or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Text Message App for Public Libraries

   May 1st, 2013

I received a marketing email recently about TxtReads, a new text message service app for libraries. My immediate reaction was quite mixed.

Technically, it looks like a great thing - it allows patrons to interact with their library account via simple, plain-English text messages. So if they want to look up a book, place a hold, etc., it's very easy for them to do - and without having to log into the catalog.

So, all good, right? Well, I spotted some negative points, too.

When I visited their website, their primary marketing message kind of shocked me:

TxtReads will change your next trip to your local bookstore. Simply use your mobile phone and send two text messages: One to see if the book you found is available at the library, and the second to place a hold.

Certainly this sort of functionality is possible with existing library apps and mobile sites (I've even built it into my library's mobile website), but promoting it so prominently like this kind of rubbed me the wrong way. Showrooming is such a problem for brick-and-mortar retail stores that some are charging people to even come into their store, and refunding it only if they buy something.

Libraries and bookstores are not competitors, and in fact have the opportunity to enjoy close relationships. But this activity - and blatantly encouraging it - could kill real-life bookstores, which in turn will hurt the book world and, as a result, libraries too.

Secondly, this text feature is so good that it makes me mad that our catalog doesn't already have this functionality built into it. I would much rather have integrated features than a mish-mash of third-party addons - I know that's hardly the reality, but still something to strive for. So, before signing up for this app, my first stop would be to check in with out ILS developers to see if they can make it happen internally.

I suppose that right there is its own type of showrooming - oh well.

At any rate, neat features in a clean-looking app. Just, I don't know, I don't like their marketing approach.

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3 Responses to “Text Message App for Public Libraries”

  1. Jason Boyer Says:

    I thought this would be a fun Evergreen enhancement a few years ago, but I was planning to go nuts and buy a GSM modem to connect to a server and then grab some SMS gateway software… Fortunately, I couldn’t talk anyone around here into giving me any money for that. Maybe someone can find a way to manage this in a way that’s actually reasonable. (Some kind of email gateway, Google Voice API or something if they ever release one, etc.)

    I never saw the marketing copy you mentioned though, that kind of window shopping is pretty awful, recommending it to users is doubly so.

    Also, if you’re at all into details, the iPhone text mockup on their site is absolutely infuriating with all of the ways that it’s wrong/impossible.

  2. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Jason: I believe Evergreen now uses an email gateway to send hold notifications by text, so hopefully developers could piggyback off that – but I don’t know how it would handle the authentication at the same time. The marketing copy is on http://txtreads.com/beta, and I do enjoy details like the mocking mock-up, but, not having a cell phone, the impossibilities were lost on me.

  3. La librairie showroom | Hortensius Says:

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