Assignment 3: Service to Assess/Evaluate
The library used for this assignment is the Knox County Public Library. This project will be evaluating the main branch, Lawson Mcghee, which is located in downtown Knoxville, Tennessee. This project will specifically evaluate the reference service. 3.1 Identify a specific service(s), program(s), collection(s), facilities, and/or other activities to assess/evaluate in your PL.
The reference service at Lawson Mcghee Public Library in Knoxville, Tennessee is to be evaluated.
3.2 Describe the selected PL service. Analyze the selected PL service in relation to user-centered issues (who and how many users use the service, how often is the service used, strengths/weaknesses of the PL service, etc.).
The reference service at the Lawson Mcghee Public Library is located on street level. Just past the stairs, it is one of the first services patrons see when they enter the library. The reference room contains computers, reference materials, and a reference desk staffed with librarians. Patrons can submit reference queries in person, by phone, or by email (Knox County Public Library, n.d.). Patrons may also use the computers in the reference room and librarians will help them with any problems he or she may run into.
The reference service at the Lawson Mcghee branch of the Knox County Public Library had a total of 120,551 users in 2014 (J. Drumheller, personal communication, February 5, 2015). The reference service is used daily and receives more phone inquiries than any other form of question (J. Drumheller, personal communication, March 3, 2015).
A major weakness of the reference service and the library in general is that it does not regularly take user surveys. The last formal survey that was conducted was in 2009 (J. Drumheller, personal communication, March 3, 2015). According to that survey, 7.9 percent of respondents came into the library specifically to ask a research question at the reference desk (Lawson Mcghee Library attitude study, 2009). 5.41 percent of survey respondents came into the library specifically to use reference databases (Lawson Mcghee Library attitude study, 2009).
A major strength of the reference service is that, according to the 2009 survey, only 4 users responded that they were not satisfied with the help they received at the reference desk. For comparison, 330 respondents stated that they were satisfied with the help the received (Lawson Mcghee Library attitude study, 2009). This indicates that the librarians are adept at helping people with information retrieval needs.
3.3 Discuss the relative importance of this PL service. How much difference does it make in the success of your PL organization or in the quality of life in the community served by the agency?
The reference service is very important to the quality of life in the community. People will always have information needs. The reference service can help the community members find reliable information to satisfy those needs. This can help to create a more educated community. Librarians at the reference desk can also help people gain information literacy skills. This enhances the lives of the community members in that it allows them to determine whether or not information is from reliable sources. A good reference service also can help the community members learn to find information on their own.
The success of the public library also depends on the reference service. If patrons come to the reference desk and are not satisfied with the help and information they receive, they may no longer use any of the library's services. This could have a detrimental effect on the community and the library as a whole. If people no longer use the library, it could cease to be a pillar of the community, and the availability of information materials for the area would be severely damaged.
3.4 Define the selected PL service you are assessing/evaluating by listing keywords that are associated with it. Which word(s) would you use in searching for information about this service? Tag the most productive subject term.
Some keywords that are associated with the reference service would include: reference, reference service, reference help, reference assistance, reference inquiry, reference desk, reference room, help desk, inquiry, assistance, research, research help, research assistance, research inquiry, research desk, research room, research materials, ask a librarian, reference materials, and research aids. The most productive subject term would be reference service.
3.5 What are the existing ways that the PL provides information about the selected PL service? (in the physical library environment and on the web). Is there effective advertising/marketing of the PL service? Rank the ways that users find information about the selected PL service?
The library provides information about the reference service in a variety of ways. First, users get a "Discover" pamphlet when signing up for a library card. This pamphlet outlines the library's services, including the reference service (J. Drumheller, personal communication, March 3, 2015). Additionally, the reference service is advertised on the library's website in multiple places. First, it is listed on the library's homepage under "Popular" links (Knox County Public Library, n.d.b). This ensures that visitors to the website can access the reference service. The reference service's webpage can also be accessed through the services page (Knox County Public Library, n.d.c).
The reference service is adequately marketed. The brochure describing the reference service is given to new card members, which means that every new library user has the potential to learn about and use the service (J. Drumheller, personal communication, March 3, 2015). The fact that the reference service is easily accessible on the library's website is also a positive marketing strategy. This ensures that visitors to the website, which probably includes prospective cardholders, are exposed to information about the reference service. Although the reference service at the library could always be marketed to the wider public, that could be expensive and cause a drain on an already tight library budget. The library's website does a good job of explaining the reference service and can reach non-card holders interested in learning more about the library without becoming too expensive.
Users probably get their information about the reference service primarily from the library's website. Community members interested in getting a library card may first peruse the website in order to get more information about the possible services offered by the library as well as instructions on how to obtain a card. The second most likely place a user would get information about the reference service is through the "Discover" pamphlet. This is given to every library user when they sign up for a card (J. Drumheller, personal communication, March 3, 2015). Therefore, every library user has the information at his or her fingertips. Finally, some users will get their information from the desk itself. Users can either call the desk to speak with a librarian, or speak to them in person.
3.6 Discuss the interest users of the PL or other members of the community might have in this PL service. How much actual and potential demand exists for it? What events or sources are likely to stimulate interest in this PL service? What is the likely life of this interest?
Members of the community may have interest in this service anytime they have a question that needs answering. This could range from anything as simple as the telephone number to a local business, or as complex as to how spiders reproduce. Therefore, there is a great deal of potential demand for the reference service. Any community member could potentially use the reference service to have their information needs satisfied. Knox County has a population of 432,226, all of whom could be potential users (The United States Census Bureau, 2015). In 2014, the reference service had an actual demand of 120,551 users (J. Drumheller, personal communication, February 5, 2015).
The demand for the reference service can increase based on events in the community or the world. For example, if a new scientific discovery has been in the news, people may come to the reference desk to learn more about this topic. Another example of an event that stimulates interest in the reference service is the local school schedule. For instance, if the local school systems are having exams or midterms, students may be using the reference services more heavily than usual to assist in finding information.
The reference service provided by the library is relevant as long as people have information needs. This is a potentially never-ending service. People will always have questions that need to be answered and they may not have the skills or resources required to answer them. Therefore, it is important that the library be there for these people in order to enrich their lives.
3.7 Identify, evaluate, and come to a conclusion on alternative resources/agencies that provide such services. Where might potential users go for this service IF your PL did not exist and did not provide this service? To what degree do alternative sources minimize the need for such a service? Using appropriate alternative resources (both offline and online), indicate the degree to which affordable, useful, and recent resources provide similar services.
In the Knoxville area, there are a few other libraries available for use. The University of Tennessee has a library with a reference desk. You do not have to be a student at the University in order to use this service (The University of Tennessee Knoxville Libraries, n.d.). This reference service is available through phone, email, in-person, or text chat (The University of Tennessee Knoxville Libraries, n.d.). This resource could reduce the need for a reference service in a public library. However, the University does primarily market their services to students and faculty. That means the general public may not be aware this service exists. Therefore, the public library is more accessible for the general public.
The Oak Ridge National Laboratory also has a reference service at their library. However, this service is for researchers at the Lab only (Oak Ridge National Laboratory, n.d.). Therefore, it does not diminish the need for a public library reference service.
Online resources are also available for library users. Google and other search engines are examples of online resources that could provide reference information. Unfortunately, Google retrieves results based on keywords, and the information may not always be reliable. Therefore, users would have to be able to determine whether or not the information can help them fulfill their information needs. For this reason, Google does not diminish the need for reference services.
Another online option for library users would be to purchase their own subscription to an online database. Unfortunately, these options are mainly available for libraries and corporations. For that reason, a subscription could be very costly. For example, for the database JSTOR, just for the Music Discipline Package, it is $548 (JSTOR, 2012). This is not a feasible option for most members of the public. Therefore, it does not diminish a need for a public library reference service.
3.8 Reviewing the variables mentioned above, does it seem reasonable to gather user-centered feedback to assess/evaluate the selected PL service? Provide a strong justification statement.
Yes, it seems very important to gather user-centered feedback on the reference service. It is important to periodically check with users to ensure that librarians are continuing to provide the best service possible. This enhances the community and ensures that the library's users are able to have their information needs met. As stated above, in 2009, the user satisfaction was incredibly high for the reference service (Lawson Mcghee Library attitude study, 2009). However, that survey was almost six years ago. Personnel changes could drastically impact that statistic today. In fact, it would be beneficial to do another survey as soon as possible. This is because according to the statistics for use between 2013 and 2014 there was actually a decrease in the number of users in the reference service (J. Drumheller, personal communication, March 3, 2015). In 2013, the reference service at Lawson Mcghee saw 126,626 users, while in 2014 it only saw 120,551 users (J. Drumheller, personal communication, March 3, 2015). A survey would help explain why less people used the service and how the library can improve the service to help more people.
JSTOR. (2012). JSTOR CSP price calculator product catalog. Retrieved from http://purchase.jstor.org/quotecart/products.php.
Knox County Public Library. (n.d.). Ask a librarian. Retrieved from http://www.knoxlib.org/about/services/ask-librarian.
Knox County Public Library. (n.d.). Home. Retrieved from http://www.knoxlib.org.
Knox County Public Library. (n.d.). Services. Retrieved from http://www.knoxlib.org/about/services.
Lawson Mcghee Library attitude study. (2009). Unpublished survey, Knox County Public Library, Knoxville, Tennessee.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory. (n.d.). Research library. Retrieved from http://www.ornl.gov/connect-with-ornl/for-researchers/library.
The United States Census Bureau. (2015). Knox County QuickFacts. Retrieved from http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/47/47093.html.
The University of Tennessee Knoxville Libraries. (n.d.). Ask us now. Retrieved from http://www.lib.utk.edu/askusnow/.
Contact K.C. Williams451 Communications Building, 1345 Circle Park Drive, Knoxville, TN 37996-0341