Lately, I've been thinking about how to capture statistics in the library, and though that might seem a simple topic, it's actually left me asking more questions than answering them. For instance, here's a question I never thought I'd ask: "what is a reference question?" I always thought this was such a simple thing, after all I took multiple semesters of reference and advanced reference classes during my first graduate program. However, despite my recent efforts, I've yet to be able to define "reference question" to my own satisfaction. Turns out, it's not so straightforward after all.
Here are my thoughts so far:
- Spelling, grammar, and citation questions are not reference questions. Even if I get all pedagogical on the patron and show him/her OWL instead of just telling him/her how to format the citation, even if I end up spending 10 minutes in the process, these are too basic to count as reference questions.
- Purely directional questions are also not reference questions. This isn't contentious when it comes to "Where's the bathroom?" type questions, but I know some people would disagree with me when I insist that something like "Where do I find 809.93372 Man?" doesn't count as a reference question, either.
- Questions about the library can go either way. "When is the next Microsoft Word workshop?" isn't a reference question, but "Who were the first librarians at this college?" is.
- Directional questions can be reference questions in disguise. An example from my own experience is the time "Where do you keep the New York Times?" turned out to be an in-depth quest for reviews of horror movies from the late 1950s and early 1960s.
So I'm sure we can all agree that "Where is the public meeting room?" isn't a reference question. I'm also sure we can all agree that "I need information about Great Britain during Shakespeare's lifetime." is. Between those is a bit fuzzier.
So what do you all think?
Questions that would require research are reference questions (referring to outside sources), eh? That's what I think. Bathroom/direction/when-is-where-is questions aren't reference questions, unless you have to do research to get the answer.ReplyDelete
But in the discussion that spurred this post, someone made the point of "but what if you have to research when the next [fill in the blank] class is?"Delete
But like you say, a simple question may be disguising a research question. Probably not "where's the bathroom" or "can I borrow your stapler," but "where is 809.x" probably is.ReplyDelete
This comes up regularly at MPOW. We have our statistics faceted well (directional, technical, reference, etc), but if we all apply them differently it's not very meaningful. We need more norming.ReplyDelete
Another issue that comes up is how to define a "consultation". Is it scheduled? Does it last a certain time? One of the agencies we report stats to says a consultation is 20 minutes or more, so we'll probably go with that.
It's that desire to have us all use the same definitions that's driving me.Delete
When I worked the University Reference desk we did count direction questions as reference questions. We had a tally form at the desk and any question that got asked was tallied. If I remember correctly the form was broken into Ready Reference (directional questions and the like) and Research Questions. It was also divided by either the half hour or hour slots that the desk was open. In the Reference part it was broken down by how much time you spent doing the research.ReplyDelete
I've always thought of reference questions as questions that require a little research. Back in the day, these questions would require a trip to the Encyclopedia's and then further exploration in the stacks for more in-depth information. Directional "where is the bathroom" questions are not reference, IMO. I agree that many times a non-reference question can quickly become a reference question, which usually happens when you ask the right questions in response to the patron's questions (reference interview).ReplyDelete
All the reference classes I ever took made me so nervous about knowing what was and what wasn't a reference question (despite having years of informal reference experience!). And then, a ray of light...ReplyDelete
The rule I was given when I first started doing reference was "If you have to look it up (and it's not on the main library website), it's a reference question." I've only had a handful of questions that really tested that standard, so I will stick to it like a burr in the fur of a dog that's also rolled around vigorously in some mud and then let it dry in the hot sun. I suppose it might only work in my particular library system, but it's been magic so far.
The public library system I work for does reference statistics quarterly. There used to be categories for ready reference and regular reference. They decided to change it, so now we only count reference questions, and mark them in the category of in-person, over the phone, and other (text, email, etc.).ReplyDelete
One of the weirder things they count as a reference question is putting items on hold. This CAN be a reference question, in my mind, especially if it's a person that doesn't know the author or title. I don't really think it's a reference question if they want to put Harry Potter by JK Rowling on hold, though. Even more strangely, they ask us to count each hold as a separate question. I guess this makes sense if you were really digging hard to find each one. However, if you are putting seasons 1-5 of Seinfeld on hold for someone, clicking 5 times seems like over-reporting to me.