Internet Public Library
A Digital Reference Service
Presentation Overview
 What is the IPL?
 A tour of the IPL website
 The collection
 The Ask a Question Service
 Question Answering
 Anatomy of an IPL Response
 Reference interview and e-mail reference
 IPL usage statistics
Home page of the
Internet Public Library’s Website
About the Internet Public Library
This area gives info
about the IPL’s
history, who has
been and is
involved, and its
policies and mission
The IPL Collection
Scroll down the IPL’s homepage
to see parts of the collection
FARQs (Frequently
Asked Reference
Questions) and
Science Fair Resource Guide
Stately Knowledge
Science Fair Resource Guide
Research & Writing Guide
Poetry Wiki
FAEQs (Frequently Asked
Embarrassing Questions)
Research & Writing Guide
Poetry Wiki
FAEQs (Frequently Asked
Embarrassing Questions)
At the bottom of the homepage you will find
the Ask a Question Service
Primary location of the
Ask a Question digital
reference service
Ask a Question Service
 Web based form
 Answers sent to patron’s e-mail
 Questions and responses maintained
in a database
This is the Ask a Question form for adults.
Top of form
This is the bottom half of the
Adult Ask a Question form:
There is also an Ask a Question form especially for
children (under 13 years old) through KidSpace
Top of form
This is the bottom half of the
KidSpace Ask a Question form:
Note that questions about homework are asked.
LIS student volunteers are trained
to answer reference questions:
 Content
 how to select reliable, free sites,
 how to cite an online source
 how to respond to a patron (using the
IPL’s method)
A timely response
 When a patron submits a question, it is assessed
and processed internally within 24 hours.
 Questions are addressed immediately based on the
need-by date set by the patron.
 Student volunteers scan the database of readyreference and research questions “To Be
Answered”, and then claim a question.
 Once a question is claimed by a student volunteer,
it must be answered within 24 hours.
 Overall turnaround time, as stated on the website,
is 3 days.
The Anatomy of an IPL
 6 parts to an IPL answer
Source citations
Search Description
1. Greeting
 All answers require a greeting.
 “Greetings from the IPL” is a good
neutral choice. The manual indicates
that you may instead use “Dear” with
the patron’s name but responses
should not be informal if the patron
used a formal tone.
2. Acknowledgment
 The acknowledgement is a brief
paraphrasing, and should
demonstrate an understanding of the
 Summarize the question if it is long
or complex.
 DO NOT cut and paste the entire
question as it will sound awkward.
3. Answer
 The IPL emphasizes the need for responses to offer
free, reliable sources of information that best match
the patron’s questions.
 With free resources, the IPL suggests that a
response include at least three of the most specific
URLs possible.
 It is important to provide a complete answer yet
not overwhelm the patron.
 Remember that the answer may be equally or
better presented from print materials and/or
subscription databases. The IPL will soon provide a
public library finder.
4. Source citations
 The place where you located the
information is the resource used.
 It helps establish authority of the
answer provided.
 When possible, indicate the author or
creator of the information found
within the resource.
5. Search description
 Give search strategy used for each
 This allows your patron to repeat the
search if necessary.
 Reinforces IPL’s objective to enhance
information literacy.
6. Closing
 A "thank you" for visiting the IPL
and for using the service.
 An invitation to return to the IPL if
more information is required.
What about the reference
 Because the IPL’s Ask a Question Digital
Reference Service is email-based,
conducting a proper reference interview is
 The patron’s information request form
provides the basis to prepare a response.
 Asking the patron for more information or
clarification slows down the process
 In 2007, feedback was requested 2% of the time; of
those requests, 20% of patrons replied to clarify their
initial question.
Sample question (1)
Sample question (2)
 Question submitted by an eighth grader from
the UK.
 She asked a science question about
capillary wall structure and hemoglobin.
 Knowing that she is an eighth grader, that this
is for school, that she needs only one sentence
for her assignment, and knowing what other
sources she used gives us a lot of clues about
what our patrons are looking for so that we can
provide the right answer to the right question.
IPL Users and Usage
 Assessment
 Site usage statistics
 Using Google Analytics
 Digital reference service statistics
Overview of Site Usage
 During January 2007
 1,137,125 visits used:
 47 browsers, 7 connection speeds, in 177
 80.88% new visits
Digital Reference Service Usage
 Statistics for 2007
 22,589: total communication received
 434.4 questions or messages submitted per week
 57 questions or messages submitted per day
 21,863: total number of reference
questions received; 13,420 processed.
 The difference between 22,589 and 21,863
accounts for questions or messages outside the
scope of IPL’s service, administrative matters, in
addition to suggestions or comments about the
IPL that are received through feedback forms on
the site.
Digital Reference Service
Usage, 2002-2007
Number of reference
Total Received
Number of reference
Total Processed
Patron Satisfaction
 Common ways to measure
 User Surveys
 Tracking returning users
 “Thank you” comments
User Surveys
Chang, H.R., & Holland, M.P. (2005). User Satisfaction Survey of
Ask-A Question Service at the Internet Public Library. Internet
Reference Services Quarterly, 10(2), 61-73.
Tracking Returning Users (1)
 1st Quarter: January-March 2007
 New visits: 78.28%
 Number of page views: 12,369,197
 Number of visits: 3,307,198
-Google Analytics
Tracking Returning Users (2)
 2nd Quarter: April – June 2007
 New visits: 75.84%
 Number of page views: 9,113,378
 Number of visits: 2,567,795
 3rd Quarter: July – September 2007
 New visits: 75.59%
 Number of page views: 6,774,498
 Number of visits: 1,973,500
 4th Quarter: October – December 2007
 New visits: 64.99%
 Number of page views: 10,025,987
 Number of visits: 2,758,914
“Thank you”
 Tracking the number of “thank yous”
began in September 2007
 Approximately 10% of users send
their appreciation
 All acknowledgments are passed
along to the student volunteers who
answered the question
An Exceptional “Thank you”
What are the most frequently asked questions regarding
Which directories do you refer people to the most?
What are some important directories for today's world?
location: Maryland
area: General Reference
reason: For a report on directories in my library science class,
information access.
school: Yes
sources consulted: Bopp, Richard E. and Linda C. Smith. Reference
and Information Services: An Introduction. 3rd ed. Englewood,
Colo.: Libraries Unlimited, 2000 (ISBN: 1-56308-624-7; ISBN-13:
Thank you! I appreciate the information and will greatly add to our
presentation. It's always a pleasure to use your services and I
highly recommend them to others. You're doing the community
a great service. Yay for librarians! hehe
Questions or comments?

IPL Behind the Scenes