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Reference and Research: Statistics

What counts as a reference question?

When you think about sitting at a public-facing desk, you know that you will receive many different kinds of questions! It's important to know what kinds count as a reference question. Reference questions are any interactions with a patron that involve the:

  • instruction in the use of materials or resources
  • recommendations of materials or resources
  • knowledge of materials or resources (this includes searching for items in the catalog or online as well as navigating through websites to guide a patron to print, for example)
  • interpretations of materials or resources

by a library staff member. Remember that these materials or resources can exist in physical form or be online, and may belong to the library or be from an outside source!

Questions that are of a directional nature do not count as reference questions! These include:

  • Where is the bathroom?
  • Where is the printer?

A good rule of thumb to follow? At the end of the day, the length of time and the complexity of each interaction don't play a part in determining whether the question counts as a reference question. Rather, it's the nature of the question that counts.

Tracking reference questions - why does it matter?

Tracking your reference questions in real-time as you receive them helps you in a number of different ways:

  • you get an idea of, in general, your busier days of the week in terms of traffic patterns. If you track them for long enough you'll also get an idea of what time of the year people are utilizing your library's resources and skills more heavily so you can plan more time-intensive projects (like construction or weeding) around them.
  • if you're able to track the general types of questions you receive you can get an understanding of what holes you have in your own knowledge so you can brush up on your skills if you have time. You can also see what resources or collections you can promote to encourage more use by your community.
  • you can prove your worth to your stakeholders. Definitive data is powerful, and quantitative data stands out. Stakeholders love quick, easy-to-read numbers that that help them make informed decisions about the library. By tracking your reference questions, you can prove why it's important to have someone available to guide the public through the library's resources and services on a regular basis.

Consider making a chart or spreadsheet to help you track your reference questions. If you're short on time, something as simple as making hash marks in your planner as you receive questions is a great way to start!