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GIS Research Project Maps Origins Of Online Questions

In response to the popularity of online chat services, the Libraries began offering chat reference assistance through our Ask a Librarian LIVE service nearly four years ago.  We have since conducted several service assessments in an effort to identify campus needs and underserved populations.  In this context, librarians Heather Tunender and Judy Ruttenberg undertook a geographic analysis of the LIVE service using ArcGIS software to plot question origination data.

GIS (Geographic Information Systems) is a computer-based technique that facilitates mapping and spatial analysis of the earth’s features and events.  Disparate data can be compared on the basis of common geographical entities, and as a result, new information can be created from existing data.  The Libraries’ Ask a Librarian LIVE software captures callers’ IP addresses, enabling librarian researchers to plot the location of these calls on a map of the UC Irvine campus.  Doing so allowed them to spatially observe call patterns over time, as well as to learn more about GIS and its possible applications in designing library services.

The resulting analysis illustrated chat reference activity on the UCI campus over a two-year period.  The data included all queries that originated from campus computers, whether located inside the libraries, dormitories, computer labs, offices, or elsewhere.  Researchers examined the distribution of questions by type (reference, holdings, or directional), patron status (undergraduate, graduate, faculty, etc.) and other variables (such as time of day, day of the week, and month).

The results revealed areas of inactivity and have thereby helped librarians determine areas of unmet needs, thus identifying outreach opportunities on campus.  For example, researchers observed disparate activity levels among student housing units that have similar student populations.  Based on this finding, future marketing strategies will focus on these underserved housing units.

he Ask a Librarian LIVE service is available at ask.lib.uci.edu.  For more information, please contact Heather Tunender (tunender@uci.edu or x49266).



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