With more than 250 electronic resources at St. Thomas libraries, finding what you’re looking for might be a struggle.
“From my experience, the online resources to me are a little more challenging,” junior Tom Brudzinski said. “Online, you almost need to sit down with someone just to kind of have them walk you through it and get through all the journals.”
Last week, St. Thomas started a new text message service to put students more in touch with librarians and help them find the resources they need. Instead of calling a librarian or finding the nearest reference desk, students can simply take out their cell phone and send a text. Questions range from research help to library hours and everything in between.
This is an idea John Heintz, associate director for digital initiatives in the libraries, said is continuing the library’s already-established researching tools, and it’s the next logical step in helping students navigate the library’s resources.
“Basically we thought it was a natural extension of the existing instant-messaging service,” Heintz said. “We want to be able to reach out to students in any way we can. We have really good print and electronic resources in the libraries, and we can really help students a lot, and we just want to get that communication out to people and get them as many ways as possible to get help from us as we can.”
The library has had an IM reference on its Web site since 2007, and Heintz said it is starting to catch on. In 2008, the library answered around 386 student questions. That number nearly tripled in 2009 with more than 1100.
“We have people chat with us in the online form even from within the building,” Heintz said. “They could walk right over to the desk or they could call on the phone, but they’re comfortable with doing the chats.”
The library has found that some students are simply more at ease with the anonymity of typing a question instead of talking directly to a librarian.
“It’s more convenient, and it’s less embarrassing looking like you don’t know what you’re doing here,” freshman Caitlin Hall said. “So it would be easier and less complicated.”
Other students still prefer the more traditional route, though.
“It’s good that the library is trying to stay up to date on the most recent technology and the fads that are going through the student body,” senior Andrew Nowak said. “[But] that would be a really long text message to get all the details in … if I were to use the internet or just talk to them I would be able to get it done a lot faster.”
Heintz said the time it takes to get a response varies depending on the depth of the question asked and staff availability.
The service has only been around for a little over a week, with only a handful of questions sent to the librarians who staff the service at O’Shaughnessy Frey Library and Keffer Library in Minneapolis.
Whether students will fully use the new service has yet to be seen, but with St. Thomas spending about $1.8 million a year on print and electronic content, the library wants to make sure students have the tools they need to use it.
“We’ve got good, solid information resources here that we pay a lot of money for, Heintz said. “It’s your tuition money; you should be using it. So any way we can have people find that stuff we’re going to try that.”
Ashley Bolkcom can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.