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

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

The service, which comes at no charge and does not cost the library anything to use, is part of a package of services offered by a statewide library consortium, Serving Every Ohioan.

LCL director Babette Wofter said the 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 May approved a five-year, 1-mill levy to enable the library to increase its budget from $2.6-million to $3.8-million in the next few years. That will allow the library to restore some services that had been cut and to 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: $3.8-million."

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

Patrons will be able to search the catalog and see items on hand and items around the state.

Wofter described it this way: "You see our holdings first; then you'll see the holdings of all the other libraries underneath that."

Wofter 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," she 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.

"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 users' behavior.

"We have not received quite as much, in terms of fines and fees this year," Wofter said. "It might be because people are not as able to pay with the economy, but it might also be that because we have these services to remind people by mail, e-mail and now text, that this is helping people be more conscientious. It's hard to tell what drives it: economic times or we're doing better about reminding people."

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

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