Everyone's jumping aboard the mobile express these days. OCLC's QuestionPoint, the leading suite of virtual reference tools for libraries, has been building its mobile offerings for 2 years now. It has introduced the Qwidget chat icon with variations and a Mobile Webkit, and it put its Knowledge Base out as a web service. However, though chat and email services are fully supported, it has not yet offered a way for users to reach its clients via text messaging. Responding to increased requests from clients for this option, OCLC (www.oclc.org) has initiated a collaborative effort with Mosio (www.mosio.com) to offer Mosio's Text a Librarian (www.textalibrarian.com) service as an optional add-on to the QuestionPoint service. OCLC is building an API (application programming interface) to make the interaction seamless. It expects to complete development work on the API and launch the new service option sometime in March.
A complete reference management system, QuestionPoint offers multiple avenues for users to reach library assistance, including email, chat, and knowledgebases, along with administrative tools for managing the operation. Libraries interested in after-hours service may choose to use the 24/7 Reference Cooperative as well. When Mosio's Text a Librarian service completes integration with QuestionPoint, it will become another subscription offering-first in U.S. libraries and then abroad. Susan McGlamery, QuestionPoint senior product manager, said that OCLC would offer QuestionPoint subscribers who are new to Text a Librarian a discount. Specifics would be negotiated, e.g., with library consortia, but McGlamery thought the discounts over regular Mosio fees would run around 10%.
Mosio's Text a Librarian works with email, instant messaging, and such web chat systems as Meebo, Pidgin, GoogleTalk, AIM, etc. It currently has some 250 library subscribers. The potential expansion should be significant as QuestionPoint has about 2,200 libraries in 30 countries. OCLC reaches a much larger market for any of its services: 71,000 libraries in 86 countries.
QuestionPoint has been adding mobile phone targeted services for 2 years. The Mobile Qwidget chat icon optimizes connections to QuestionPoint services, specifically for users of the iPhone O/S, Android, and Palm. Qwidget fans can customize their versions with Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) to build "skins" that match the library's own website look. There is even a specific Qwidget option for Facebook users. QuestionPoint also has a Mobile Webkit. (For more information, check out http://questionpoint.blogs.com/questionpoint_247_referen/2010/01/10-january-2010-install.html.)
OCLC also lets QuestionPoint subscribers access Knowledge Bases-both the Global Knowledge Base and/or institutional local knowledgebases-as web services using the parameters on the QuestionPoint Advanced Search page. Each question in the list hotlinks to specific knowledgebase records. According to McGlamery, "The KB web service goes one step further; now KB results can be integrated with other results via the library's search engine. All the library needs is a metasearch or federated search product that supports searches via a web service (examples would be Serials Solutions 360 Search and EBSCO Discovery Services). Results can be in a variety of formats, depending on what the search product requires (i.e., XML, plain text, etc.)."
McGlamery discussed OCLC's overall mobile strategy for QuestionPoint:
Our same "point of need" strategy prompted us to look at SMS texting as yet another channel or "door" to reference services (in fact, it was some of our QP libraries that suggested we look at Text a Librarian). Text a Librarian is in essence an aggregator-they have relationships with all the U.S. cell phone providers.
The Text a Librarian-QuestionPoint collaboration represents a new approach for QP, and [it's] one we hope to build on: APIs. Rather than build a texting component inside QP, we are instead developing an API to work with aggregators such as Text a Librarian. Thus QP continues to build on its core competency of providing integrated reference management (seamless referral, reporting and knowledge management, regardless of the communication mode: chat, email, Qwidget, SMS text), while Text a Librarian manages the relationships with cell phone providers and transmission issues.
QP is looking at other spaces where librarians can assist users in their information quest, including social spaces like Twitter. This will involve a longer project as it represents a slightly different model from the current one of Librarian interacting with Patron, one-to-one, with the accompanying privacy safeguards.
Text a Librarian is not the only service Mosio offers that could fit with OCLC's market needs. McGlamery referred to the current announcement as just "the first step." For example, Mosio's RefStart, a web-based application that gives librarians customizable one-click access to reference tools, search, Web 2.0 sites, and leading social networks, is already on OCLC's radar. Mosio also has a Twitter Answers App. (For details on how Text a Librarian works, check out the FAQ at www.textalibrarian.com/faqs.php. For pricing information, go to www.textalibrarian.com/pricing.php.)
I asked Gabriel Macias, vice president of sales and marketing at Mosio, how effective a short text message (160 characters or fewer) would be to ask a competent reference question. He said that many librarians use the text to set up a phone interview for a more detailed reference interview. According to Mosio's statistics, about 200 million of the 209 million mobile phone users subscribe to or purchase text messaging capability, and 138 million of these users text regularly. And those impressive numbers are growing. By the way, if learning the abbreviated language of texting makes you nervous, Mosio supplies a text translator icon that links to a glossary of 850 texting terms and translates back to English, according to Macias.
For an overview of OCLC's QuestionPoint developments, register for a Feb. 24, 2:00-3:00 p.m. EST webinar at OCLC (800/848-5878, ext. 4065) or Lauri McIntosh at firstname.lastname@example.org for the U.S. or email@example.com outside the U.S.