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Man using computer as others watch at a exhibit with banner "Information on Demand"
"Information on Demand." Photo: Marion S. Trikosko, photographer, November 16, 1979. (Library of Congress)

What Can We Learn from Ask-A-Librarian Questions?

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This post was written by 2024 Business Section Intern Olivia DiAcetis, an economics student at the University of Texas at Dallas.

This past spring, I worked on a project analyzing questions submitted to the Business Section in 2023. These were questions sent through the Ask-A-Librarian service as well as questions answered by librarians in person and over the telephone. The goal of this project was to better understand the types of questions patrons are asking and what resources are being used to answer them, using the year-long data set as a representative sample. By considering variables like subject area, time period of interest, collections used in librarian responses, and research guide referrals, the project was able to answer several of our questions. Those questions included: What areas are of high interest and would be valuable to create more resources around? What resources are patrons being connected with? Are librarians recommending relevant research guides?

The data set contained over 2,300 questions. After completing a literature review, I dove into the process of adding subject metadata tags which identified subsections of the collection, ranging from banking and finance to small businesses and business ethics. I also used tags to track references to preexisting research guides and the relevant timeframe of the question (historical in nature or current, within the last 10 years). After adding those metadata tags to highlight several variables, I separated the questions by type of interaction. While the results are confidential, the thing I have noticed in reviewing this data is the variety of projects people come to the library with. The business librarians are using the trends I identified as a part of this project to help improve the reference process both for users and library staff.

Throughout the experience of working on this project I was continuously shown how the Library is able fulfill its promise to engage, inspire, and inform members of the public. The continued curiosity and innovation represented in these questions is inspiring both as an aspiring information professional and an individual. Moving through all stages of the project from planning to compiling results has allowed me to practice the intentionality and flexibility which are valuable skills for starting my career in libraries and archives.  I am grateful for the opportunity and support provided by the business reference team.

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