Now and then, I get the kind of “bright idea” that leaves me shaking my head, wondering why I didn’t think of it before. It may be a small thing, as is the case in this instance, but that small thing matters. This month, for the first time in the history of the Camp Verde Community Library, we began tracking requests from library patrons for help on a library computer.
We’ve been keeping track of public Internet computer use for some time now. Since removing several hurdles to using library Internet PCs a couple of years ago, our numbers have risen steadily. PC management software tells us how many uses per computer per day we get without tracking who uses them.
While monthly computer use is up 35-60%, reference questions (which we also track) are on the decline. Why is that? Well, several reasons (based on experience, not research):
- Public libraries have not fielded the serious reference questions that academic and school libraries get for many years now. Our questions deal more with local facts and figures and requests for obscure written works than research into how Africanized honey bees impact native species or the history of the Zambian people.
- The ubiquity of the Internet has improved access to all types of good quality information dramatically changing library reference services along the way. We are more likely to help train folks in how to tell a decent Internet site from a bogus one than to go to a reference book in the library for an answer.
- Library reference resources have moved online so people with library cards can access them from any Internet connected computer/device.
- And finally, reference questions have given way to requests for help on computers, e-readers and tablets.
This is where my “bright idea” came into play. If the library is consistently getting 25% fewer reference questions per month, then why does it feel like we’re so busy helping patrons? So, for the month of December, we kept track of the number of times we helped people on Internet computers. There were 89 assists. All of us, from volunteers to the Library Director, help patrons who have questions while using the public Internet computers. These requests can take from 2 – 60 minutes to resolve and include, but are not limited to, help
- formatting a Word document
- sending and retrieving a print job
- creating a legal form
- setting up an email account
- attaching pictures or documents to email
- scanning to email
- using a flash drive
- using MS Excel workbooks
- applying for a job
- signing into a class
- signing up for Health care
- accessing coupons or other discounts
- using the PCs special access tools
It will be interesting to see where these numbers go over the next year. So… as we move through 2015, building your new library and eventually moving into it, don’t expect to see a special section set aside for a reference collection. While we will have quiet spaces where people can study, read or think, reference desks are giving way to computer assistance desks in public libraries all over the country and it is the fortunate library that has reference librarians who can also provide excellent computer assistance. Camp Verde Community Library is one of those fortunate libraries.