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Keeping track of it all

October 14, 2011

Along with every other department on campus, libraries are under increasing pressure to evaluate their services – everything from student learning outcomes to expenditures.

Tally marks

Are your reference statistics a comedy or a tragedy? Image courtesy of Flickr user aepoc

Assessing the value of libraries in these areas requires the collection of lots of information.  Data of all kinds needs to be collected, analyzed and shared.  So what data do we collect, and where do we store it?

We have lots of silos for relevant information here in my library, and none of us are convinced that we are doing things in the best way possible.  Our collection of statistics related to reference and research help services provides one example.

The most obvious place where this happens is the reference desk.  To keep statistics about what happens here we use LibStats to record:

  • the question itself,
  • the format (phone, walk-up, IM)
  • the patron (student, community member, faculty member)
  • how long it took to answer

But our research help doesn’t end at the reference desk.  One of the big services we provide is research consultations by appointment.  Students (and faculty or community members) can request an appointment and their request will be routed to the most appropriate librarian.  (No one wants me answering in-depth research questions about primary sources in 17th century European history, for example.)

These requests come via an online form that dumps information into a home-grown MS Access database.  For this kind of appointment-based research help we collect the same information recorded for reference desk questions, but also information about the student and the course the project is related to.

But our research help comes in other forms, too.  We have an email-based ask a librarian service, and we all get email questions directly from students and faculty.  At this point we aren’t very good at recording this type of information.  What system should we use?

We also aren’t very good at recording questions that come directly to us from faculty, either via email, phone or in person.

And I haven’t even started to discuss the challenges of assessing the student learning outcomes associated with research and reference help services.

As a result of all this, it is difficult to get one complete picture of our involvement in research across campus.  It’s something we are currently working to resolve.

And the biggest question that will influence how we do this is

“What do we want to do with this information?”

Change our services?  Change our staffing levels? Merely collecting the data won’t be of use to anyone.  The answer to these questions will influence the type of data that we  collect and the tools we use to collect it.

And once we figure out all that, then we just need to remember to record everything.

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