. I'm looking online for texting examples, line by line, with total transaction times, total number of messages.

I want to know what percentage of users have unlimited texting so my new super cool reference service isn't costing some stupid kid $5 just so he can find out whether a book is on the shelf.

Because without that information, I'm just going rant blindly against becoming another co-dependent, gadget-carrying, idiocy-enabler. Unless it does a good job of promoting real library services, then I'm in.