Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Costs vs. Benefits: Texting students

Last week, representatives of a number of different libraries got together to discuss the JANET text messaging service - how we've found it, problems we've encountered, resolutions to the problem etc.  Thanks again to everyone who came along or followed remotely, and especially to Sarah for reporting live via the chat functionality in the Cambridge_Librarians Camtools site and to Emma, who has pulled together the information about what the different libraries do and added it to the Cambridge_Librarians wiki

For anyone who can't access this, the main uses to which libraries here have put the service are:
  • Notifying students that books they have requested are now available
  • Reminding students to return overdue books
  • Organising emergency invigilation if evening staff can't come in at short notice (I'm stealing that one Hélène!)
  • Alerting all library users to unexpected closures - especially useful for library members from other faculties!
  • Letting people know that we've found their lost property (if an owner is identifiable)
  • Helping faculty out by sending messages to students.
  • In the Education Faculty Library, they have found that very overdue books are being returned more quickly when a text has been sent.
  • Books on the "hold" shelf tend to be borrowed or returned to circulation more quickly (students will often text to say they don't need the book any more.)
  • The message reaches the students far more quickly than an email would, especially in subject areas where students tend to check their email less frequently.
  • The students are less likely to ignore a text than yet another message in their already crowded email inboxes.
Problems to be aware of:
  • Now that several libraries are using the service, we need to identify ourselves in the message!  (Students may be members of multiple libraries and may not know which one is contacting them.)
  • The default is set to send messages from JANETtxt rather than from the phone number we were given (which means that the student can't reply to the message, defeating the point of having the two-way service).
  • Identify yourself!
  • Set up templates to reduce staff time
  • Keep an eye on the character count to avoid the message running into two texts
  • Check what your group limits are - we use the group function to set up year groups, but there is a default limit to the number of people you can have in a group (contact PageOne to change this if needed)
  • Import patron name and email address from a spreadsheet, so that when the first years arrive in October you just need to add their phone numbers
  • Add the patron barcode number to the name field so you know you're sending the message to the correct person (thanks Simon!)
We were joined at the meeting by a number of people who have not yet used the service but are considering it.  I think the most interesting discussion arose from the question "Why pay for text when you can email?"  I think we came to the conclusion that it depends very much on your library - some faculties use Camtools very heavily which means that student inboxes are full of (often irrelevant) update messages, which in turn means that the students just don't check or see the messages they actually need.  Others find that sending an email immediately rather than waiting for the automated message through Voyager works just as quickly as sending a text.

We've only been using the service for one term, and my experience has been that we often catch people while they're still in the library, saving them an extra trip to collect their book/lost property/whatever it is we want to let them know about!

So why pay? A lot of the things we do cost either in time or other resources without necessarily having any resulting income.  As with everything else, we need to consider the cost in relation to how much it helps our students and what value it brings (e.g. in returning books more quickly to the shelves / providing the personal touch that we aim for in this library).  I think it would be interesting to find out from students in our next survey whether they like the text service and whether they would prefer to receive emails as they have in the past.

No comments:

Post a Comment