Remote Reference Service for Customers with Limited Internet Access


According to a 2017 report from the Digest of Education Statistics (“Digest of Education Statistics, 2017,” n.d.), 89.3 percent of United States residents owned some form of a computer, whether desktop, laptop of phone.   Yet, only 81.9 percent had internet access and that number dropped significantly in rural areas with Mississippi and Arkansas falling below 72 percent.  In 2018, the National Center for Education Statistics (“NCES Blog | The Digital Divide: Differences in Home Internet Access,” n.d.) reported that even among those in rural areas, internet access varied by ethnicity.   In addition, to those without access to the internet there are thousands of individuals who live in areas where cellular coverage is unreliable.   And, in 2018, the Washington Post reported that even tens of thousands of people living in the United States’ technology capital had no home internet access.  (Fung, n.d.).  For these individuals, a local library may provide their sole form of internet access, but the distance might make the commute an impractical option.

As noted in the by Smith and Wong (2016), text messaging provides a means of two-way communication between remote library customers and reference librarians.

This is an outline of a plan for a public library to provide reference assistance individuals without internet access either in the home or via a cellular carrier.

Type of Library

 This plan is for a public library serving a large geographical radius and a community with limited access to the internet and therefore would not be able to access standard chat or email interface via a webpage,

Target Audience

The target audience for this service would be the general public with a focus on Middle through High School students, Senior Citizens and those with disabilities or medical conditions which would limit their transportation options.   Since the target audience for this service is limited to cellular based SMS service, this is not an ideal solution for questions that require the transmission of large documents or links to webpages.  Therefore, the research model would be similar that of a law of medical librarian, in which the customer poses a question and the librarian completes the research and provides an answer.


The library would install LibraryH3lp or a similar product on their staff desktops.  Librarians would be able to receive and reply to customers reference questions via the desktop application.  The Library would promote the designated public telephone number or SMS number via its community outreach efforts.  In order to avoid providing a false expectation of service, the library would need to establish a response time for inquiries and might program an initial auto reply message such as, “Thank you for contacting the ABC Library Reference Desk.  Your message will be answered by one of our librarians within 24 hours.  Depending on the complexity of your question, we may need to ask you for additional information.”  The Library would also need to take steps to assure customers that their texts are treated with the same confidentiality as inquiries made in the library and/or explain any other privacy issues.

While most cell phone plans offer unlimited talk and text, there are numerous plans which place a cap on customer’s text.  Librarians will need to be cognizant of that fact and make their responses as concise as possible.

Desired Outcome and Method of Measurement

The goal of this plan is to provide a service the members of the community for whom it would otherwise be unavailable.  The impact of the program can be measured by manually logs kept by each librarian or, via linking the texting application to results tracking software.

Works Cited

Fung, B. (n.d.). In America’s tech capital, tens of thousands go without home Internet. Here’s how San Francisco wants to fix it. Retrieved March 24, 2019, from Washington Post website:

NCES Blog | The Digital Divide: Differences in Home Internet Access. (n.d.). Retrieved March 24, 2019, from

Number and percentage of households with computer and internet access, by state: 2016. (2019). Retrieved 24 March 2019, from

Smith, L. C., & Wong, M. A. (Eds.). (2016). Reference and information services: an introduction (Fifth edition). In (Fifth edition). Santa Barbara, California: Libraries Unlimited.