Reference Services Evaluation Plan



The Clermont County Public Library (CCPL) is a system of libraries in Clermont County, Ohio, which offers a variety of online services. One of these services is “NowWhat”; this service is personalized suggestions for the patron based off of a profile which the patron completes and submits online. The patron is asked questions such as preferred method to receive suggestions, age, and gender, as well as preferred formats, genres, and storyline. There are also several open-ended questions allowing the user to input likes, past books or authors, as well as things to exclude. Patrons are asked to wait one week for suggestions to arrive.

Past Case Study

Conducted in 2004, Stoffel and Tucker wrote of the Illinois State University surveys conducted for the email and chat reference services. They only received a 21% response rate (p. 130), partially based on a lack of email addresses. With advancements in technology and web capabilities, providing an anonymous link for users to complete the survey would likely provide a better response rate. It is important to ensure that issues with the survey itself are not the cause for poor evaluations. In addition, surveys should be provided at the time of service. While the case study in question waited one week before providing the survey to “allow patrons time to ponder their reference experience and to evaluate the usefulness of information received during the session” (p. 123), the resources necessary for tracking this would be considerably greater.



Planned Participants

The goal is to evaluate the “NowWhat” service of the library by including a selection of staff members, patrons who have used the service, and patrons who have not used the service. The survey should be offered over a four-week period, with the survey given to all patrons who have received suggestions and placed in clear view for all patrons who are not currently receiving suggestions. The number of staff members should be limited to those who provide the service only.

Methods of Data Collection

The service will be evaluated through short surveys. Only a few questions should be included. When suggestions are provided to patrons, then a request to participate in the survey should be included (either in paper or online format, depending on how the patron is receiving the request). In addition, surveys should be made available to patrons as they check out. For the purposes of this study, patrons who have used the service in the past but are not currently requesting suggestions will be considered non-users.

Potential questions include, but are not limited to:

  • Are you aware of the NowWhat service, and what it offers?
  • Do you feel the NowWhat service is useful?
  • Was the response timely?
  • Would you use the NowWhat service in the future?
  • What suggestions do you have to improve the NowWhat service?


Paper surveys will be provided at each branch, with a box for collecting answers available in a location which does not pressure the patron to answer. Ideally, these should be placed near the door, either near the notice board or entrance display.

Personnel Involved

All library staff members should ensure that the surveys are available. Additionally, assistance from IT will be needed to create the online survey form. The time for staff to complete the survey should be short (5-10 minutes or less). A small number of staff will be needed to evaluate the results.

Equipment Needed

Minimal. All paper surveys require paper, pen, and pencil, as well as a location and “dropbox” for completed surveys. Online surveys require a computer as well as access to a website (such as SurveyMonkey) or IT resources to create the survey.

Required for evaluating the results will be software such as MS Excel, MS Access, R, or similar reporting software.


Stoffel, B., & Tucker, T. (2004). E-mail and chat reference: Assessing patron satisfaction. Reference Services Review, 32(2), 120-140.