Objectives: While tracking, managing, and analyzing reference statistics is essential for libraries, the process can be burdensome and commercial solutions are expensive. A small, academic medical library upgraded their system of tick-marks and Excel spreadsheets by designing a custom database and form in Microsoft Access. The new system provides greater flexibility, precision, and the ability to quickly access and analyze data.
Methods: The old system required staff to transcribe paper records into Excel spreadsheets, which was time consuming and could introduce error. Budget constraints eliminated commercial products, while free web-based solutions such as Google Forms would not improve upon Excel's analytical abilities. Access is included in the Microsoft Office suite of programs already licensed by most institutions, and it provides greater flexibility for data analysis than Excel. After identifying which metrics to record, we constructed the database according to basic relational database design principles. It is divided into a front-end (form) and a back-end (data) stored on the library's shared server. The library began Beta-testing the new tracking system at the start of the 2017 fiscal year. For the first several months staff recorded patron interactions using both the new electronic and old paper forms, allowing for glitch fixes and other improvements.
Results: Beta-testing ended in October 2016 when the Patron Interactions Database completely replaced the old paper tracking system. The database makes accessing and interpreting data easier and more convenient and has already been useful in decision making: The detailed statistics collected in the database supported the decision to close the Medical Library on weekends.
Conclusion: For many libraries Microsoft Access can be an effective, inexpensive solution for interaction tracking. Access is a resource already available to many institutions and can handle the needs of library systems of varying sizes. However, there are other costs and requirements to consider when selecting a tracking solution. Development and maintenance demands at least basic familiarity with database principles and
requires significant staff time and effort, particularly in development. Cooperation and coordination with IT may be necessary depending on database complexity and the library’s computing setup. For this library, a custom Microsoft Access database has already proven to be an excellent investment that will save time and increase statistic practicality and use.
Keywords: reference statistics, Microsoft Access, inexpensive solutions
Research and Education Librarian
Lydia Howes, MSI is a Reference and Education Librarian at the Southern Illinois University Medical Library. She earned her MSI from the University of Michigan in 2014 and a BS in Biochemistry from Utah State University in 2011.
Education & Research Librarian
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