At the ACRL-NEC conference I attended recently there was a fair amount of talk about decreasing reference usage. I suppose I have heard rumblings about this, but I didn’t realize how serious a problem in many places. At Champlain College where I work, our reference usage stats are increasing, and I think some of the things we are doing could help other libraries as well.
First, it helps that we get to see students almost every semester through our revolutionary information literacy program spearheaded by Sarah Cohen. Students get used to seeing a librarian and realize that we can help them. Instruction is very closely tied to reference. Re-evaluate what and how much you are doing in the classroom. Don’t just tell students there are databases available to them. Tell them WHY Google is not always the best place to get information. Make the case for libraries.
Second, professors give assignments that require library resources or that students must talk to a librarian. I think this one would be the most beneficial for anyone in increasing their reference usage. Forcing students to use the library is a great way to help them try it out and see how beneficial using the library can be. I constantly see students amazed at how useful the library is after they get over the idea that “it’s all on Google.” One student even found that using the library was quicker than searching online because they didn’t have to wade through all the “useless websites.” So, talk to your professors. Ask them to build the library into their assignments. They’ll be rewarded with better student work and you’ll be rewarded with a busy reference desk. I know we are.
Finally, we record reference statistics differently from other libriaries I have worked at. Instead of doing the tally method we are using Zoho Creator to easily create a form to record every reference encounter. This form collects all the data and you can export it easily into an Excel spreadsheet. This makes data collection simple, but it also allows you to see what stories your numbers are telling.
I made up a graph With the help of my good bud Chris Campion I made up a a graph in Excel using our data and we can see that a good percentage of our questions are coming through chat. You can also look at other things like “when are the bulk of your questions coming in?” Are you getting a lot of questions later at night? Perhaps you might want to discuss changing your reference hours to support this trend in the data.
These are just a few ideas, but they seem to be working for us. What’s working at your library, or what isn’t working?