Tuesday, January 19, 2010

How the Referece Survey Should Be Tallied

Yes the LibCamp NYC 2009 unconference was a long time ago. What always strikes me is what I'm still talking about a year later. People are generally too cryptic in their immediate tweets (even though I presented about Twitter) and I don't like to mess up my Twitter account with too much non-personal stuff.

Yes, I'm one of those Twitterers who thinks it should NOT be used for personal branding. In fact, people who believe in marketing themselves sorta fall in the same likeability as evangelists and QVC hosts in my book. I'm very very suspicious of you, because I see your motivation.

However, what I wanted to talk about was an idea that was buzzing in my head since the unconference session "How Should We Handle the Dinosaur Known as the Reference Desk?" The answer by the way, was give more options to university students because they don't like it, but public library patrons freak out and still depend on it so don't rush to take it away.

Someone (stranger in the audience, if you ever stumble across my blog I will give you full credit) brought up their super smart library doesn't just tally the number of reference questions and call it a reference survey, but actually breaks it down by type:





Wow! Four columns (or boxes, or whatever you use for your reference survey) and you learn SOOOO much. Like how bad your signage is, what time of day you might want to offer computer classes, and if your patrons understand your borrowing policies.

On a whole I'm pretty disgusted with library statistics. I think the way funding is tied into statistics makes us focus on all the wrong things (ie number of books checked out versus having the right books for the right reader) and competition between branches and library systems (instead of focusing on local needs). Taking more complete statistics would also help with correctly staffing the building. Right now I'm in the dark as to what the use of a "one mark for every reference question" is except apparently for funding and to write articles about the rise and fall of reference.

Folks, it's not about the fun of being a reference librarian. Or the frustration. It's about the patrons. Why do so many libraries neglect to take this opportunity to get some useful data?

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