Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Texting 4 Answers: What Questions Do People Ask?

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Texting 4 Answers: What Questions Do People Ask?

Article excerpt

This study seeks to provide empirical evidence about how users use text reference service, especially what kinds of questions they ask, to further the professional understanding of this emerging reference service venue and how to best deliver text reference service via this venue. More than three thousand transactions from My Info Quest, the first nation-wide collaborative text reference service, were studied to identify the types of information needs fulfilled by text reference. Additional analysis of characteristics such as transaction length and interactivity provides a more in-depth picture of the nature of text reference. Findings of the study will be beneficial to libraries that are interested in starting a text reference service and developing best practices.

Today's technologies offer new ways for librarians and users to interact. One such technology that is growing increasingly popular as a communication venue is texting, or the exchange of text messages on mobile phones. These messages can be comprised of words, numbers, or alphanumeric combination. Each message can be up to 160 characters in length when Latin alphabets are used and 70 characters in length when non-Latin alphabets are used. Texting is becoming a popular communication venue in the United States and around the world. The rapid growth of cell phone ownership in the past few years demonstrates the popularity of mobile technology The Pew Internet & American Life Project shows that 77 percent of all adults had a cell phone or other mobile device in 2008 and that the number rose to 85 percent by April 2009; for teenagers ages 12-17, the same statistic increased from 45 percent in 2004 to 71 percent in early 2008. (1) In addition to the astounding expansion of cell phone ownership among teens, the mobile world has witnessed a growing trend in their use of texting, both in overall likelihood of use and in frequency of use. The percentage of teens (both cell phone owners and non-owners) that had sent a text message increased from 51 percent in 2006 to 58 percent in 2008, and the percentage that used text messaging daily increased from 27 percent to 38 percent over the same period. (2)

Indisputably, texting has become a significant avenue for communication and social activities in people's daily lives. Its growing popularity has drawn attention in the library community and libraries have started adopting it as a medium to offer reference services. Texting-based reference service, or text reference in short, is defined as reference service provided via the exchange Lili Luo is Assistant Professor, School of Library and Information Science, San Jose State University, San Jose, California. Emily Weak earned her MLIS from this program in May 2011. Submitted for review December 20,2010; revised and accepted for publication March 20, 2011. of text messages on mobile phones. To use the service, library patrons send their questions as text messages to a phone number and receive answers in the same format. Librarians usually use a web application like e-mail to receive and respond to patrons' questions.

Due to the emerging nature of text reference service, empirical research is much needed to study the affordance of texting as a means for reference service and to understand how patrons use this service to meet their information needs. The types of information needs are usually indicated by the types of questions people ask. Therefore, this study seeks to perform an in-depth analysis of text reference inquiries and hence identify the types of information needs fulfilled by the service. The main research question in this study is "What are the types of questions people ask when using a text reference service?" In addition, the study will explore other variables concerning text reference questions and answers, such as the level of interactivity in transactions, question completion status, initial response time, repeat service use, and more. …

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