ASSOCIATES (2011, March, v. 17, no. 3)


Patron Text Message Services for Laptops and Reserve Books

Ben Hogben
Access Services Manager
Ithaca College Library, NY

In the study of Economics, the law of supply and demand determines how much of an item is available for consumers and how much people are willing to buy at a certain price. This “law” helps to regulate the supply of an item.

In libraries, we might also have “supply and demand” with some of the services that we offer such as, reserve books available for checkout, often right before a class, and laptops available for checkout. Since libraries typically do not charge for reserve book checkouts or loaner laptops, it may be difficult to regulate the inventory of these items to ensure they are available to our users when needed. One way to help our users access popular reserve items or loaner laptops is to let them know when they are available for checkout. This could be done by using restaurant type pagers that vibrate, or by using the ubiquitous cell phone.

At my library, I implemented a paging service which requires no extra equipment and no fees. When a user needs a particular reserve book or a loaner laptop and that item is not available for checkout, he or she can fill out a “text request” form at the Circulation Desk. When the item is returned and available for check out, Circulation staff enters on an on-line text form the user cell phone number, cell phone carrier, library e-mail address (used as an acknowledgement that a text was sent), and the text message. Receiving the e-mail acknowledgment helps to track how often the service is being used. Included in the message is a time limit of three minutes to pick up the item before the next patron is notified that the item is available. Also included on the form is a time when the user no longer needs the item, if not returned in time to meet their needs.

This service is provided through a free web-based text messaging service. There are many companies that offer this type of service; typing the phrase “free text messaging” in an Internet search engine will give you many choices. Carefully read the Privacy Policy of a text messaging service to ensure that cell phone numbers are not stored, sold or used for soliciting purposes by the text message company. Sending text messages could also be done through a library-owned cell phone.

We have used this text messaging service for a few years now and our users are pleased with this option when it is offered to them. It is one way for library staff to help our users with “supply and demand” of popular library items.