ASK A LIBRARIAN

RUTGERS UNIVERSITY LIBRARIES ELECTRONIC REFERENCE SERVICE

Annual Report 1999-2000

Natalie Borisovets
Ask a Librarian Coordinator

Ask a Librarian, the Rutgers Libraries electronic reference service, provides reference and information services in a virtual environment. Despite significant decreases in demand for other library services, demand for this service continues to grow: whereas in September 1998, the first month of the revamped AAL service, 132 questions were received, in September 1999 438 questions (+232 percent) were received. Between September 1999 and August 2000, an average of about 456 questions were received by the Ask a Librarian team monthly as compared to a monthly average of 245 in the previous year.

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September 1999-August 2000
Questions Received Answers Sent Not Answered Percent Answered
September 438 448 32 92.7
October 492 462 62 87.4
November 518 522 37 92.9
December 377 375 29 92.3
January 576 566 81 85.9
February 589 560 81 86.3
March 546 589 37 93.2
April 502 497 39 92.2
May 376 355 42 88.8
June 362 351 35 90.3
July 332 329 34 89.8
August 364 354 37 89.8
TOTALS 5472 5408 546 90.0%

Of the 5,472 questions submitted, 546 received no response. As a number of these could not be responded to (no/improper email address) or required no response (ads), about 91 percent of all questions that could be responded to received a response in 1999-2000, down slightly from 92.2 percent the previous year. While this is certainly a respectable percentage, in terms of the actual number of queries receiving no response it is somewhat disturbing. As the number of daily/monthly questions continues to escalate, it becomes increasingly difficult to ensure that no questions are overlooked.

Response Time:

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February 2000-June 2000

Response Time (Days) (1)

Monthly Total Same Day Next Day Two Days Three/+ Days
February 560 202 245 72 41
March 589 212 293 49 35
April 497 154 267 38 38
May 355 140 170 24 21
June 351 131 178 27 15
TOTALS: 2352 839 1153 210 150
Percentage 35.7 % 49.0 % 8.9 % 6.4 %

Somewhat surprisingly, the significant increase in the total number of queries received in the second year of the Rutgers Ask a Librarian service seems to have had little effect on response times. In the five-month period between February and March of 2000, 84.7 percent of the answered queries were responded to on either the same day or on the next day; a slight improvement over the 84 percent rate for the same period in the previous year. In 2000, 93.6 percent, as compared to 94.2 percent in the previous year, were answered within the "24 to 48 hours" specified in the Ask a Librarian guidelines. Of the remainder, many were follow-up or referred, rather than initial, responses.

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Response Time (Days) (2)

Total Responses
Same Day % Next Day % Two Days % Three/+ Days %
Feb-June 2000 2352 839 35.7 1153 49.0 210 8.9 150 6.4
Feb-June 1999 1543 565 36.6 732 47.4 158 10.2 88 5.7

The Teams: As the number of questions escalated, additional personnel were recruited for Ask a Librarian teams. For much of 1999/2000 there were 28 library faculty and staff members, all volunteers who participated in Ask a Librarian as an add-on to their regular responsibilities, including:

9 Reference Librarians

12 Access Services Staff

5 Interlibrary Loan Services Staff

1 Rutgers Request Services Staff

1 Library Systems Staff

In 1999/2000, the largest number of questions (2089) were answered by members of the Reference Team, who accounted for 38.6 percent of the answered queries. Interlibrary Loan staff responded 1369 times (25.3 percent); Access Services team members responded 1250 times (23.1 percent); Rutgers Request Services 502 times (9.3 percent); and Systems 114 times (2.1 percent). The remaining 84 responses (2 percent) were sent by individuals to whom AAL questions had been referred-Special Collections staff, law library staff, Library administrative personnel, etc. It is probable that the number of these responses was actually somewhat higher than the recorded figure since there was some inconsistency in copying responses to the AAL list.

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September 1999-August 2000

Answered By:

Reference Access Services Systems Rutgers Request Services Interlibrary Loan Services Other
Sep 175 127 6 63 74 3
Oct 177 123 17 39 102 4
Nov 221 121 6 43 125 6
Dec 146 90 6 29 101 3
Jan 200 169 5 74 102 16
Feb 226 137 23 76 91 7
Mar 230 127 10 50 162 10
Apr 193 82 2 41 163 16
May 118 83 6 21 122 5
Jun 139 63 6 21 115 7
Jul 124 53 18 19 114 1
Aug 140 75 9 26 98 6
Total 2089 1250 114 502 1369 84
% 38.6 23.1 2.1 9.3 25.3 1.6

As might be expected, in almost all instances even when the overall percentage of responses in a category decreased over the previous year, in terms of the total number of responses there was a significant increase in workload. Partially as a result of the proliferation of electronic resources, including electronic reserves, and the subsequent need for users to know their library PINs in order to be able to access these collections and services remotely, the largest increase (155.6 percent) was in questions relating to Access Services. Responses to reference queries increased by 112.1 percent; request services by 96.9 percent; and interlibrary loan by 26.6%. Only Systems-answered queries showed a decrease of 18.6 percent. This should not, however, by any stretch of the imagination be taken to mean that technical questions are no longer being asked. While members of the Reference team may be answering the largest number of questions while Systems deals with the smallest number, Reference is actually answering most of what are considered to be "routine" technical and access questions. Since the perception of what is routine tends to vary greatly these questions are also the ones most likely to fall through the cracks.

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1998-2000

Answered By:

Reference Access Services Systems Rutgers Request Services Interlibrary Loan Services Other
Sept 1999-Aug 2000 2089 (39%) 1250 (23%) 114

(2%)

502

(9%)

1369

(25%)

84

(2%)

Sept 1998-Aug 1999 985

(33%)

489

(16%)

140

(5%)

255

(9%)

1081

(36%)

56

(2%)

1. Based on working days.

2. Based on working days.


Natalie Borisovets
natalieb@andromeda.rutgers.edu
October 31, 2000