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Tracking, managing, and analyzing reference statistics is essential for libraries, but the process can be burdensome and commercial solutions are expensive. At the Southern Illinois University (SIU) Medical Library, staff had been tracking desk statistics using tick marks on paper sheets, which were periodically transcribed to Microsoft Excel. This process, which had been in place for many years, was not only time consuming, but also failed to capture the nature of multifaceted interactions.

We wanted to automate and upgrade our system, but budget constraints eliminated commercial products, and free web-based solutions, such as Google Forms, would not improve upon Excel's abilities. Ultimately, we decided to create our own patron interaction (PI) database using Microsoft Access because a well-designed database can easily manage and organize complex data and more accurately capture multifaceted interactions than our previous system could. Microsoft Access is a database management system included in the Microsoft Office suite of programs that provides greater flexibility than Excel. Because the Microsoft suite was already licensed by our institution, the use of Microsoft Access incurred no additional costs.

Identifying the information that the library wanted to track was the first step in designing the database and user input form. We first included data reported to outside organizations, such as the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) and Association of Academic Health Sciences Libraries (AAHSL) and then held informal discussions with staff to identify their needs and interests. Date and time are automatically recorded when new records are added, and staff is only required to supply the method of contact and patron affiliation with SIU. Although further descriptors--including directions, instruction, mediated searching, technology support, equipment lending, and a "notes" field--are optional, the vast majority of entries include at least one non-mandatory descriptor.

The database is separated into two sections, saved as separate files. This front-end and back-end arrangement allows multiple people to input data at once, while protecting tables from unintentional edits or deletions and retaining some customization. The "back-end" is stored on the library's shared network drive and includes all the underlying tables and stored data. The "front-end" contains all forms and queries, including the PI user input form (Figure 4) and a "Quick Stats" section that allows staff to quickly pull data from tables (Figure 5).

The "Stat Digest," one of the queries included in "Quick Stats," generates tallies of various types of patron contacts (Figure 6). It is based on reports that the library provides to ACRL and AAHSL. Other queries can pull records for all interactions that match the designated parameters. These datasets can then be saved for further analysis in Access or exported for use in other programs. Each staff member has a copy of the front-end saved to their workstations and uses the forms to easily add entries to or pull data from the PI database as needed.

Beta testing lasted from July 2016 to October 2016 and involved recording interactions using both the old tick mark method and the PI database. During this period, we added several descriptors and fixed small bugs. Testing ended once we were satisfied that the form worked correctly. We added the Quick Stats section a few months after initial beta-testing had ended.

Even though database development, testing, and maintenance require a significant time investment, the SIU Medical Library is satisfied with the project's outcome. The PI database makes inputting, accessing, and interpreting data easier and has already been useful in decision making. We already knew that patron interactions with staff were extremely rare on weekends, but the new, more robust statistics confirmed our suspicions that nearly all those interactions involved either providing directions or computer support to persons who were unaffiliated with the medical school. This new information, along with the fact that a recent renovation allows the library to provide 24/7 secure study access for students, supported the decision to reduce staff hours by closing the library on weekends.



Lydia Howes, MSI, School of Medicine Library, Southern Illinois University. 801 North Rutledge Street. P.O. Box 19625, Springfield. IL. 62794-9625

Submitted by Lydia Howes, MSI, School of Medicine Library, Southern Illinois University

Caption: Figure 4 Patron input form

Caption: Figure 5 Quick Queries interface

Caption: Figure 6 Reference statistics report
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Author:Howes, Lydia
Publication:Journal of the Medical Library Association
Date:Oct 1, 2017
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