Skip to main content

Public Library Statistical Report

Help for completing the annual Oregon Public Library Statistical Report.

Part 7 - Reference Services - FAQs

What is the essence of reference counts?

By traditional definition, reference involves a patron with an information need, a tool or source, and library staff with expertise. Reference is a way to capture the value that library staff add to a community that a patron doesn't get in a big bookstore. Remember that the point of this whole survey thing is having a accurate tool to aid in advocacy and fund raising. Reference encompasses the smaller questions library staff answer, as well as their teaching role, and role in matching people to desired literature.


Is this question reference?

Definition of a reference transaction:

A reference transaction is defined as an information contact which involves the knowledge, use, recommendation, interpretation, or instruction in the use of one or more information sources by library staff. It includes information and referral services. Information sources include printed and non-printed materials, machine-readable databases, catalogs and other holdings records, and through communication or referral, other libraries and institutions and people inside and outside the library. The request may come in person, by phone, by fax, mail, or by electronic-mail, or through live or networked electronic reference service from an adult, a young adult, or a child.

Do not count directional questions or questions of rules or policies. (Example: "Where is the card catalog?" and "I'm looking for a book with call number 811.2G" or "What is the check-out period for videocassettes?")

It does include general assistance in book selection ("Do you have any good books on fly fishing in Oregon?").

Please report on the total number of transactions handled by library staff, as opposed to the total number of questions answered. Include reference transactions that were initiated in your library but that you referred to Answerland or another library.

Generally, a reference transaction includes the following three elements:

  1. Patron with information need
  2. A tool or information source
  3. Library staff

What if the same patron asks a lot of questions?

This really is a matter of professional judgment. The definition of reference counts reference transactions, not questions, per se. If a series of questions are related to one topic and help produce an in-depth answer, for instance cancer diagnosis and treatment, I would count them as one transaction. In contrast, if a patron asked about information on baseball rules, and then asked for a recommendation for a good mystery author, that would clearly be two transactions.


Is teaching someone to use the computer reference?

YES! You have a person wanting to email the grandkids, or check in with the office on vacation, or wanting to write a resume, etc. You have the tool - the computer. Add staff expertise, and voila! A customer-oriented service to help people solve their problems that they don't get in a reading room or bookstore.


Is helping someone choose a book reference?

YES. The definition for reference transactions covers reader's advisory. Think of the times you use your knowledge of reading levels or a tool like A to Zoo to help a parent choose something to read to their toddler. How many times do you look at a book flap, or read a review, or an article and then tell Mrs. So-and-so about a new mystery author she'd like.


I couldn't answer the question - do I count it?

Yes. You are tracking the need for assistance. The definition states "Please report on the total number of transactions handled by library staff, as opposed to the total number of questions answered. Include reference transactions that were initiated in your library but you referred to Answerland or another library.


If someone asks multiple questions, how do I count it?

Considering the following examples:

Example 1: Mr. Smith asks about Jack Russell Terriers. Then five minutes later he asks about upholstery repair. Does this count as one transaction or two?

Here, there are two separate topics for two different information needs. This would count as two reference questions.

Example 2: Mrs. Smith asks about Siamese Cats. Two hours later she asks again. Does this count as one transaction or two?

The definition states "Please report on the total number of transactions handled by library staff, as opposed to the total number of questions answered." Since some time elapsed between the patron's questions, this can be seen as two different transactions, and counts as two reference questions.

Part 7 - Miscellaneous FAQs

What do I do about holidays when counting annual hours the library is open?

When counting hours open, usually a library will take hours per week and multiply by 52. The step we forget, but need to take next is subtract the hours for regular holidays when the library is closed. Holidays are predictable and are not minor variations. One would also subtract hours where the library closed early due to power outages, snow, painting, etc.

If a real disaster happens where a library is closed for a week or more, the "Number of weeks [main or branch] library is open" needs to change from 52 to less. Do not adjust the number of weeks closed for holidays.


Do virtual visits count as Library Visits?

Nope! Please report virtual visits in Library Website Visits under Question 8.8.


Does signing up for Summer Reading count as Program Attendance?

Summer reading registration is not considered by the definition of this survey to be a program per se. Rather, a program is "any planned event" - e.g. it has a date and time attached to it. The performances during a summer reading program would be counted as programs. Craft programs or final parties during Summer Reading would be programs. Program attendance for Summer Reading would be the people who come to planned events - including parents and siblings, as well as the target population.


For the Summer Reading Program, do we count people who sign up for Summer Reading?

This survey does not ask for the number of people who sign up for Summer Reading. A library may wish to keep this statistic for other organizations or local purposes.


For the Adult Reading Program we have adults sign up but we don't meet or have events. Do I count the sign-ups?

No. This is just like the children's program signup situation. Think of programming stats as a measure of what the library does to pull people together as a community and have 'face' time with each other.


When program attendance is zero, do we still count the program?

Yes, count the program. Hey, you put the work into the planning, advertising and preparing. Just count attendance as 0.