When the responsibility of library accounts transferred from the Clerk of the Court to the county’s finance department, I was exposed to a new way of talking about library finances. I decided to attend the program, “Accounting: Prepare for Your Future,” to get a better understanding of finance. As a result I now have a better understanding of the vocabulary and some of the concepts. Still, I am more than aware that I belong in the information world and not the world of accounting.
The program, “Lies, Damned Lies, and Reference Statistics: Maximizing Your Data Efficiency,” was more library practical. Jennifer Behrens of Duke University provided a good overview of the hows and whys of collecting reference statistics. Though she may have been speaking from an academic perspective, the information was useful for any type of law library.
A library might keep statistics because it is required or for use in decision making and planning. Statistics can be collected in a variety of ways from simply making hash marks on a page, “the prison wall method,” for each transaction to recording every question and answer in a database. Duke uses a form that records whether a transaction is in person, by phone, email or an appointment longer than ten minutes. In addition, it is recorded whether the transaction involved faculty, students, other university, non-university or if is directional. With the information collected in this way patterns can be seen over time as long as data is collected in a consistent manner. The continuous recording of questions and answers can result in more qualitative data. Collected reference data can become a database of reference questions. This allows the library to track types of questions and make use of past transactions in aid in answering future reference questions. A hybrid approach might combine the two methods. All transactions could be logged with the more substantive questions recorded in a knowledge base. Statistics can be collected daily or via sampling. If using a sample to compile statistics it should be decided whether the sample period will be a week or a day and how often, weekly or monthly or some other regular time period.
Reference statistics can be used to evaluate the success of a reference transaction, to develop information packets for frequently ask questions or plan to staff the reference when use is higher. No matter how a library collects reference statistics, it is important that the information is used.
The AACPLL has been recording all substantive reference transactions in an askSam database. All questions are assigned a subject area and, for most, a category within the subject. In addition, it is indicated if the question was initiated by a non-attorney, via phone or email. We can use the database to help in answering repeat questions. We can track the types of questions asked most often and by whom. This information aids in making collection development decisions.
A record of the library’s questions can provide evidence of the value of a public court law library by illustrating the breadth or information provided by the library to meet the legal information needs of a variety of users.