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Monday, November 19, 2012

Library chat surveys, University of Minnesota Duluth style

Interested in using surveys to improve your library's virtual reference services? In this
post, we've partnered with the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) Library to talk
library surveys. (Thanks guys!) They've been using surveys alongside chat this year and have interesting and actionable results to share with you.

At the end of this post, we'll cover the mechanics of adding a survey to your widget. But first up, Doreen Hansen, Computer Systems Specialist, along with UMD Librarians Kim Pittman and Gabriel Gardner will take you behind the scenes to share how they apply survey results within their library to improve library services.

A Tale of Two Surveys: How and Why

UMD Reference Librarians first offered chat service to patrons in 2004. After joining
forces with LibraryH3lp in 2008, we saw a significant increase in usage. However, after
that initial spike, our usage numbers began to stagnate (see charts). In order to uncover
the cause of our underwhelming usage statistics, we surveyed our patrons in the spring
and summer of 2012. We hoped that our survey results would give us insight into
users’ experience of chat and help us identify areas for improvement.


In order to learn more about current chat users and non-users, we created two surveys, both launched in the spring of 2012.

One was linked right inside the top header of the patron's chat box via the <title> field within the widget designer. In addition to this eye-catching survey link, librarians also sent patrons a friendly invitation to take a short survey at the conclusion of each chat. 

This survey asked the user to rate their satisfaction with several aspects of their chat experience, offer suggestions for service improvements, and rate their willingness to use the service again. 

Our second, more comprehensive survey was targeted to anyone, whether they were previous chat users, were unaware of the chat service, or had known about it but hadn't tried it. This survey posed questions to patrons about their awareness of the service, previous use and satisfaction (if applicable), reasons for non-use (if applicable) and demographic characteristics. We promoted this survey in three places: on our library home page, on our "AskUs!" page, and on the digital sign at the library’s entrance.

UMD Library home page with link to survey in lower left corner.
Closeup of survey link

We chose to use Google Drive to create these surveys because of its simplicity, shareability, and the snazzy charts that we could easily produce from our results. Using Google Drive also allowed us to create a “branching” survey which led users to different questions based on their responses. To our knowledge, Google Drive is currently the only free survey software with this capability.

How We Used Our Results

Dropped Chats: Embedded vs. Pop-out Widgets

After launching the survey, one problem became clear immediately: our embedded widgets were causing us to lose some users mid-conversation. Patrons would click a link sent by librarians or perhaps leave or refresh the page, losing their connection. While we had suspected that this might be the case, our survey results confirmed this. Switching all our widgets from embedded to pop-out was an easy fix, resulting in a notable decline in the number of lost connections and survey complaints.

Response Time

After compiling survey results, we noted other common issues experienced by users. Several users commented that librarians were slow to respond to their questions - an issue confirmed by our LibraryH3lp statistics. In order to improve this aspect of our service, we plan to discuss user expectations at future librarian training meetings, and explore options for providing back-up chat coverage should the librarian staffing the desk become too busy to answer promptly.

Lack of User Awareness

Given our declining chat usage, we were unsurprised to find that the majority of those surveyed had not previously used our chat service. Of those non-users, approximately half were not aware that the service existed. To address this lack of awareness, we are in the process of putting more widgets where our users are: our databases, online research guides, 404 pages, and our course management system, Moodle. In the future, we hope to add widgets to our mobile site (using LibraryH3lp’s mobile widget) and our link resolver pages. 

In addition to adding more widgets, we are strategizing new promotional efforts across campus to increase awareness of our chat service. This may include posting fliers in the dorms, advertising in our campus student newspaper, and redoubling our efforts to promote our chat service in library instruction sessions.

example of a meme used in our promotional flyer
another example of a promotional meme

Adding a survey link to your widget

Now that Doreen, Kim, and Gabriel have got you all excited about using surveys to improve your library's services, let's talk about how you can add a link to your survey in your widget's title.

The simplest way to do this is to include a hyperlink as part of your widget's title. For example:

Ask a Librarian <span style="float:right; text-align: center; font-size: 12px;">How did we do?<br/><a href="http://link-to-survey">Let us know!</a></span>


Ask Us! <span style="padding:4px;background:#ff0;color:#032b3c"> Take our <a target="_blank" style="color:#032b3c" href="">brief chat survey</a></span>

And if your title needs more room, you can add a wicked CSS hack. For example:

#layout {
  top: 40px;

The result should look something like this:

And here is the University of Minnesota Duluth Libraries' widget with survey link:

How does your library use surveys?

Do you use surveys (chat or otherwise) to improve your library's services? Or maybe you have questions for Doreen, Kim, and Gabriel? If so, please post a comment. We'd love to hear from you!

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