Strategic Librarian

Using strategy to develop the law firm library.

Managing the Library Research & Reference Service

We’ve talked before about how important it is to be able to report on metrics in making cases for the programs and services offered within a library including staffing, resources and more.  With the changes in our economy making funding of those programs and services more uncertain, it it more important than ever to begin tracking metrics.

In the past it was enough to place a tic mark on a notebook page for everyone who called, emailed or came into the library and/or asked a question at the reference desk.  The tic marks were somewhat useful if everyone who was responsible for tracking users did so consistently.   Most library directors know they were less than accurate and often gave up on their use.

Other former (and in some libraries- current) metrics tracked included:

  • Books checked out
  • Books shelved (after use in the library)
  • New acquisitions
  • Books cataloged
  • Books processed
  • Subscriptions received
  • Subscriptions routed

and more.   It has always been and, in many cases, still is  more about the resources we managed than the services we provided.

While that approach worked in the past, they don’t work any more.  At least, they don’t in private law libraries where the resources are sometimes secondary to the services.  Yes, they can still be used to demonstrate the support provided by technical services, but, what of research and reference?

Trudi Busch, the very strategic information resources director at Oppenheimer Wolff & Donnelly (Minneapolis, MN) knew these metrics were needed in 2001.  At that time, she worked with her staff to develop what they called the IR Tracking Database – a system for tracking research and inter-library loan.  When I first saw it, I was a blown away.   It had the following features:

  1. A simple web based interface.
  2. A menu that allowed users to add a new record, search existing records, access unfinished work, and manage inter-library loan.
  3. Records that tracked the requestors name, time recording number, client/matter number, time spent on project, completed check box, delivery method, description of work done, cost, resource usage (users could select from all of the electronic resources the library used), and any associated inter-library loans.
  4. Search function that allowed access to existing records by name, date, client/matter number, and description.  It also allowed users to conduct the search on their own records or on records with interlibrary loans.
  5. Unfinished work function that allowed the users to retrieve a list of any records that had not been marked completed.  The list included the date the work was received, the description of the work and the librarian responsible for completing the work.
  6. Inter-library loan management function that allowed the staff to manage circulating items and lending libraries.  It also provided a search functionality for the ILL records.
  7. Reports including overdue book notice, management reports showing billable and non-billable work by staff, location, practice group, charts that demonstrated the billable, non-billable and total requests by practice group, and ILL request reports.  Data is downloaded into Excel where the charts, etc. are created.

Why did Trudi decide to create the system?  The benefits she described at the time included:

  • Online resource evaluation
  • Workflow monitoring/improvements
  • Trend spotting (e.g., ratios of billable to non-billable by practice group)
  • Annual report preparation
  • Sharing of knowledge by library staff

Now that is what I call a strategic librarian!  I’d also use words like resourceful, innovative and in possession of un-ending energy to describe Trudi as well. 

Today, there are many products that libraries can purchase to track research and reference services.  Many of the library management systems include the functionality as well as products that have been created just for the purpose of tracking these metrics.  We reported on one of those products (Altarama RefTracker) in an earlier post.   

NOTE: If you don’t have the time or money to implement something new, you might try to devine more information from the time-recording reports that your accounting department might be able to provide.

Whether you are using in-house custom systems like Trudi or purchasing something off the shelf, now is the time to start thinking about what you need to do to track what research and reference work gets done in your library or information resources/services department.

For more information about what other libraries have done to track their services see the recent article, Solving the Information Workflow Tracking Dilemma  (you must be a member or subscriber to access the article on the SLAsite) written by Ann Cullen, Tomalee Doan, Toby Pearlstein for Information Outlook, November 2008

If you know of other articles worth reading on this topic, please post a comment with the title, author, etc.

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