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Reference Questions?

Keepin' track with hash marksGuest post by Jean Anderson

Many of you just finished working on your Annual report - and enjoyed it, I’m sure! One of the questions on the report deals with reference questions. How do you track this number in your library?

When I worked at the Sun Prairie Public Library, we used the survey method. Once a year, we’d track all questions asked at all the desks in the library. Then, we multiplied that number by 52 to get an estimate of the number of questions asked in a year. For more information on collecting reference statistics, check out the Reference section of the SCLS website.

I recently read an article in Computers in Libraries (December 2011 issue) called “I’ve seen the future, and it’s surprisingly cheap!” by Veronica Reynolds. In it she talks about using Google Forms to track reference questions. We’ve covered Google Forms for creating surveys in past TechBits posts:

TechBits: Thanks for taking the survey (2/2010)
TechBits: Happy Birthday TechBits (2/2010)
Wicked Cool: Creating web forms (9/2008)

Reynolds’ idea of creating a survey to track reference questions is genius - and she’s not the only one doing it. Another article in the October 2011 issue of Computers in Libraries covers the same topic in more depth and in an academic library.

The form Reynolds created is brief and takes only a few moments to answer all the questions. In addition to tracking the types of questions asked, Reynolds includes a field for additional information. This field can be used to track trends, what types of questions are being asked, what school projects are the students asking for, and more. The form can be customized to fit any library’s needs as shown in these articles by both academic and public librarians.

It’s easy to embed the form into your staff blog (if you have one) or keep the form open in a separate tab during the day. I can see using this for your reference statistics in two ways. First, staff can use it intensely during your survey week to get a weekly number and then multiply that number by 52 for your annual number of questions - no more paper forms and hash marks! Second, this is an easy way for library staff to know what’s being asked and share that information with their colleagues, provided staff has access to the spreadsheet created by the form.

I see this use of Google Forms being a great time-saver for libraries. It will take some time to create the form and tweak it so you’re getting the results you want. The time saved in the long run - no more paper forms to create, no hash marks to make, no transferring the paper forms into a spreadsheet - is worth the time spent in setting it up. Keep track of your reference transactions and see what’s being asked in your library with Google Forms - a simple and free tool.


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I read that article, too - lots of good advice in addition to Google Forms. At Madison we use the 3x a year survey method for tracking reference & other questions. At Central, we've also experimented with Gimlet (http://www.gimlet.us) which isn't free but very useful and takes minutes to set up. It's been great to see the variety of questions our customers asked - and how our colleagues answered them!

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