Reference Services Evaluation

Face to Face Reference Service at the Desk:

The 1st & 2nd year Students Assessment of Service


For this reference service evaluation outline, we will be looking at how freshman and sophomore students perceive the level of service they receive when they are asking reference questions at the desk (face-to-face) in their local academic library.

Description of reference service:

Answering questions face-to-face at the reference desk is almost as old as libraries themselves. The patron would approach the desk, ask the librarian or staff member the question, and through the reference interview, the librarian/staff would then direct the patron to the needed resource. With this traditional service now changing from not just face-to-face interactions, but also virtual interactions (via the ‘Ask-A-Librarian‘ service embedded in most academic library homepages), it is imperative that reference librarians, in fact, all librarians start evaluating the way we deliver our services, to make sure that we are engaging and reaching all members of our library patron community, and that we are consistently providing top-notch service when it comes to each and every reference transaction (regardless of mode of interaction).

Evaluation Outline

  • Planned Participants-The planned participants in this evaluation will be freshman and sophomore undergraduate students selected from university-required English Composition classes.

A random selection of students, chosen by the professors from these two levels of classes, will most likely ensure a completely random, non-biased sample of students, with the only limitation applied being that half of the sample population must be male, and half female. This will limit gender-inherent perceived viewpoints about the library and what was asked of the students.

  • Data Collection Methods-An informal survey given to the students after their reference transaction, to be filled out no later than 2 weeks after, will be used to gauge their level of service satisfaction. The students will have the option of turning in the survey to either their professor or a librarian/staff at the reference desk. Martin & Park (2010) also used the informal survey technique to gather their data for a similar study.

As Bopp & Smith (2011) noted in chapter 10 of their textbook, since this is a first study, their strategy of “replicating another study done elsewhere” (p.315) was co-opted for use in this evaluation of the reference desk.

  • Location or Environment of Study– The location of the evaluation will take place at the reference desk, in the main academic library on campus.

After the students have visited the reference desk and filled out the survey, the Head Reference Librarian, aided by at least 2 other librarians, will transcribe the survey results according to categories that appear based on the students’ responses to the survey questions. The students who took part will be asked to voluntarily give their university email address if they would like to see the executive summary of the results (to be compiled at a later date).

  • Personnel Involved-The following personnel will be directly involved with the evaluation: all librarians/staff who helped the students, the Head Reference Librarian, who will determine what value the study (evaluation) holds for the library, and the Professors of the English Composition classes, who are helping gather student participants for the study.

Since no reference desk librarian/staff are needed to record any data on their end of the transaction (the Library & Information Science literature has many examples of reference librarians and their input into this side of the process), they only need to be made aware of the fact that certain students will be asking them reference questions because they are taking part in an informal survey. If the reference librarian/staff member would like to make their own personal record of the transaction, this data would be welcome for further study. No formal structure needed, notes or an outline would be acceptable.

  • Equipment Necessary to Conduct Evaluation-A paper version of the survey will be distributed to all participating students and reference desk librarians/staff. To accommodate those with disabilities (if they are part of the study), alternate versions will be made of the survey at their request (online, larger print, etc.).

Microsoft Word will be used to create the survey, and will be uploaded to Google Docs for use by those who need accommodations or those who wish to look over the survey again. Google Spreadsheet will be used to compile all categories and show instances of repeating patterns found in the transcribed data.


While this evaluation outline is not comprehensive like some studies previously done (see Miller (2008)), all evaluations need somewhere to start, and by looking into how students perceive the service at the reference desk, we can then begin determining how to tailor our reference desk services to better serve the needs of our student populations, and to possibly determine what steps can be taken by the library system as a whole to get more students in the doors and using the reference desk as a ‘go-to’ spot for all their reference needs. Further studies and evaluations will need to be performed to gauge perceptions by faculty and researchers and for gauging perceptions to the other reference services offered by the university (i.e. virtual reference services).


Bopp, R.E., & Smith, L.C. (Eds.). (2011). Reference and information services: An introduction (4th ed.). Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Martin, P.N., & Park, L. (2010). Reference desk consultation assignment: An exploratory study of students’ perceptions of reference service. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 49(4), 333-340. Retrieved from

Miller, J. (2008). Quick and easy reference evaluation: Gathering users’ and providers’ perspectives. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 47(3), 218-222. Retrieved from


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s