26 September 2012

Statistically Speaking: Reference Stats

Originally published in the ALLUNY Newsletter 34.1, March 2009

So far in this series, we have discussed why and how to use statistics for analyzing and tailoring Wexis subscriptions.  While this sort of collection development work is worth the time we've spent because it is challenging but can produce significant opportunities for saving money, it is not the only way we can use statistics.

In fact, what we really mean by 'statistics' is more precisely 'record of actions'.  These actions may be anything at all--the number of times we look up a pizzeria phone number for the receptionist, how much coffee we drink, anything.

Some of these, however, might be more valuable than others.  The ones we want will help us demonstrate value to our clients as part of a personal library marketing campaign.  In times of tight budgets, keeping management apprised of what we do and the value we provide is more important than ever.

The obvious starting point is with reference interactions.  Any reference desk I've worked has featured a tally sheet, where the number and type of question is recorded.  Standard categories include medium--in-person, telephone, and email questions--and duration, usually with under five-, under fifteen-, and over fifteen-minute categories.  Simply providing an accurate count of the questions we answer in a given time can make a big impression.

Beyond how the question reaches us and the time spent on it, we might also try to categorize it by type: is it a general reference question, a document retrieval (from either citation or search), or a research project?  These distinctions could, alternatively, be seen as different enough from reference to each be a unique category.  Another subset of research, such as competitive intelligence, building a business development book of potential-client background information or searching for patent-related prior art materials might be also common or important enough to break out with its own recording.

Other activities that might be tracked include time spent outside the office for library work: we record the date and duration of such visits, as well as the library visited and general purpose, whether that is borrowing a book, photocopying an article, or something else.  It may, also, be worth tracking the number of loose-leaf updates file, books re-shelved, training sessions delivered, or articles published in the association newsletter.  The purpose, after all, is to help our clients understand what we do and how that is valuable to them.

In short, anything we do at work can be recorded and used to demonstrate our value to clients.  What to track ultimately depends on circumstances, and should only reflect what is meaningful to the situation.  In fact, a job description could be a good source of ideas for tracking.  Remember, though, the intent is not to create busywork, but to provide an easy way for showing what work is keeping us busy.

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