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Big fun with small data

While I’m on shift this Sunday (during the most glorious fall day we’ve had, on a day that combines Family Weekend and Homecoming Weekend), I played around a bit with our chat reference statistics.

Our students have never really used chat reference much. In part this was our fault (we didn’t have a very friendly chat widget and we didn’t have the unlimited funds needed to have 24/7 reference service) and in part this was because on a small residential campus, the majority of the people who wanted help while we were on staff were already in the library. (That’s what students told us when we asked, and the data from this year bears it out by a slim margin.)  So last year we’d fielded three whole chat reference questions in the first four weeks of school.

This year we’ve switched to QuestionPoint, which means we have 24/7 reference and access to a chat widget that looks a lot more like chat widgets people are used to seeing. Now here’s where the big fun with small data comes in. Because last year’s n was so small, I can say that this year we’ve had a 800% increase in chat questions. Woo!

If we’d changed nothing but the interface, we would likely have answered just the 5 questions that we have answered while on shift this term (66% increase), but the change in librarian coverage has made a huge difference. 15 of this year’s 27 questions were answered while we weren’t on staff, and another 7 question were answered while we were on staff but otherwise occupied. So that’s pretty cool. Usability and coverage FTW!

Updated to add: I was curious to see how the service is working from a cost/benefit perspective. We donate a specific number of hours per week based on our FTE, and it looks like the formula is working ok. We have answered 29 questions for other institutions, and between the help the collective has given us us and our own efforts, our patrons have gotten 27 questions answered.


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