Monday, April 5, 2010

Virtually Yours: Online Tools Your Library Needs Now & Why

Nearly eight years ago this month, I submitted my graduate term paper on virtual reference. The paper concluded that every major library needed to have a new branch: The Digital Branch. While a few libraries have implemented what could be considered a digital branch, the majority have not.

Below are five very basic online reference tools that every major library should have now--they're cheap, popular, and, with the exception of iPhone Apps, easy to setup. I know there are dozens of other tools out there (tools libraries need), but these are what I considered the easiest to setup and/or most important to patrons.

If your library doesn't have it and you want it, but still don't know how to get it, send me an email.

Text a Librarian

Facts About Text Messages

  • 74% of all cell phone users use the text message feature; 100% of all teens text; 85% of all college students text
  • Last year, over 1 Trillion text messages were sent
  • On average, Americans text twice as much as they call
Libraries with Text a Librarian Services

  • Seattle PL, New York PL, Newark PL, and hundreds of others
How the Library Benefits from Texting

  • Many people now prefer texting for simple questions that don’t need immediate answers (i.e. do you have a book, what time do you close, where can I get tax forms)
  • Texting allows librarians to manage their time more efficiently; patrons are more patient waiting for replies then they would be on the phone.

  • The cheapest solution would be to subscribe to an unlimited “Qwert” plan for $19.99 a month (plus one time setup fee of $9.99). There is no contract, and plan can be cancelled at anytime. Library needs to provide cell phone (preferably one with a QWERTY keypad, which can be bought secondhand for $50 dollars); Qwert works on any phone that takes a SIM card.
  • Most large libraries use a service by Mosio; this service sends a text to software on a computer. Plans start at $65 a month and go to $100.


Facts about Facebook

  • In March 2010, more people visited Facebook then Google—making it the most visited site in the United States
  • Over 400 million people use Facebook
  • On any given day 200 million people login to Facebook
  • 3 billion photos are uploaded to Facebook each month
  • 1.5 million businesses now have Facebook pages.
Libraries on Facebook

  • Kansas City Public Library (1,400 Fans)
  • San Francisco Public Library (3,700 Fans)
  • New York Public Library (14,000 Fans)
  • Los Angeles Public Library (1,400 Fans)
  • Hundreds of others…
How Libraries Benefit from Facebook

  • It puts a friendly face on the library and encourages patrons to stop by and see more
  • It exposes programs regular patrons don’t know about
  • It keeps patrons connected
  • Easy (and free) way to share event photos and videos
  • Let patrons easily share information about upcoming library events with family and friends who might also be interested.
  • Facebook fan pages are visited more often than regular homepages
  • Facebook is easier to build and manage than a regular homepage.
Time Needed to Maintain

  • 1 to 2 hours a week

Facts About YouTube

  • YouTube is the third most visited site on the Internet (behind only Google and Facebook
  • 70% of YouTube users are from the U.S.
  • The average teen spends over 2hours a week on YouTube
Libraries with YouTube channels

  • Toronto PL, New York PL, Flint PL, Kalamazoo PL, Prescott PL, Topeka PL, and dozens of others
How the Library Benefits from YouTube

  • Easy and free way to show storytimes and computer classes, so patrons can see what they are missing out
  • Provide instructional videos on getting email, hunting for jobs, creating a resume, etc.
  • Videos can be watched on a wide array of devices (not just computers)
Time Needed to Maintain

  • 30 minutes to edit each video

What is Podcasting?

  • Podcasting is audio feeds of different topics that users listen to on their MP3 player
How the Library Benefits from Podcating

  • Library can provide informative information that patrons can listen to while they drive or exercise.
  • Public libraries who have successfully implemented podcasting regularly publish book talks, book readings, storytimes, and monthly book news/book recommendation
Time Needed to Maintain

  • 1 hour to record and publish podcast—plus the time to prepare what will be recorded.
iPhone App

What is an
iPhone App?

iPhone apps, are mobile applications that users with an iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad can download. The applications are meant to mobilize the Internet and provide them with easy access to their favorite content.

Facts About the
iPhone / iPod Touch / iPad

  • Over 30 million people own an iPhone in the United States
  • Over 25 million people own an iPod Touch
  • iPad completely sold out before its April release
  • 3 Billion apps have been downloaded
  • Most public libraries have not invested in developing apps because they can be costly and time consuming; new developments, however, have almost eliminated time and cost factors from the picture.
Libraries with
iPhone Apps

  • Washington DC Public Library is the Only public library with an iPhone

How the Library
Benefits from Mobile Apps

  • Mobile apps are one of the largest growth sectors
  • It’s an opportunity to do something few libraries have ever did and be cutting edge
  • It is one of the best ways to promote other virtual reference the library will offer
    (Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
  • It literally puts the library at patrons fingertips, and gives them the convenience of
    finding out about the library anywhere they are at.

Time Needed to

  • 15 to 20 hours are need to develop the initial application
  • 1 to 2 hours weekly is needed to keep the page updated
  • 5 hours of additional time invested would be enough to develop the same application on the
    Google Android phone
Other Tools

What It Can Do:
It combines every instant messenger into one (AIM, Yahoo, etc.), and let’s patrons send instant messages to the reference desk.

Why We Need It:
It’s a simple (and free) solution that could be easily implemented to provide basic reference services virtually.

What It Can Do:
A blog with the latest library news, book reviews, and upcoming events can be fed directly to the libraries webpage.

Why We Need It:
Gives a little more to patrons who want substance, and not short wall updates.

What It Can Do:
As the library uploads more and more photos, this is an easy way to manage those photos.

Why We Need It:
Unlike Facebook, Flickr photos can be indexed and searched.

What It Can Do:
Patrons with twitter accounts, can send messages to the libraries Twitter account directly from their cell phones.

Why We Need It:
The website is growing more popular every year (especially with college students).


Noel said...

Great post, this has super helpful info!

New moon said...

Thanks for the information. such a very good.

Dreams Sms

Caitlin Cahill said...

Google Voice could be used to text for free, and it can all be done from a computer.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget about LibraryH3lp for text reference (and chat reference for that matter). It's a lot cheaper than Mosio and is run by a librarian.

tigerknitting said...

Hi, In addition to Meebo, Digsby, Trillian, and Pidgin let you log into multiple IM accounts. I use Digsby at my library and we even have a widget on our webpage so people who don't have an IM account can still IM the library. (Hackley Public Library in Muskegon MI)

Reno said...

This was a very interesting post, I found myself feeling a bit proud that my city library system is using most of these 'online tools' :P

Karl J. Kuerner, III said...

Meredity Farkas and others also post on specific tools. This is very encouraging and I would like to suggest adding, in addition to Facebook, LinkedIN. LinkedIN seems to be more for serious professional communications but not always.

Mrs. JD said...

As Caitlin said, Google Voice can be used for text messaging. We use it at my library and it is easy to use and FREE! We also use Meebo for our chat reference and have a Facebook account. We are one of the only public law libraries doing virtual reference. Check us out at the Utah State Law Library -