Search tips
Search criteria 


Logo of jmlaJournal informationSubscribeSubmissions on the Publisher web siteCurrent issue of JMLA in PMCAlso see BMLA journal in PMC
J Med Libr Assoc. 2010 July; 98(3): 267–268.
PMCID: PMC2900998

Text a Librarian

Reviewed by LaVerne Poussaint

Mosio : 2565 Third Street, San Francisco, CA 94107.; Four pricing packages available: lite, $780/year; standard, $1,199/year; premium, $2,399/year; plus co-op. Discount available for existing QuestionPoint users wishing to integrate the 2 systems 


Born from the matrix of microblogging platforms ensnared in perpetual patch mode and social networking solutions ill designed for scholastic communication, Text-a-Librarian (TAL) is a mobile reference tool conceived from the perspective of librarian-patron exchange and reference workflows.


Enabled by Mosio's Smart Dialogue technology, TAL facilitates patron text queries from mobile phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs). For initial set-up, a user inputs a library's keyword (e.g., ymedlib) to 66746. A confirmation message is transmitted with a reminder to save 66746 as the library's number. Thereafter, a patron can readily post to TAL at anytime. The password-protected, web-based interface (Microboard) is where queries are viewed and answers disseminated by logged-in librarians, who text messages back during research assistance hours from their desk computers or their own Internet-enabled mobile devices. Dashboard indicators—specific to each library or library system—announce new posts. Queued queries are responded to in turn and in brief (320 or fewer characters). Face-to-face research consultations can be scheduled, or patrons can be directed to other options such as real-time chat or web forms.

Features and functionality

Patrons do not have access to Microboard, which librarians can access from any computer with an Internet connection (assuming user ID and password are known). Notifications can be integrated with email, instant messaging (IM), and other clients with a link back to Microboard. Archived questions and answers are available via a searchable knowledge bank for future use. The included RefStart application is a personal start-page for librarians, giving one-click access to other reference tools and internal library databases. TAL also provides a TextSpeak translator, templates for duplicated inquiries, reporting components generating numerical and graphical data for analyzing statistics and exporting transcripts, customizable multimodal notification system, and auto-response delivery. Mosio has recently launched a service acting as an intermediary between libraries considering undertaking mobile donation initiatives and online providers of fundraising campaign tools.

Virtual reference collaboration

These on-demand services can be rendered from a single reference desk or across branches and campus units. TAL colleagues can send specific questions to better-suited staff for help. TAL intuitively informs when another librarian has already commenced patron engagement. TAL and OCLC's QuestionPoint reference management suite will soon be offered as a combined service that will extend from the United States to Canada.

Implementation and maintenance

TAL's logistics require no information technology crews, no software installation, no added hardware equipment, no workstations, no leasing, no configuring, no coding, and no hacking. Mosio maintains compliance, updates, improvements, enhancements, and mobile tech management.

Accessibility and usability

TAL is widely available throughout the United States to approximately 260 million mobile users via partnerships with AT&T, Boost, Cellular South, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, Virgin Mobile, and other carriers. Given the recent Mosio-OCLC accord, expanded coverage can be anticipated via Rogers, Bell Canada, and Telus. Standard text messaging (TM) charges apply for patrons. TAL executes well on iPhone or iPod Touch and works with IM and web chat systems (Meebo, Pidgin, GTalk, Trillian, and others). TAL patrons derive a text-to-email advantage that many mobile phones do not provide. Libraries avoid spam blacklisting of their email and Internet protocol (IP) addresses by carriers who filter systems management server (SMS) messaging. Privacy is assured by use of secure sockets layer (SSL) encryption, and users are assigned private IDs via secured, carrier-approved telecom channels to ensure anonymity.

Other gateway systems

LibraryH3lp functions as an open-source, developer-friendly, kludge-bound construction that offers assistive technology options for patrons who require text-to-speech accessibility. Altarama Information Systems offers a text service as part of its virtual reference suite, which also includes fax support, and has supplied the TM platform for the collaborative text message reference service MyInfoQuest. Twitter's instability, lack of systematic threading, and public format make it an ill-suited scholastic workaround.


Google Voice piggy-backing is not an application programming interface (API) mechanism enabled by TAL. TAL clients must also be OCLC subscribers to send, receive, or respond to queries in the QuestionPoint interface.

Some science, technology, and medicine libraries using Text A Librarian

Libraries using TAL include Kresge Engineering Library, University California, Berkeley; Cushing/Whitney Medical Library, Yale University; BioMedical Library, University of Pennsylvania; biology and chemistry house librarians, CalTech; and Mann Library, Cornell University.

Articles from Journal of the Medical Library Association : JMLA are provided here courtesy of Medical Library Association