Takin’ Care of Business: Tracking Reference Questions

Administrator’s note: thanks to Wendy Reynolds, Manager, Accessibility, Records and Open Parliament at the Information Services Branch, Legislative Assembly of Ontario for this guest tip!

Libraries track reference questions for many reasons. Primarily, we capture information about transactions – who we did work for, how long it took, and how difficult it was. A simple spreadsheet or piece of paper on the ref desk will suffice for this most common kind of tracking.

Some libraries go beyond the transactional. My employer, for example, relies on an Oracle database to collect questions, triage work, and record the answers sent to clients. We do this because so many of the questions we get are complex, and re-using a similar or previous answer is a much more efficient way to proceed. We also rely on three different groups of subject-matter experts to answer questions, and we need a way to distribute tasks while ensuring that all of the elements of the question remain together.

I was asked recently to inquire of my CALL-eagues how they track reference transactions. The variety of responses was interesting, and share-worthy.

  • Several responding libraries use custom databases built in house.
  • Two libraries use helpdesk software, and one of the respondents commented that this is an option that is worth exploring.
  • Specialized web-based reference trackers also received a number of mentions. Quest, LibAnswers and Gimlet were all mentioned.

Before selecting a solution, think about how you plan to use the product. Is this going to be a knowledge repository, or are statistics the goal of your implementation? If you’re building a knowledge repository, make sure it has capacity for large attachments or long answers.

Don’t collect more data than you use – if you make people input information that they don’t then see in use, they’ll stop using the tool.

Wendy Reynolds
Manager, Accessibility, Records and Open Parliament
Information Services Branch, Legislative Assembly of Ontario

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