E-Reference in Public Libraries: Phoenix Public Library Case Study, Our Website is Your 24/7 Reference Librarian

E-Reference in Public Libraries: Phoenix Public Library Case Study, Our Website is Your 24/7 Reference Librarian

Ross McLachlan (Phoenix Public Library, USA) and Kathleen Sullivan (Phoenix Public Library, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61350-308-9.ch019
OnDemand PDF Download:
No Current Special Offers


This case study offers insight into how Phoenix Public Library attempts to meet customer’s needs for 24/7 access to Library information and services. Strategies to achieve quality results, successful and failed initiatives, and lessons learned are presented.
Chapter Preview


To put Phoenix Public Library in to context for this case study, it is a system of 16 branches1 and a large central library serving a population of 1.5 plus million in a metro area of 4.5 million. The metro area also includes 11 independent (some multi-branch) systems and a county library system serving the unincorporated parts of the county. In fiscal year 2009/10, the library housed 1,736,000 items; offered 78subscription databases; circulated 14,447,111 items; counted 230,822 active customers (card used in the last year); had 850,940 customer-initiated public Internet PC sessions; provided 4,111 programs attended by 102,242 customers; and staff taught regular basic computer classes in five library training classrooms. They did this with a total staff of 330 FTE of which 22 percent were librarians.

The Phoenix Public Library approached the development of its e-reference library using a staff-developed ten step methodology. The process has been refined over the last 15 years, but the basic concepts have not changed.

  • Know your community's needs. Facts and figures are better than assumptions and anecdotes.

  • Develop an ideal collection development plan; review it annually.

  • Review the marketplace which will take the plan from ideal to “what is available now.”

  • Arrange for both staff and public testing of the resources. Testing must also be done by the IT staff whose input will help eliminate any technical implementation pitfalls.

  • Evaluate for content quality, ease of use (intuitive use without training to access the most relevant information), and technical/maintenance issues.

  • Select resources based on a set of defined criteria. Criteria will evolve over time.

  • Implement, bring the resource(s) live on the library website.

  • Market every product to both the public and staff.

  • Continually evaluate both from the usage/cost per search perspective and public satisfaction. This equals your return on investment (ROI).

  • Repeat the process continually.

Complete Chapter List

Search this Book: