Busier Than Ever: Rethinking Reference Statistics For The Digital Age

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Welch, Jeanie M.
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Reference service has evolved in the digital age to include email, live chat, and Web pages. This had led to a need to include these new means of providing service into the statistical reporting of reference activity. As traditional numbers for reference service have stagnated or declined, the inclusion of email, live chat, and Web pages in statistical reporting provides a more accurate picture of reference-related activities. This paper discusses going beyond the traditional measures of reference service (i.e., number of reference/directional questions and number of telephone questions received at the reference desk) to include the number of email queries received by individual reference librarians, the number of queries received in live chat sessions (both local and consortium-based group chat), and the number of visits to reference-generated library Web sites. This paper presents the challenges of including these new categories in reference service statistical reporting and proposes a model for their inclusion. These challenges include the need to expand the traditional statistical reporting criteria required by government and professional agencies and the need for standardization in reporting new types of reference transactions, including virtual reference. This paper also discusses the new National Information Standards Organization's NISO Z39.7-2004 standards that include the reporting of the usage of library-generated Web pages and e-mail and virtual reference queries in a reference department. The discussion includes two specific subcategories in the new NISO standards (7.3.1 Virtual Reference Transactions and Virtual Visits) that provide definitions for these types of reference activities. Gathering these new statistics will be discussed as well as the importance of including such statistics provides a more complete of reference activity at a time when traditional forms of reference service have declined.
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