Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Developing a Model for Reference Research Statistics: Applying the "Warner Model" of Reference Question Classification to Streamline Research Services

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Developing a Model for Reference Research Statistics: Applying the "Warner Model" of Reference Question Classification to Streamline Research Services

Article excerpt

The merger of an academic library with the main branch of a large city's public library in 2003 required a new method for determining customer-patron transactions. The Warner model, previously reported in RUSQ in 2001, was adopted and used to investigate the possibilities for developing tiered reference, adjusting staffing levels, and improving service in a merged reference unit. The adopted model is recommended to other libraries that want to develop effective tools for analyzing reference services.


The new Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Library, which opened in August 2003, was a collaborative project of the City of San Jose and San Jose State University (SJSU). Two libraries, the University Library of SJSU and the MLK Library--the main branch of the San Jose Public Library (SJPL) system--merged to create a new entity. The sixyear planning process has been documented on the library's website and in a number of articles, covering the vision of one reference department, the principle of "economies of scale" as they apply to merged units, and creating a collaborative library from two different institutions. (1) In a broader context, other articles discuss the library as an example in the general discussion of the library as place and consider the implications of how different work and service cultures are brought together in a new institution. (2)

There are merged and unmerged units in the new library. The four merged units in the new library are Access Services (including Circulation), Information Technology, Technical Services, and Reference. Data is gathered in the same way by all public service points, including those that remained unmerged: the public library's Youth Services, General Collections, and the California Room and the SJSU Special Collections unit.

A key element of the planning process dealt with the kind of statistics to be collected to evaluate the library. A comprehensive program of data collection commenced with the opening of the MLK Library in September 2003. The plan involved a number of library services and units, including circulation, collections, computer and study room booking, database usage, donations, financial reports, gate counts, interlibrary services, library services and instruction, website usage, and focus group reports. A consultant, Thomas Childers, was engaged in 2003 to undertake a user and cost analysis aimed at developing benchmarks and to administer two surveys over four years, one on library facilities and one on library services. A four-person assessment team under the direction of Jo Bell Whitlatch, associate dean of the University Library of SJSU, undertook the evaluation of service delivery, initiated or coordinated a number of service metric studies, and began a workload activity study in 2004. Only results from the assessment of reference and instructional services have been published to date. (3)


Many articles report the evaluation of reference services through studies of patron satisfaction, patron queuing, reference accuracy, information-seeking behavior, and patron perceptions of reference service. (4) Methods ranging from observation, unobtrusive testing, time considerations, transaction logs, survey cards, and forms have been used to investigate reference interactions and staffing. (5) During the planning phase for the MLK Library, the SJSU and SJPL administrations and the Reference and User Services planning committee supported finding a method for evaluating service point activity to facilitate planning, determine levels of business, promote tiered reference models, and address staffing needs. (6)

Whitlatch uses state of the art reference question classification to analyze reference service despite the method's limitations and the need for its categories to be mutually exclusive. (7) A later survey of methods and forms conducted under the auspices of the Association of Research Libraries suggested that libraries could not agree on methods, models, frequency, or forms; however, the most important data elements were identified as date, type of question, time of day, and location in which the question was asked. …

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