Lately, we’ve heard so much about increased library use due to the economy. Computer use, program attendance, circulation and visits are way up, but I haven’t heard much about reference statistics.
Before I came to work for BCR I worked in adult services for a number of years, so I’m always interested in hearing what reference librarians are busy with these days. Have your statistics been going up? Are you still keeping daily statistics or are you sampling? How are you classifying your statistics?
We used to have columns for directional, technical and reference. Directional was for when someone needed to know the location of the bathroom or a certain call number. Technical was when they needed help with a computer or other equipment. Reference was pretty much everything else. When we reported statistics to the state, it was the combination of the reference and technical columns (the directional stats were just for our use).
These three categories never told the whole story. One question might take 15 seconds to answer off the top of your head and another might take hours of intense research. We always talked about qualifying the statistics, but it just seemed like it would take too much time and effort. Shortly before I left, we did away with the daily tally sheets and started sampling for one week each quarter. At that point there was again talk of getting more information on each transaction since capturing the details four weeks a year seemed much less onerous than always having to do it.
But lately it’s common to get reference questions via your virtual reference service, instant messaging, email, Twitter… And since these newer methods require written communication, details for many of your transaction are already available. Analyzing this information can help determine staffing, training, collection and web site needs.
So I was intrigued by DeskStats and RefTracker from Altarama. DeskStats eliminates the need for manually totaling your statistics and quickly records the type of question, how long it took to answer, when and how it was received and more, making analysis a breeze. With so many ways to ask a reference question, you might miss one, but RefTracker lets you easily manage all the questions. Staff can work on questions together, forward them to subject experts or to whoever is available. Saving frequently asked questions and search methods in the knowledge database will increase the efficiency of your department (since the answers to many inquiries will be readily available) and facilitate training. Capturing the entire transaction allows for even deeper analysis of your users’ needs. And using its uncomplicated ask-a-librarian interface will encourage your customers to ask their questions right away, instead of turning to you in frustration after searching fruitlessly.
So tell me, how are you collecting, managing and analyzing reference questions? Are any of you using tools from RUSA?