AskColorado Customer Satisfaction High as Usage Continues to Increase

AskColorado, the statewide 24/7 free virtual reference service that started in September 2003, is a collaborative project among libraries of all types throughout the state. Through the efforts of over 350 librarians from public, academic, school, and special libraries, the service provides online answers to Coloradans—any age, anywhere, anytime. Since its inception, AskColorado has steadily increased both in number of user sessions and customer satisfaction levels.

According to AskColorado usage statistics, the number of user sessions increased substantially during the first 3 full years of service (see Chart 1). In 2006, AskColorado librarians answered questions during more than 52,000 online reference sessions—almost twice the number of sessions as in 2004 (27,892).

When asked about the growth of the service, Kris Johnson, the AskColorado coordinator, commented, “Usage continues to grow, this is clear. This may be due to more people knowing about the service, or the fact that we now have more librarians available online at any given time to take calls, or both.”

255 Chart 1

Customer Satisfaction
Findings from both the 2005 and 2006 surveys indicate a majority of respondents found the virtual librarian helpful and were satisfied with the answers to their questions (see Chart 2 and Chart 3). In 2006, 3 out of 4 respondents (74%) found the virtual librarian to be helpful, and a similar proportion expressed satisfaction (72%) with the answers they received from the AskColorado librarians. This represents a significant increase from 2005 to 2006 in the customer satisfaction with the service.

The reason for the increased satisfaction is undoubtedly due to a combination of factors. According to Kris Johnson, “We’re getting better about communicating online, we’re becoming better searchers, our patrons are having a more realistic understanding of what our service can provide.” Johnson continues, “Perhaps our patrons are having a more difficult time finding information on their own and turn to us. After all, librarians are known as information experts. Any or all of these reasons could apply.”

255_Chart 2

More About the AskColorado Surveys
To measure AskColorado’s success serving its patrons, an annual customer service and outcome based evaluation survey was created to ask a sample of users for their reaction to the service.  In 2004, following the first year of service, two surveys were administered to users of the service; a pop-up customer satisfaction survey and an outcome survey e-mailed to those who agreed to take this follow up survey. The outcome survey also contained demographic questions. The two surveys were revised and condensed in 2005 to create one pop-up exit survey. Therefore, the data comparisons in this Fast Facts contain only 2005 and 2006 information.
“I am very impressed. As an IT specialist, I understand how difficult it can be to implement a sophisticated system such as this. It worked like a charm. I was quickly connected with a local librarian who helped me research my topic. I had been Googling for hours to no avail, but your librarian found a relevant link in under 5 minutes. Great job!” – AskColorado User

255 Chart 3

“Sometimes I need a quick answer to a question about finding where and in what form I will find a source for research in my history classes.  Your service and your librarians, who often are an encyclopedia in and of themselves, have helped me ‘learn’ how and where to find information while I am completing my project. The library is a complicated place for those of us just learning and technology seems to change constantly.  It is hard sometimes to keep up. Thank you for your help and especially at being there at hours when the main library is closed.” – AskColorado User

Customer Outcomes
In both the 2005 and 2006 survey respondents were asked to indicate the outcome(s) of their visit to AskColorado (see Table 1). The same 5 outcomes top the list each year, with research for homework or a school project having the strongest showing overall (ranking first in 2006 and second in 2005). Similarly, identifying a new source of information rose from 2005 to 2006. Obtaining a specific fact or document was the number 1 outcome in 2005 and fell to third in 2006. Obtaining information for work and learning how the library can help respondents were the fourth and fifth most popular outcomes, respectively, in both years.

255 Chart 4

Respondents were told to choose all outcomes that applied. Therefore respondents could choose more than one answer.

“This is the best site!  I have always found what I needed at this site and the people who helped me were great!!  This site is a life saver thanks again!!!!!” – AskColorado User

Between 2005 and 2006 survey respondents were increasingly using the AskColorado virtual reference service in order to conduct research for homework and school projects, as well as other traditional reference services. The increase in usage of the service, as well as a rise in customer service ratings, indicates that AskColorado is growing in both popularity and customer satisfaction.

“Thank you. You guys so helped me and helped me stay up on my grades thank you I will be coming to this site more often when I need help!!!!” – AskColorado User

Sources

CSAP Scores Higher in Schools with Staffed Libraries

The Colorado Department of Education recently released 2007 CSAP (Colorado Student Assessment Program) test results for schools throughout the state,1 and students in schools with staffed libraries performed better on the reading portions of the CSAP than their counterparts in schools without staffed libraries.2 Schools with staffed libraries saw a higher percentage of their students score Proficient or Advanced on the CSAP reading test (68.5% vs. 57.5%). Conversely, schools without staffed libraries had a higher percentage of students score “unsatisfactory” (15.9% vs. 10.3%), compared to schools with staffed libraries (see chart below).

253_Chart 1

Undoubtedly, many factors contribute to success or failure on standardized tests. There is an opportunity here for more research to better determine the role that school libraries play in the success of Colorado’s students.

Until that research can be realized, this is anecdotal evidence that supports a series of studies that have been performed over the last decade and a half. These studies detail how well-developed school libraries positively impact academic achievement.3

Statewide Courier Saves Libraries Thousands in Shipping Costs Each Year

During the months of October 2006 and February 2007, 27 public, academic, school, and special libraries in Colorado collected statistics on the number and format of items sent via the statewide courier service, operated by the Colorado Library Consortium (CLiC). The study was undertaken to determine the cost-effectiveness of the courier service.

Without the presence of a statewide courier, Colorado’s libraries would need to find alternative methods of transferring items between library systems—most likely they would need to ship materials using a standard shipping company, i.e., the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), Federal Express (FedEx), or United Parcel Service (UPS). For the purposes of this study, we collected data for items sent on the courier by the libraries, rather than received, because in using the standard shipping methods mentioned above the sender nearly always incurs the cost (COD being the exception). Statistics were collected during specified weeks in October and February—some libraries participated in data collection during only one of these periods, while others participated during both. Statistics for all libraries were annualized.

251 Image 1Based on the data collected, the courier proved to be extremely cost-effective. During the study period, participating libraries were charged $3,389 for their participation in the courier. Estimates for the cost of sending materials via a shipping company were made using average weights for each type of item (e.g., books, DVDs, audio tapes). For each shipping company, the least expensive option within its services was chosen. The most economical alternative shipping method—USPS—was more than 3.5 times more expensive than the courier, at $12,098. Shipping the same materials via Federal Express or UPS would cost even more, with both of those services topping $20,000 (see Chart 1).

251 Chart 1

Additionally, courier service is more convenient than standard shipping methods, and undoubtedly saves staff time and packaging costs. When using the courier, library staff place all courier-delivered items in a bin with a label directing courier staff how to route the item. For any of the alternative methods, items need to be more carefully packaged in boxes and protective wrapping. This savings of time and materials increases the courier’s cost-effectiveness even more.

Statewide Usage
There were too few participating school and special libraries to even attempt extrapolating their data on a statewide level, but participation from public and academic libraries was sufficient to attempt an estimate. This study had a relatively small number of participants, and they were a self-selected (volunteer) group, making it impossible to assume a representative sample and difficult to extrapolate numbers of items moved on a statewide level.

Making extrapolation even more difficult is the fact that different libraries use the courier in very different ways. For example, Grand County Library District, which serves a population of around 14,000 people, has the courier stop at all 6 of its locations, and uses the courier for intra-library loaning of items (materials sent between Grand County libraries), as well as inter-library loans (materials sent to other library systems). Meanwhile, Aurora Public Library, which serves nearly 300,000 people at its 7 branches, has the courier only stop at one location, and uses it only for inter-library loans. These two library systems, serving quite different populations, have very similar courier usage numbers.

This suggests that extrapolating exclusively on the basis of population served (or in the case of academic libraries, enrollment) or solely on number of courier stops may produce an inaccurate number. Because no single method recommends itself, extrapolations were made using both methods (see Table 1).

251 Table 1

Using these estimations, it is expected that public libraries ship somewhere near 2 million items on the courier each year and save between $600,000 and $1 million annually, when comparing courier cost with USPS. Again, this savings jumps dramatically if the alternative shipping method were either FedEx or UPS (see Chart 2).

251 Chart 2

Extrapolated in the same manner, it is projected that academic libraries in Colorado ship around 400,000 items on the courier (see Table 2) and in the process save more than $200,000 over USPS costs, while spending less than $100,000 on courier service (see Chart 3).

251 Table 2

251 Chart 3

It is highly probable that courier usage is increasing. Prospector, the unified catalog of 23 libraries in Colorado and Wyoming, which uses the courier as its shipping method, has seen a dramatic rise in use over the past few years. According to their statistics (found at http://www.coalliance.org), they fulfilled 129,719 requests between library systems in 2003. For 2006, that number nearly tripled, to 377,632. For the first three months of 2007, 116,546 requests were fulfilled; at that pace, Prospector will reach 466,184 requests fulfilled for the year. The courier is involved twice with each of those requests—once to move it to the requesting library, and again to return it to the owning library.

Again, given the diversity of the libraries on the courier, and the small, volunteer nature of the participating sample, these estimates are just that—estimates. Any number of factors could affect the true annual totals in either direction. For instance, the 2 largest public libraries in the state—Denver Public Library and Jefferson County Public Library—both participate heavily on the courier, moving large numbers of materials via Prospector. However, neither of them participated in this study, so their data could not be used to aid in the extrapolations.

Without a more comprehensive study, an exact number of items moved by the courier each year cannot be pinpointed. In addition to the problems inherent in attempting to extrapolate for public and academic libraries, insufficient data is available for school and special libraries as well as community courier stops to attempt an extrapolation. However, it is safe to say that millions of items are being sent among Colorado libraries each year using the statewide courier, and the savings provided to these libraries is tremendous. Combined public and academic libraries alone would spend over 250 percent more using USPS, the least expensive alternative.

Salaries of Librarians and Other Professionals Working in Libraries

Questions about library staff salaries are some of the more frequently posed to the LRS staff. To help answer these questions, we consulted the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) and the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) produced by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The data is gathered and reported using the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) System. The SOC combines library workers from all types of library settings under the broad occupational categories of Librarian, Library Technician, and Library Assistant.

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The Average Copyright of Colorado School Library Books is (Still) 15 Years Old

In 2001, the average copyright of a book collection in Colorado school libraries was 1986—over 15 years old. Although the average copyright has increased to 1991, the age of Colorado school library collections has not. In schools, access to information is essential, but the information students are retrieving is often older than they are.

Consider some of the major events that have occurred since 1991:

  • Bill Clinton is elected as the 42nd president (1992).
  • The World Trade Center is bombed the first time (1993).
  • Nelson Mandela is inaugurated as South Africa’s first black president (1994).
  • The Oklahoma City bombing occurs at the Alfred P. Murrah federal building (1995).
  • The first version of Java programming language is released (1996).
  • Dolly the sheep is the first mammal to be successfully cloned (1997).
  • Google is founded (1998).
  • The Columbine High School shooting occurs Littleton, Colorado (1999).

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AskColorado Use Continues to Grow in Second Year

AskColorado, a statewide virtual reference service which recently completed its second year of helping Coloradans, continues to gain momentum and receive positive feedback from its users. The 24/7 reference service, staffed by more than 200 library personnel from all types of libraries throughout the state, significantly increased its number of users between its first and second years. During the first 10 months of its existence (September 2003 through June 2004), the librarians were involved in an average of 2,000 reference transactions per month. In its second year (July 2004 through June 2005), that number rose to an average of more than 3,500 transactions in each month. In February 2005 alone AskColorado librarians were involved with 6,483 reference transactions. Note: A reference transaction is defined as a discrete online reference session with one or more users which may include one or more questions and answers.

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The U.S. Labor Market for Library Workers, 2002-12

Librarian retirements are at what some believe to be an all-time high. Many in the field are also concerned about the apparent extent to which library jobs are being restructured and, sometimes, eliminated. In this seemingly unstable climate, several questions come to mind:

  • How many jobs are there for library workers generally—and librarians in particular?
  • How many of those jobs will be vacated in the foreseeable future?
  • How many library jobs will be created or lost?
  • Are there enough people to fill the library positions that will be available?
  • How well (or poorly) are these jobs compensated?

Data that can help decision-makers begin to address these questions are available in Occupational Employment, Training, and Earnings Data accessible via the Bureau of Labor Statistics website. (See http://data.bls.gov/oep/noeted/empoptd.jsp.)

BLS defines 3 library occupations—librarian, library technician, and library assistant (clerical). For definitions of these occupations, see the full report.

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AskColorado’s First Year Online

AskColorado, a statewide virtual reference service, was launched on September 2, 2003. The service, available for both English and Spanish-speaking patrons, is staffed by over 200 library personnel from all types of libraries throughout the state. AskColorado is funded through a combination of local contributions from Colorado libraries, federal funds provided by the Colorado State Library under the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA), and state general funds allocated to the State Library. Available online 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at http://www.askcolorado.org/, the librarians at AskColorado answered, on average, over 2,000 questions a month during the service’s first year of operation. The service’s usage figures have continued to increase. During the first two months of 2005 an average of over 5,000 questions were answered per month, over half of them from K-12 students.

AskColorado Highlights

  • Over 2,000 reference questions were answered per month (on average) during AskColorado’s first year online.
  • In early 2005, over 6,000 questions were answered during a single month.
  • Nearly three-quarters of respondents found the service to be “helpful” or “very helpful.”
  • Well over half of respondents under age 18 (59%) and aged 18-24 (71%) used AskColorado to do research for homework or another school project.

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Librarianship in Colorado School Libraries

In the recent study, Retirement, Retention, and Recruitment: The Future of Librarianship in Colorado, library workers from all types of libraries from around the state were asked about their careers, their workplaces, and their attitudes about librarianship. Included in the study were school librarians, who were defined as librarians with a library media endorsement, Master of Library Science degree, or equivalent and working in a Colorado school library. This issue of Fast Facts reports the responses of the 110 school librarians who participated in the study.

Highlights from School Librarian Respondents

  • Nearly 9 out of 10 indicated they were 45 or older.
  • Almost half indicated they plan to retire in the next five years (45%).
  • One in 3 have more than 20 years library work experience.
  • Nine out of 10 said they had some experience working or volunteering in a school or library before pursuing a library credential.
  • More than 3 out of 5 identified a love of books or reading as a factor making librarianship an attractive profession.
  • More than 2 out of 3 said misconceptions about librarianship discouraged a career in the profession.

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Power Libraries Workshops Prepare–and Motivate–Librarians and Other Educators to Collaborate

During Fall 2004 and early Winter 2005, the Colorado Power Libraries project offered a series of workshops throughout the state to encourage more schools to join the project. Power Libraries promotes collaboration between administrators, classroom teachers, and library staff through peer-to-peer mentoring. Educators who attended these events were asked how they intended to act differently after the workshop—within the next week, month, semester, or year.

Of the 259 registrants, there were 216 survey respondents who identified themselves by educator type—just over 40 percent were teachers, almost another 40 percent were library staff, and 20 percent were administrators.

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