Module 4: Keeping Track

For every reference transaction, list the resource used.

Keep a Record of Your Search

If your library tracks reference questions, keep track of the questions, the information you gathered in the interview, and the sources you’ve tried. Keep track of anything that might help you, another staff member, or another library to continue work on the reference transaction if the question is referred.

When you are working on complicated searches you should make note of the books and online resources you use. Also note the subject headings you use in working with indexes and the inclusive dates of the indexes you check. List the specific titles you use. Do not record a statement like “all the books here” or “all our antique books,” in case the question must be referred to another library. Call numbers may not be helpful at the next level either, but the author’s last name and the book’s title should be enough to identify the source for most purposes.

Use a Form

If your library has a form for referring questions to a second level reference, you may wish to use the form from the beginning with each reference question. This has several advantages:

Official Counts of Reference Transactions

Depending on your library’s practice, you may also need to keep track of the number of questions (transactions) as well as the resources used. A directional transaction involves directing a patron to specific places or items in the library. All library staff should be able to distinguish and contrast a reference transaction from directional transactions in order to keep better statistics on library activity. Statistical measures are important as indicators of service to your community. Although statistics alone do not measure the activity in your library or its importance, statistical measures can help in evaluating current services and may impact planning (and budgeting) for new services.

Keeping Track in Virtual Reference

The virtual reference technology and forms used may provide automatic ways to capture transaction information. Frequently asked questions have special value, not just for keeping track, but in building databases to be used when answering repeated questions and building FAQs to assist patrons. However, special consideration must be given to patron privacy and confidentiality:

  • Reference transactions may be used in the creation of databases and FAQs but care should be taken to maintain the privacy of patrons and the confidentiality of patrons’ inquiries.
  • Beyond removal of patron identifiers, inclusion in a database should not compromise patron confidentiality, and this should be evaluated when choosing questions for inclusion in a database.
  • Patrons should be informed, through publicly available policy, that their questions might be included in a database. They should be provided a means to request removal of their inquiries from the database.
  • Data gathered and maintained for training purposes and for publicizing the service should also protect patron confidentiality.

Major Point: Keeping track of your search helps others who may work on the search and helps in planning future services. Questions kept with virtual technology may be used to build a database or create FAQs.


  1. Study the form that your library uses to keep track of reference questions.
  2. Are there areas on the form for describing the question resulting from the reference interview, listing sources checked, noting when patron was informed, referral status, and citation of the source where answer was found?
  3. Does your library keep track of reference questions all the time or at certain times of the year? How are the statistics used?