Over the course of one month, staff members on the Tween/Teen side of the second floor of the Chattanooga Public Library (CPL) collected every reference transaction made (the best we could) to assess the various services and programs that we offer. This helped us determine if our removing the traditional information desk made a difference or not, the various types of questions that were being asked, the answers we were giving, when our busiest times were, and how effective our pop-up programming really is.
Using a free one-month trial on Gimlet, we collected the dates, times, question types, people who asked the question, formats of the question, locations, the questions asked, and answers given. We recorded close to 800 questions – and probably missed a couple hundred more during our busy times and by simply forgetting to log the questions. The majority of our questions were asked by tweens and teens, with the remaining questions being asked by parents, children, adults and staff.
Thirty-nine percent of the questions asked were ready reference. “When is the fourth floor opening?,” “When does Mario Kart 9 come out?,” and “Where can I get online?,” are examples. Twenty-one percent of questions were directional, with “Where is the bathroom” being the most popular question. Fourteen percent of questions were technology-related. Twelve percent of the questions asked were reader’s advisory, and the remaining percentage made up circulation, pop-up programming, and research questions.
The locations where these questions took place are telling of our new reference model, which excludes the traditional reference desk. Over fifty percent of the questions asked were on the floor, twenty-six percent were asked while we were sitting on the couch, and only fourteen percent were asked at the computer stand. The remaining questions were asked in our arcade. This shows that we were having the majority of our reference transactions via staff on the floor approaching customers or through conversation and interaction.
Over the past few months we have increased the amount of pop-up programs at CPL. If lots of kids are here we then have a program for them, it’s that simple. This includes turning on a movie, pulling out robots, or playing with Legos. Lots of the regular program prep is done on the floor, so customers come up and ask us what we’re doing, giving us the opportunity to explain the program we are prepping and when that program will be. These interactions are the best kinds of promotions for our programming since customers can see what they are going to be doing, instead of reading a blurb in a calendar posting.
This assessment proved that pop-up programming is a great way to interact with customers and provided information on our busiest times, which will impact our future planned programs for 2016. As expected, our busiest times were from 2 p.m.-6 p.m., nearly twenty percent of our questions were asked at 5 p.m. and our busiest days are Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. This information is crucial when scheduling big events and programs.
This assessment proves that the information desk itself is not necessary to provide reference services to our youth customers; instead, being mobile and interacting with customers works best. But this will only work best if you are actively mobile. You need to be in the stacks, on the computers, in the arcade, doing pop-up programs and actually roving; otherwise it defeats the purpose. It will be interesting to see if a similar assessment is done on the first floor in the Adult Services area where there is a reference desk.