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Text Messaging Reference Service Launched – My Info Quest. Is it really better than chacha and kgb?

August 3, 2009

A press release today announces the first “text messaging reference service.” While it’s a decent idea, and relevant to the public library user market, it’s not really novel and one has to wonder how useful this is. After all, there already exist at least two text messaging services which essentially provide reference service, chacha and kgb.

Chacha and kgb use low wage people searching Google and in-house knowledge bases (roughly 10 cents per response, which usually averages to less than minimum wage) , whereas My Info Quest uses “real, live librarians” (much more highly paid). Chacha and kgb are both staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week whereas My Info Quest is staffed… 14 hours on weekdays, 8 hours on Saturdays and not at all on Sundays. Chacha is also free (ad-supported), so there’s no cost difference either.

Oh, and chacha recently released a study showing that Chacha results are more accurate than Google Voice or Vlingo (Google/ Yahoo via phone). While this study shouldn’t be a surprise (human + Google > Google), it showed that Chacha hit the mark approximately 89% of the time. That’s 25%better than at health science libraries and 34% more than the oft-cited 55% accuracy by Hernon & McClure / Kaske & Arnold.

Other than pointing to the occasional library book, it’ll be interesting to see the future for this service.

The applications here are – are we aware of these other resources / alternatives which are springing up? (Did you know about kgb or chacha?) Are we evaluating them in the context of where our value proposition is? And are we trying to fight losing battles or are we planning and positioning strategically?

A snippet of the press release follows. Full link here.

A new library service named My Info Quest ( claims to be the first collaborative text messaging reference service of its kind. The Alliance Library System ( in East Peoria, Ill., has partnered with about 50 participating libraries; Altarama Information Systems (; and WebClarity Software, Inc. (, developers of PeopleWhere (, to build this new reference service. The pilot program launched on July 20 and will extend until Dec. 31. Other partners include San Jose State University Graduate School of Library and Information Science, South Central Regional Library Council in New York, and TAP Information Services.

The patrons of approximately 50 libraries from all over the U.S. are now able to text a question from their mobile phones to 309-222-7740 and a “real, live librarian” will respond within minutes. The service is free of charge, but standard text messaging rates apply. Staffed by librarians from around the country, answers are sent to cell phones by librarians in 320 characters or less, or the equivalent of two 160-character text messages. The hours of service are Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.-10 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. August 10, 2009 1:44 pm

    Vendor disclaimer: posted by

    It seems everywhere there is a blog post about ChaCha or KGB, there is a librarian/patron in the comments saying “we don’t need these services, we have libraries.” KGB costs $.99 per question answered, ChaCha seems to send an increasing number of “8Ball” answers (not from a human) all with advertisements. Personally (and I’m definitely biased), I’d prefer to have my questions answered by a librarian, but I’m not sure beating ChaCha and KGB is what InfoQuest has in mind. If so, then they’ll have to offer 24/7 services or they won’t be able to compete.

    Many of the patron questions we see on our system are specific to their library. We’re seeing more Special Libraries (Medical leading the charge) contact us for this reason and think patrons will come to expect to communicate with their libraries via this medium. We this is a great pilot program, are watching with great interest and will be taking notes to see what can be improved upon in the future.

  2. Alexander Feng permalink
    August 10, 2009 4:28 pm

    Noel, that makes some sense – certainly it is useful for answering questions about the local library – but that’s a small market for questions. Plus setting up a text message service isn’t free and reference service accuracy is known to be spotty for general questions.

    Also, it seems to me that it defeats the purpose of answering questions about the local library if the service is staffed by people in 50 different libraries across the country…?

    • August 12, 2009 6:45 pm

      Vendor disclaimer: posted by

      I would argue that neither use (for local library or all types of questions) is a small market based on what we’re hearing. Ultimately, it’s up to each library to set expectations of what types of questions they’ll answer (which many do for chat, email, etc.). The libraries offering answers to ANY on-the-go questions are likely to have more people using the service, which is great. We’re seeing both sides of the spectrum, but the goals all seem to be in line: continue to make the library relevant and useful for patrons no matter where they are.

      I can’t attest to reference service accuracy being spotty, generally speaking, but I do feel librarians are better suited to respond to reference questions than your average work-from-home individual.

      With the massive growth of text messaging in the U.S. and all over the world, it’s becoming apparent that texting isn’t going away anytime soon. Witnessing and being part of the evolution of mobility will continue to be incredibly exciting.

      Thanks for the post, Alexander!


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