Program allows students to text questions to MU librarians

Students may text "askmu" to 66746 to reach an Ellis librarian.
Sophomore Daniel Slominski studies on his laptop Monday in Ellis Library. The library now offers a texting service that allows students to send questions to the library from their phones.

The Ask a Librarian program is offering a new service allowing students to text questions to MU libraries to get quick answers.

The service began this summer, but with the beginning of the fall semester, there has been some increase in its use and people’s awareness of the program. Students text “askmu” to 66746 to ask a question which is sent to a librarian at Ellis Library and answered via text.

Students also have the option of texting “otto” to the same number to have their question answered by the Health Services Library.

There is no limit to the number of questions a student can ask, but normal messaging rates charged by the carrier apply.

“The system itself is very nice,” Ellis librarian Rhonda Whithaus said. “When a text message is received, it sends a message to the librarian’s e-mail, which includes a link to login to the service. From there, they answer the question and send it.”

The service keeps records of the messages sent from a specific device in order to track previous questions asked.

“It is just for the librarians to be able to look at what types of questions are being asked and make sure they’re being answered,” MU Libraries spokeswoman Shannon Cary said. “The questions are private, so they don’t have information about who’s asking questions.”

Whithaus said librarians try to answer any question. She said they have received questions mostly about the library so far, anything from where something is located to how much a coffee costs at the café.

Junior Darryl Dixson said he thinks students would definitely use a service like this.

“It’s very contemporary,” Dixson said. “The generation is used to the technology. It’s easier than going onto a computer and asking the library.”

Ellis librarian Mary Ryan said the librarians try to be as quick as they can in responding. She said it usually takes a few minutes.

“We do try to respond very quickly,” she said. “Some can take a little effort. Finding that answer may take a little bit to get to.”

Cary said the libraries are just beginning to advertise.

“We sent out the press release,” she said. “There are signs in the libraries, and plasma screen ads in the Student Union as well as an article in the Tribune.”

Ryan and Whithaus said the library has begun to mention the option on their tours and in their classes.

“We’ll see if it picks up now that we’re promoting it,” said Whithaus.

A concern Dixson had is whether questions had to pertain to the library.

“I guess it depends on how much we get the non-academic sorts of questions,” Ryan said. “We won’t filter them. If somebody said ‘What’s the next engagement for Lady GaGa?’ we might not be thrilled about that, but we’d try to find out.”

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