LRL Call Summaries: Tracking & Reporting

4/7/2021

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In an effort to create connections, share information, ideas and encourage innovation among the members of the Legislative Research Librarians Staff Association will hold periodic information sharing calls on a variety of topics. If you have a topic you'd like to see covered in a future call or have something you'd like to present on please contact NCSL's liaison to LRL, Megan McClure.

In February LRL held a Zoom Call about Tracking and reporting methods in legislative libraries. 6 librarians shared their methods, tools and practices. Below are short write-ups of each presenter’s information along with an image or two of the spreadsheets, search interfaces and graphic reports they use to keep track of and report out the integral work they do.

Idaho: Google Sheets & Forms

LRL chair, Eric Glover of Idaho kicked us off describing the tracking and reporting system he put together using Google Sheets and Google Forms. He has been using and tweaking this system since 2016 and has helped the library staff to show the value of the organization to the legislature. The survey allows them to track who they are serving and how often. Google was chosen because it is very quick and simple to create and run reports and the data is very easily populated into Forms to create visual presentations of the information.

  • The form is very simple. Tracking: patron type, format of request, purpose, details about request and a patron count.
  • Can be easily shared with everyone in the library
  • Google Sheets enters a timestamp to help with time keeping
  • Can breakdown the data according to # of patrons, type, etc.
  • Can also look at interim vs. session
  • Eric used formulas (learned by watching YouTube videos) to pull responses across multiple sheets
  • Transferring the data from Google Sheets to Forms allows for the creation of visually appealing charts and reports.
  • Has provided insights into how the library’s work has changed (or didn’t) during COVID.
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Maryland: Excel Spreadsheets

Richard Sigwald took time out of his busy day as a new dad to show us the clever spreadsheet he developed and how it’s used by the Maryland Library and Information Services Department to track and report their work. He explained that each library staffer keeps their own individual sheets which are then aggregated monthly to get library-wide statistics. His collection spreadsheet had several auto-populated and easy drop-down menus to make filling in the information quick and easy. Information tracked was:

  • Date (Double click in first row and the date is auto-populated with the current date).
  • Time opened (also auto-populated).
  • Contact (populated from shared Outlook contacts – drop-down menu).
  • Row Automatically highlights yellow as “not complete.”
  • Request Category (dropdown menu).
  • Attachment (can put the link shared or actual attachment sent).
  • Method of contact (email, phone, etc.).
  • Time closed (double click to close).
  • Duration of Request (autocomplete with time between opening the call and closing the call).
  • Once the call is closed, contact will no longer be highlighted yellow.
  • Different tabs to show data.
    • From different months/years.
    • Summary – visually showing graphs, charts, to look/manage data.

Rhode Island: Excel Spreadsheets and Power BI

Megan Hamlin-Black, state librarian in Rhode Island showed us the spreadsheets and powerful data visualization software Power BI they use at the State Library to track their work and report out with visual aids and infographics. She explained that since 2017 they have kept an Excel survey that collects information like:

  • Patron Type. 
  • Question Type. 
  • Time spent on request.
  • Date answered.
  • Time of day answered.
  • How many librarians worked on the request.
  • Comments/Notes
    • Can help clean data to add categories when reviewing afterward.
  • Gate Count (over headcount)
    • By transaction type
      • Visitor.
      • Tour.
      • Research.
      • Newspaper.
      • State employee.
      • Event.
      • Legislature.
  • The library holds many events each year, which are also tracked.

Megan also showed the nifty data visualization software Power BI which does have a cost associated with it and a bit of a learning curve. Power BI can pull the data from the Excel surveys and make interactive and visually appealing graphs, charts, etc. Which is then is used in their annual reports. An interesting revelation from this data post-COVID lockdown: Although there were no walk-ins at the library after March 24, the depth of research and therefore time and effort needed for questions after that date increased markedly.

For example—we saw an 88% increase in questions that took 30-45 minutes to answer in 2020 over 2019 (82 questions in 2020 and 45 questions in 2019 in this time length category).

Kansas State Library: Gimlet Database Subscription

Cindy Roupe from the State Library of Kansas (operating under the executive branch) which also serves the state legislature joined us to explain that they operate a legislative hotline and are based in the statehouse for easy access by the legislature. Cindy showed us Gimlet, a subscription database and tracking platform. Like in Maine this is used not only for tracking and statistics gathering but also as a knowledge base for library and research staff.

Data points that are tracked include:

  • Request Type.
  • Duration (not used much).
  • Patron Type/ Name.
  • Format (phone, email, etc.).
  • Location Where Request was Made.
  • Question (text or summary).
  •  Answer (text or summary).
  •  Level of Difficulty.
  • Initials of Staff Who Worked on Request.

Other locations and departments wanted to start tracking their work too. So now the database is used by statewide services, the circulation desk and a couple others have access. Gimlet has a search function allowing staff to search vi their initial or keywords to find previous responses to similar questions. Overall Gimlet provides:

  • Good data visualization options and tools.
  • A downloadable spreadsheet that allows data to be manipulated.
  • Useful tools for comparing data and easy to-read reports.
  • Tags allow for categorization of questions.
  • With such a wide client base, Gimlet allows the library to see who they are serving and how.

According to Cindy, having Gimlet was a real game changer in terms of keeping statistics and having a knowledge base.

Maine: Reference Tracking Forms & Database

Jessica Lundgren of the Maine Law and Legislative Reference Library showed us the reference tracking form and statistics reports that they use for keeping track of their work. The data collected is for internal use only and allows them to track who comes into the library (dramatically less this year, obviously), the traffic on the library’s websites, print material and ILL circulation as well as technical services such as newly catalogued titles, items added, withdrawals from the collection. The library staff also collect and scan news clippings using Alchemy as their storage tool. And they have been asked by the Maine Legislature to scan committee testimony and so they have been adding that as they go.

The database for reference questions is no just a way for the library to look at statistics and numbers but also serves as a knowledge management tool. This type of information is reported out at Director meetings:

  • Patron Type
  • Request Type (email, phone, walk-in)
  • Response Type (scan, link, download, digital library)
  • Researcher (which individual worked on the request
  • Date
  • Referral (transferred from another department)
  • Time spent on each request
  • Description of request
  • Description of response
  • Can do a basic search – not a lot of flexibility, but handy to not reinvent the wheel if a request has already been answered on the topic.

Nevada Research Division, Preexisting Database Software

Teresa Wilt of Nevada rounded out the group showing us how they collect data via their library cataloging software, InMagic (DBTextWorks and WebPublisher Pro). This database is used to record requests for everyone in the Nevada Legislative Counsel Bureau’s research division. Using software they already owned and used made this a very cost-effective and easy to implement way of tracking their work. However, Teresa pointed out they were interested to see how other libraries presented their data. They have only done limited, very basic reporting of data and are hoping to find more creative ways to present information about their requests.

They differentiate legislator requests (white sheets) and all other requests (green sheets) and include the following items:

  • Topic line.
  • Description (email requests often gets cut and pasted into this field).
  • Notes (can be the response to the question, notes about who has been contacted for information, status of the request, etc.).
  • Subject (almost 40 total; 15 major subjects and several subgroups, such as Education—General, Education—PreK-12, Education—Postsecondary).
  • Time required (<15 min., 15 min.-1 hour, 1-4 hours, or 4+ hours).
  • Attached documents/files (usually supplemental material submitted with the request or used to respond to the request, and/or the response itself).
  • White Sheets (legislator request) only:
    • Nature of request (Admin, BDR, Committee, Constituent Services, writing remarks, traditional research, other).
  • Green Sheets (all other requests) only:
    • Type of requester (over 30 total types; 13 major types and several subtypes, such as Nongovernment—Other State—Business, Nongovernment—Other State—Private Citizen, and Nongovernment—Other State—News Media).

Searching is fast and since it’s browser-based, everyone in the division can enter and update their own requests.

The database is set up for an election cycle. They reevaluate the system every fall, reviewing the categories and parameters to see if anything needs to be added, subtracted or fine-tuned.