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All responsible academic libraries record their reference transactions. It is good practice to know how many patrons have been helped at your service points. For years we have participated in this record keeping with hash marks on paper, painstaking tallying, and manual spreadsheet entry for the purpose of saying, “we helped X patrons during Y month”. But, like most things academic, reference runs on its own calendar and requires more sophisticated tools to truly investigate and evaluate.

To generate more useful reference statistics, we created a simple, online tool for recording reference interactions. The tool is accessible anywhere reference is taking place, generating normalized data in a centralized, backed up database. This design allows for more nuanced and granular analysis, in addition to streamlining the reporting process at a later date. Development of the tool has been iterative, soliciting feedback from primary users, including graduate students and librarians.

A key part of this process was our decision to build a tool as opposed to purchasing a pre-made one. Our need to better understand our reference staffing needs was key, and a variety of commercial tools tout this ability. However, the barriers to developing such a tool in-house have dramatically lowered, making the creation of web-based tools more common. Similarly, the tool itself uses existing library infrastructure, as it is a simple web form and hooks into an existing database, so infrastructure changes were nil. With a custom-built tool, we have total control over its functionality and reporting.

This presentation will discuss the full development and implementation of the new reference statistics tool, along with the data we have collected and the trends we have observed from the first six months of its use.


Library and Information Science


Presented at Michigan Library Association (MLA) Academic Libraries, Bay City, MI, May, 2015.

Note: Original presentation had embedded animations, this static PDF does not.