The Licking County Library has added a patron service that sends text messages to tell users about items on hold, checked-out items about to be due and overdue items.

The Licking County Library has added a patron service that sends text messages to tell users about items on hold, checked-out items about to be due and overdue items.

The service, which is free to both the patron and the library, is part of a package of services offered by a statewide library consortium, Serving Every Ohioan.

Director Babette Wofter said the SEO consortium is in part a response to the changing funding mix for public libraries, as state support drops and local levies pick up the slack.

"Our (state-provided) funding has been reduced 25 percent to 30 percent in the last few years," Wofter said.

Fortunately for the library system, voters in Licking County last spring approved a five-year, 1-mill levy that will enable the library to increase its budget from a current $2.6-million to $3.8-million in the next few years. That will allow the library to restore some services that have been cut and add new services.

"For planning purposes, we are hopeful that state funding will be the same (next year as this year)," Wofter said. "With the levy, we expect to add more to our materials budget."

The texting service is part of the SEO consortium, for which the library pays $35,000 annually to be a member. The service provides both cataloging assistance and other common services, and also allows the library to expand its home collection of 300,000 items into a statewide collection of more than 6-million items.

She said the text messaging service is popular.

"I've been out and about in the branches, and I'm told people are taking us up on the offer," Wofter said. "When they register for a library card, we ask for a cell phone number, and if they would like text messages that's something we'll do. It's automatically generated if they have something on hold, a three-day courtesy reminder that something is due, and then if something is overdue. It saves us money on postage."

Technology is changing rapidly enough that it was only a relatively short time ago that the library began offering e-mail notifications. Now, even email is becoming an "old" technology.

"We have been doing e-mail notices for less than five years," Wofter said. "We're finding though that even e-mail is becoming kind of dated, and we're trying to keep up with how folks want to receive information.

"This is just another way of telling people what they want to know."

The amount of money collected this year from fines is down, but Wofter is not sure if this is because the new services are more effective at stimulating users to return materials on time, or if the economy is affecting user's behavior.

Wofter said libraries are becoming community information centers, expanding beyond print material.

"We have downloadable ebooks, public Internet access, we're a lot more than books," she said.