KIA for QandA NJ

So, even though there has been no budget cuts to state level New Jersey library funding, earlier this month the New Jersey State Librarian Norma Blake informed the New Jersey library community that the award winning and role model online reference service QandANJ will be ending June 30th this year. This was announced on possibly one of the saddest PowerPoint slides created for a library presentation.

PICTURE OF ACTUAL SLIDE (WASN'T KIDDING)

From the press release on the LibraryLinkNJ listserv (since I wasn’t at the webinar; for non-NJ library folks, LibraryLinkNJ is the remaining NJ library regional cooperative):

Even with all of the volunteer assistance, the program still has the fixed costs for a coordinator, public relations and marketing and software licenses to name a few. When state budget cuts were enacted last year, the decision was made to keep QandANJ active at least through June of this year in order to incorporate NJLA’s South Jersey Works initiative. With local libraries experiencing budget cuts it has become more difficult to allow staff the work time to participate. These reasons have resulted in this very difficult decision being made by the State Library and disseminated by the grantee, LibraryLinkNJ.

(Here’s some context for people who might need it.)

QandANJ is supported by the New Jersey State Library, an affiliate of Thomas Edison State College, managed by LibraryLinkNJ: the New Jersey Library Cooperative, staffed by member libraries in the New Jersey Library Network, and funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, an independent federal agency whose mission is to create strong libraries and museums to connect people to information and ideas.

But when it came to the actual decision to end the service, there was no consultation with any libraries involved in the project. Months passed without a future determination of the project until the Conversation with the State Librarian webinar on April 7th. The State Library basically held onto the ball as the game clock ran out, then declared the end of the service as a casualty of the local budgets.

It’s a pretty ignominious end to an incredible program, especially after years of praise from the State Librarian office.

Infolink, October 31, 2003:

QandANJ celebrated its second full year of service on October 1, 2003. For the occasion, State Librarian Norma Blake presented an award to each of QandANJ’s 37 participating libraries for their excellent service to the residents of New Jersey.

During a special luncheon ceremony, Ms. Blake thanked the participating libraries and their staffing librarians for all they have done “to make QandANJ one of the most important library services in New Jersey and the best Live Reference Service in the United States.”

Library Journal Librarian of the Year, January 15, 2008:

Featured on New Jersey governor Jon Corzine’s web page, another NJSL initiative is QandANJ, a virtual 24/7 information system through which librarians answer inquiries from across the state in real time. Karen Hyman, director of the South Jersey Regional Library Cooperative, came up with the idea and was about to start the program in her region.

One of the most important things a state librarian must be is someone who knows a good idea when they see one,” says Blake. “I thought Karen [had] a very good one that would have statewide impact, so we came up with financial support to take that system statewide.” It is clearly a case of mutual admiration. “It has really been a golden age for all of us,” says Hyman, referring to library service after Blake’s arrival.

NJ State Library, September 2, 2009:

“QandANJ is certainly a New Jersey success story and we are glad to continue our partnership with the South Jersey Regional Library Cooperative, which has pioneered the service from a pilot project with a handful of libraries to a program that now relies on the expertise of librarians from across the state. As an online information service, QandANJ is a model for the rest of the nation,” said Norma E. Blake, New Jersey state librarian.

(Emphasis mine.)

QandANJ is listed as the number one initiative accomplishment on the New Jersey State Librarian’s page.

norma-blake-qandanj

And on a related note, Norma has ‘liked’ it on her Facebook page. (This is visible to anyone; you don’t need to be logged into Facebook to see it.)

normablake-fb

So, what gives? How can it go from being so highly praised to a “budget” casualty? Did it outlive its value?

I did some napkin math. Using the library value calculator modified by the Mt Laurel library, an average reference question is valued at $15. In 2010, the service had roughly 26,000 reference sessions. I’d estimate that each session probably resulted in 2-3 questions, so for the sake of this post I’ll use an average of 2.5 questions per session for a total number of questions estimated at 65,000 questions. Plugging the numbers into the calculator,

image

That’s a value of $975,000, a number that is a return of investment of 325% of the $300,000 grant awarded to LibraryLinkNJ to run the service. It can’t be a value thing when it is a bargain of a service.

I find it very odd that 26,000 reference sessions is considered too low a number of value to a state population of 8 million, yet the 80,000 postcards collected during the 2010 statewide library advocacy effort was considered a triumph (or, stated another way, 0.325% of the population versus 1%) in the NJLA meetings I sat in on. Consider also that that these 26,000 sessions occurred during an incredible budget fight across the state of New Jersey, both at the state and local levels. There were libraries being closed, layoffs all over the place, and yet, YET, this number of sessions with this estimated amount of questions were handled by the remaining QandANJ volunteer staff. (The NJ proposed budget was announced in March and an actual budget was passed in June. This should give a time frame for the period.) The number of participating staffing libraries has gone from 50 to 43; not exactly a paralyzing drop as expected by the press release.

So, what’s the deal?

For myself, the decision is a complete technological step backwards. It represents a move that isolates portions of the New Jersey population that came to rely on the service and/or lacked the local resources to handle the inquiries. At a time when local libraries are still dealing with the deep cuts from the past year, a service that transcended those local cutbacks is being snuffed out. It’s just not right.

As it is funded by a grant, it doesn’t mean that the program has to stay with LibraryLinkNJ. As it moved from the now defunct South Jersey Regional Library Cooperative to LibraryLinkNJ, so I believe it can be moved again to an institution that wishes to carry on the service for the benefit of the citizens of New Jersey. Yes, it may not be in the same form as it was before, but the infrastructure is already in place. It can be rebuilt elsewhere.

The sadder part is that it has become an issue within the New Jersey Library Association. There is pressure to put off discussing the fate and future of QandANJ before our conference in two weeks. I’m not sure the underlying reason short of putting on our happy faces for each other like some sort of dysfunctional Thanksgiving dinner. But I think that’s equally wrong.

To my fellow NJ librarians, I wish to beg to differ to this sentiment. In fact, I think that the conference is a perfect time to get together to discuss this face-to-face. In looking at the NJLA schedule, it doesn’t look like there is anything going on after 8pm on Tuesday. The Ocean Place has a nice lobby and a bar right there.

What do you think?

UPDATE: The Reference Section of NJLA will be having a meeting on Friday May 13th about the fate and alternatives of QandANJ. With all due deference to Michael Maziekien (the chair of that section), I’d still like to meet informally on May 3rd as a show of support. I’ll see about tossing something like that up on Facebook.

54 thoughts on “KIA for QandA NJ

    • Andy,
      Thanks for getting this conversation started. I’m tired of the lack of transparency when it comes to decision making for statewide programs. I can tell you that this issue did not come before the “Library Network Review Board” for discussion at their most recent meeting. When I questioned this after the decision was announced I was told that LNRB was not going to discuss this. We need an open forum for where we can discuss and evaluate these issues. NJLA is the place to start, I’ll be there. Leslie

        • There was no indication given to LNRB that it was on the chopping block. I suggested to other LNRB members that we take this up for consideration after the announcement was made but there was a lack of interest in doing so.

          I’m pleased that we are creating another venue for a full discussion both at NJLA and a meeting sponsored by the NJLA Ref Section on May 13.

  1. Hi Andy,

    Thank you for writing this and shedding light on this travesty. I am still hopeful that a unit of NJLA will step up and host a forum to discuss whether QandANJ is a service worth saving, and if so how do we do it. Some seem to think that to simply call a meeting to have an open discussion about saving a popular, cost effective, and much loved public service is “politically divisive” and they don’t want to touch. it.

    I’ll be writing something more in depth (I hope tonight) to address this mess. But in a nutshell:
    1) QandANJ is a well used and much loved service.
    2) The reasons given for killing it are thin and specious at best. They are false and or designed to mislead at best.
    3) There has been no funding cut to the state library and thus no basis for cutting QandANJ
    4) Staffing levels are fine. In my estimate the service has twice as many available staff to cover our hours than we did in the early early years when we were just as busy.

    The bottom line: Money is not an issue, staffing is not an issue. So why cut it?

    Why cut a beloved and highly visible library service that the State of NJ actually links to directly on their homepage? Why cut a service that doesn’t just tout the relevance of libraries in 2011 but actively demonstrates it every day?

    As a librarian, as a citizen, I would like answers to these questions.

  2. As always, Andy thanks for having the guts to shed light on difficult issues. Some of your same points resonated w/ me when I heard this news…with no increased budget cuts, why? And also, why our continued fear of open discussion? It can be done in a professional manner…here’s to transparency and dialogue amongst the citizens.

  3. Thanks, Pete!

    Believe me, there will be a meeting if I have anything to say about it. This is very important and needs to be discussed.

  4. Ooops! I meant “Thanks Andy and Pete” since you both had good points. I guess I was replying to the meeting part…

  5. Well said! I agree wholeheartedly with your sentiments. Unfortunately I will not be attending NJLA conference this year. But I’ll be at the bar in spirit (or wine) and put my 2 cents in as a strong supporter of this wonderful service.

  6. Hi all,

    Just to let you all know, Michael Maziekien, President of the Reference Section, has announced a section meeting on this issue:

    “Please save the date for our next Reference Section meeting, on Friday, May 13, 2011. A location will be announced shortly. Our topic of discussion will be QandANJ.org.

    As you are all aware, the reference service QandA.org will end on June 30, 2011. At our next meeting, we hope to open a dialogue on this service and on the state of virtual reference in New Jersey. All are welcome and encouraged to attend.

    In the meantime, we would like to compile some information on the state of virtual reference in New Jersey. If your library is fielding questions using AIM, Meebo, or similar services, or if you have used these services in the past, please reply to mmaziekien@bccls.org.

    A short reference section board meeting will follow. Please RSVP and be a part of the discussion.”

    Certainly, an informal meeting at NJLA is another place to chat on this, but I hope everyone will come to this more formal discussion with some solid ideas of where to go from here.

    Lisa

  7. I’m pretty sure usage of the service dropped precipitously when Library Media Specialists were pinkslipped from most local school districts. Without LMS’s to tell students (and by extension their parents) about it, and with the academic libraries moving to local chat services, it does have less use.
    I wouldn’t be surprised if OCLC had also jacked up the price for the QP software, which has been notoriously plague-ridden.

    It’s a nice service. but Academic libraries scheduling 6-8 hours a week of staff time to be Maytag repairmen (with a 4-1 ratio of librarians to callers) probably complained too much.

    • I helped staff the service, and I think that at times it was over-staffed (sometimes up to 88 librarians vs. 23 librarians in the same time slot but on different days of the week).

      Maybe a good strategy to keep QandA afloat, would be to lessen the hours that librarians need to volunteer and disperse the scheduling more efficiently?

      I am sure there are concerns and individual library schedules and stipulations that might make this rescheduling difficult (or impossible), but it might factor into saving the service.

  8. Andy raises all the right questions. No immediate money crisis, no consultation, popular program with a high profile in the State Library’s public pronouncements, easily documented and impressive ROI, etc.. So why kill it in this fashion? Think of QandA NJ as a technological evolution of the popular after-hours New Jersey Nightline service – with a history back to at least 1992, I believe – and the outrage is compounded, for this was success building on success. It was even set to get better with discussion about augmenting the service for mobile/texting support.

    La lucha continua……..

  9. Thanks Andy (and Pete) for the more detailed explanation of that “huh? something does not seem right about this” feeling that many of us are experiencing.

    I have subscribed to the blog to keep track of any additional meeting plans. I’ll be at NJLA on Tuesday but some uniformed officers would come find me at at the bar in Long Branch if I decided to attend the 8PM meeting instead of picking up my son from daycare. :-) If plans change and we can meet before 5PM, count me in. (I mention this not only because I would like to attend but also because there are probably a few more like me who have to rush off to other duties in the evening.)

    In any event, I am grateful for the proposed discussion with or without being able to attend.

    Nice work!!

    Joan

  10. Is this LSTA-funded? How federal funding is distributed at the state level has long been a bug in my ear. Been there. Done that. They took away my teeshirt. No more online on this topic from me.

  11. Pingback: Weekly Digest: April 16-April 22 « Agnostic, Maybe

  12. Ladies and Gentlemen, the funding statement:

    QandANJ is supported by the New Jersey State Library, an affiliate of Thomas Edison State College, managed by LibraryLinkNJ: the New Jersey Library Cooperative, staffed by member libraries in the New Jersey Library Network, and funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, an independent federal agency whose mission is to create strong libraries and museums to connect people to information and ideas.

  13. No one polled the patrons either! QandANJ has been the biggest boost to marketing of libraries, if our patrons’ comments are any example.

    “I was on for hours. She [the librarian] took minutes.”

    Benefits for seniors and shut-ins:
    “I am a senior citizen and have enjoyed library services…for about 65 yrs. I think I would rather lose my credit card before my library card (well, almost anyway) thank you.”

    Common sentiment:
    “I have used Qand ANJ on more than one occasion and I will reiterate my sentiment. I don’t know how you do it and the process, but Q & A has been extremely helpful. I thank you for the service and professional cooperation offered to the publc !”

    I can’t help but think that we’ve brought patrons back to the library, made reference and research “cool” for kids, helped seniors find much needed services, and spared parents from homework grief.

  14. I was outspoken at the State Librarians webinar but I had the distinct feeling that the issue was closed for discussion. I’m glad to see the protest picking up speed. What upsets me most is this 2010 State Library survey in which QandANJ ranked low on the list of service priorities. The fact that the elimination of this vital service hinges upon the results of a single survey is unsettling. What was the total number of respondents and shouldn’t the survey have been part of a larger decision making process? A task force to examine the impact of eliminating QandANJ would have made perfect sense. As cloud computing and mobile technology become a major avenue for communication, we need to be where the patrons are. Let’s move forward, not backward!

  15. Hi Andy,
    Thanks for writing about this topic. It was a difficult decision to end QandANJ. There were many factors that played in the final decision. NJ State Librarian Norma Blake will be at the May 13th meeting at Princeton and will be able to answer these and any new questions people may have.

    Meanwhile please feel free to listen to her webcast:

    http://www.njstatelib.org/office_of_state_librarian

    We’re putting together a fact sheet and will be posting it online as well. I’ll let you know when we post it. -Nancy

    • One factor that didn’t play into the decision was to first have a discussion with the directors of the libraries who donated so much of their staff’s time for so many years, a staffing-time-value of well over $1 million dollars.

      Lack of transparency until after decisions are made was a concern all of us had last year when the regional cooperatives were shut down, and during the ‘big webinar’ last year where the State Librarian fielded questions regarding budgets cuts and the closing of the cooperatives, she’d be asking “does anyone have any other questions” while ignoring a question me & other librarians fielded. Paraphrasing, it sounded like this: “what type of discussion/transparency set up will we have so NJ’s library community can discuss/be informed o/ state library decisions?”

      That question was because we anticipated decisions like this. Had that question been addressed or some type of transparency been in place, at least SOME of the questions in Andy’s post OR in the comments field would be answered.

      When my director asks me “why did this happen” all I can say is “I have no idea” or “It was a difficult decision for the State Library to make, that’s why”, and that’s not good enough for my director, who believed in this service so much that she dedicated 6 precious staff hours EVERY WEEK for TEN YEARS to the service. That’s 3000+ hours of my institution’s staff time. I don’t think “difficult decision” cuts it for an institution that dedicated 3000+ hours to something, nor does a slide in a webinar or an appearance at a library association meeting.

    • Well, everything I was about to say was just said by JP, eloquently and to the point.

      “Many factors” went into the decision? Well, yeah no one’s questioning that “factors” were involved. The problem is the State Library’s utter lack of transparency and, yes, respect for the 51 libraries that have been contributing staff time and energy year after year after year after year after year after year… That our State Librarian would simply announce that funding is ceasing without nary a word of discussion with any of these libraries, or any advance notice, is appalling.

      The fact that Norma would announce in her webinar that the money is tight and needs to spent on other priorities without actually naming what any of those priorities are? Again, I think that’s just disrespectful to the people who have given so much of their time to this service. Not to mention to the tens of thousands of people actually served by it each year.

      If the state library no longer wants to write the check (that’s been the extent of their involvement) is it too much to ask where that money is going to go instead? Is it too much to ask that the libraries who have been more than equal partners in this venture get a say–or at the very least a heads up? Is it too much to ask that the customers be given a chance to express their thoughts? And finally, is it too much to ask that the the service be given an opportunity to find other funding sources and continue on?

      • And to build on Pete’s last sentence, when asked the question during the webinar “If the public demanded it, would QandANJ be resurrected” Norma replied, “Once a program is gone, it’s very difficult to start it back up again and if it was started up it would take a different form….it would be a new iteration, it wouldn’t look like QandANJ.”

        As a community, we have conducted 10 years of research and fine tuning, customer feedback, branding and marketing….as far as I can tell, the service works and it works well. If it ain’t broke….

  16. JP & Peter – you both have hit the nails on the head. As a librarian whose library participates (I almost wrote that in the past tense – but not yet!) in Q&A NJ as well as working as a free-lancer for Q&A NJ I applaud all the people who have commented here. On a selfish note – as an administrator I no longer spend time at the reference desk. By participating in Q&A NJ I have kept my finger in the person to person reference interaction. On a broader scale, and as so many of you have previously commented, cutting off this service does a great disservice to the people of New Jersey. Whether someone has trouble getting to a physical building, or whether they prefer the relatively anonymous type of assistance, online chat reference is such a perfect solution.
    We have had staff shortages over the last 6 months due to maternity leaves, illness leaves, etc. & by juggling schedules we have managed to continue to staff Q&A NJ. Neither our in-house patrons, our online patrons or our staff has suffered due to staffing changes. In a time of library budget & staff cuts it seems to me that online chat reference would help alleviate the burden on the public that these cuts would produce.
    All right – I’ve finished my small rant. Even though I will be out of town the beginning of the week, I will definitely manage to get myself to the May 13th meeting in Princeton.
    Yours in solidarity,
    Susan

  17. I asked the question regarding public demand for QandANJ at the State Librarian’s webinar thinking that perhaps there would be room for negotiating a scaled back version of the present program. I’m encouraged that so many of us are now speaking out.

    After all our lobbying for libraries in Trenton, the decision to eliminate one of our most innovative and effective reference programs will be a terrible blow. I’m thinking of the online and traditional students at my community college; the nurses, casino employees, budding chefs and future teachers. The single parents, the socio-economically disadvantaged and the students with special needs. QandANJ has played a major role in their academic success. What a disappointment it will be for these students to discover the service they’ve relied upon for so long has disappeared. Where will they go now at 3am? YahooAnswers?

  18. Glad to see the real discussion and hard-hitting questions are ramping up. I think the shock is wearing off and we are in the anger stage. As a collective whole many of us are in a grieving process for so abruptly losing a beloved service without notice. I will admit for the first few days I was in denial, thinking it would be reversed. Now that I am out of denial, I am angry.

    I have worked “the queues” since day one. PPL was among the first libraries to sign up and I have staffed QandANJ for countless hours during the last 10 years. I would say that I alone have answered several thousand questions on this service. Like Susan I no longer staff the front lines but am in management and freelancing for QandANJ is one of my great pleasures- it allows me to keep my librarian skills sharp.

    I hope that we are given the answers we deserve on May 13th — such as how will the money be used that is being saved and why were we not consulted when we had a vested interest of time in this project (and time does equal money).

  19. Forgive my serial commenting, but I am working a QandANJ shift right this very minute and I had one of those sessions that make you know beyond a reasonable shred of doubt that fighting to save this service is essential. I am going to cut and paste just a small portion of the session and hide all identifying information but I just need to share. I am actually quite pleased that I was given no correct info in the question but still found the answer and did it in under 3 minutes.

    *****

    Question: Chat Transcript: Hi, I’m looking for information on a man who was heir to some AT&T-related fortune who lost most of it. His name is something along the lines of “Hartford Hanfield,” a friend of mine told me about him but I’m having a great deal of trouble finding him–I’m sure I have the name at least somewhat wrong. Can you help?

    QandANJ Janie: Wow, sounds like an interesting story. Let me do some quick research and see what I can find.

    QandANJ Janie: Okay, could you be looking for Huntington Hartford who was the heir to the A&P fortune and lost it all.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/20/arts/design/20hartford.html

    Patron: wow, Thank you
    Patron: That was fantastic
    Patron: How did you do that?

    QandANJ Janie: Here is a timeline of his life (send link)

    QandANJ Janie: Well, just some fancy Google searching believe it or not …
    QandANJ Janie: and an instinct that comes with 15 years of doing reference work.

    Patron: Yeah, it shows
    Patron: My friend and I are sitting here in utter awe

    QandANJ Janie: :-)
    QandANJ Janie: Librarians are cool like that … we can leave you speechless.

    QandANJ Janie: It was about 10 quick google searches and a few clues from each that allowed me to narrow it down… can’t quite describe how it is done.
    QandANJ Janie: Glad I could help out tonight.

    Patron: Yeah me too
    Patron: On to the 8th hour of paper writing

    QandANJ Janie: Good luck with the paper.
    Patron: Thanks

    etc….

  20. Janie, thanks so much for sharing the exchange above! This is why I love working on the reference desk at finals time. Students are often amazed at what we can do with ‘simple’ tools like Google that they’ve been using for years.

    I wish I could have worked with QandANJ, but never had the opportunity. However, I have heard SO many good things about it from folks like you whom have staffed it and patrons whom have used it. Would be so sorry to see it go…

    Pete, I’ll be posting your 3 1/2 cents to my Facebook page.
    :-)

    Lisa

  21. Beth, I am so glad you asked. This conversation needs to be based on facts.

    In 2010 the cost to run the service was $300,000 and there were 26,447 sessions (averaging about 13 1/2 minutes each).

    Cost per session: $11.34. Keep in mind that many sessions involve multiple questions so the cost/question is lower.

    Also keep in mind that the service has been running for 2 years with no marketing budget. I think we could easily double if not triple the usage if we aggressively marketed.

    By way of comparison, Ohio’s VR service handled a little over 80,000 sessions last year at a cost of approx $525000 for a cost of $6.56/session. If we invest in marketing the relative cost goes down of course since much of the initial investment is in infrastructure and current staffing provides room to absorb more traffic.

    Ohio and NJ used to be very comparable in VR stats. Their funding went up and you can see the results. Our marketing budget was slashed for two years and you can see those results too. But it points to the fact that there are sustainable service models and definite need. Not to mention the marketing value to libraries in delivering a highly relevant and much loved service.

    Please let me know if I can provide any more information. I’ll try to get all of this info on a fact sheet which I’ll certainly have available for the May 13th NJLA meeting if not much, much sooner.

    • Thanks Pete. Cost is less than I thought.
      Can we get numbers of unique users when you gather the stats for the May meeting? That will be a good figure to see too.

      • Is there also figure that states how much it costs to answer an in-person reference questions of the same length of time? Answering reference questions (whether virtually, via email, or in person) have fixed costs. Is it more expensive or less expensive to answer questions in this way?

  22. Unique users is a much trickier stat to nail down. I can go back through my data and see if I have anything that would give us a sample to work with. I can also contact other statewide VR services and see if they have data assuming that usage patterns would be fairly similar.

  23. Norma has posted a fact sheet on the NJSL website. Here’s what it says:

    Last year’s NJLA survey showed NJ librarians’ priorities were databases, ILL/delivery and Per Capita State Aid. On that survey, QandANJ was a lower priority. The State Library would very much like to continue programs like QandANJ, but our priority is to keep local libraries strong in hard times.
    We don’t know what cuts the final state budget might bring on June 30, but we do know we are losing $357,473 in this year’s federal LSTA money – which funds QandANJ. The QandANJ fixed costs are $300,000 annually. Seven of the 51 libraries participating in QandANJ are on hiatus due to staffing shortages and budget cuts.

    Shutting down QandANJ was discussed last year with NJLA, the statewide budget task force, Infolink and the SJRLC executive director. Because NJLA based the “South Jersey Works” grant on having QandANJ, the program was kept one more year until the grant year ends on June 30, 2011. We wanted to wait as long as possible to see if there was federal funding to continue QandANJ. When we realized there wasn’t enough federal funding to continue the program we couldn’t immediately discuss this with the library community because LibraryLinkNJ requested a three-month block of time starting April 1 to confidentially speak to program participants and conduct an orderly shut down of the program. Had we heard from the federal government sooner there would have been a larger window of time and we could have held discussions, but that was not the case.

    Usage Statistics:
    Year General Questions Academic Questions
    2005 54,604 7,094
    2006 54,696 6,500
    2007 30,717 (restricted to NJ residents)4,666
    2008 34,488 5,081
    2009 34,111 4,694
    2010 26,447 3,614
    2011* 6,244(annual projection 24,976) 770 (annual projection 3,080)

    *NOTE: Statistics are kept on a calendar year, so 2011 statistics reflect activity from January through March 2011 only.

    The latest OCLC Perceptions of Libraries 2010 survey shows minimal growth of ask-a-librarian sites and that the public prefers to consult subject “experts” online or Google questions on their mobile devices. Only 1% are starting their searches on library websites. Usage statistics of QandANJ seem to bear this out.

    Due to the total elimination of state funding for Virtual Library and NJKI in FY11, more federal resources have been directed to paying for databases than in past years. The following chart shows how databases have been funded over the past three years, as well as an estimate for next year. One million dollars more of federal money will be needed in FY2011 than in FY2009 for databases. FY12 will require even more federal dollars. So the choice had to be between RefUSA/EBSCO or QandANJ.

    Increase of Use of Federal Funds for Databases:
    Funding Source FY09 FY10 FY11 FY12
    (Actual) (Actual) (Projected) (Estimate)

    Library Network $588,813 $520,000 $544,500 $350,000
    Virtual Library $650,000 $353,00 $0 $0
    NJKI $1,354,729 $1,194,793 $0 $0
    Federal LSTA $854,083 $1,247,679 $1,994,238 $2,066,565

    Here’s the PDF: http://tinyurl.com/44l3yer

  24. I know many libraries rated the need for database discounts higher than Q&A NJ. I’d like to know what the usage statistics for those databases are. Are they being used more by librarians than the public? And how much of that usage was from librarians helping answer Q&A questions? (The last question was rhetorical!)

  25. Andy,

    I’ve invited Norma to release the budget numbers with detailed spending information to the library community so we can all be informed and have a reasoned discussion about spending priorities.

    That saves me a trip to the State Library (gas is expensive these days) and has the added benefit of informing everyone, not just me.

  26. An aside about transparency. Back in the 70’s, when I came to NJ to work as a reference librarian, the state was divided up into Area Libraries rather than regions. They were essentially fiefdoms, completely under the control of whichever library director was in charge of the Area Library, and the services were only for public libraries. Some of the area designations were entirely political — but that’s another story.

    When the demand came to move library services in NJ forward and make them multitype, it was also agreed that the new system needed to have more grass roots input. Thus the regional system, with its elected executive boards and LNRB reps, and the plethora of committees, plus membership across all types of libraries.

    That was 1985. Librarians got used to the idea of having input into service decisions, and even making the decisions. Then we got hacked back from 6 regions to 4 under the Florio Administration, with some forced mergers. New communties and working relationships were developed. But we still made our own decisions about services.

    Now we are down to one region, covering the entire state. It will be hard to maintain the level of democratic participation, given our geographic spread. I hope the Q&ANJ situation is not the precursor of a change in how the NJ library community comes to agree on how we deliver cooperative services.

  27. I have been a Q&ANJ librarian for years as part of my reference responsibilities.
    I’ve been paying attention to the recent discussions and thought I would register my opinion and experiences.

    When we staff Q&ANJ, we also serve as back-up for the rest of the country and the United Kingdom (yes, that’s right…we answer reference questions for people in England!). I am finding that although I try to prioritize NJ questions, I predominantly answer questions from people out-of-state. Questions from NJ customers just don’t come in as frequently (at least when I am online). I don’t mind trying to help people from other states, but usually the questions are related to a local issue. I think they are best served by contacting their local library. I also find that most people, including in NJ, believe they are already chatting with someone at their local library when they log on – maybe some form of direct chat with one’s local library would be better for most than a Q&ANJ type service. Even if a lot of money were put into marketing in NJ, there is still an issue of the local library being the best place to answer a question.

    Q&A is used mainly by kids doing homework (in the summer the service is really quiet!). I find that a lot of the kids I help on Q&A are not from NJ. Again, it’s not a problem helping people from other states (although I wonder what the taxpayers in my municipality would say)- the problem with Q&A for homework is that for the majority of questions, the kids are not really learning anything. I send them an answer to a question, which is nice, but they have not taken part in the learning process.

    I love helping kids, and sometimes a child will be working on a project and need research materials. However, if I find something in a database, it can’t be sent through the Q&A software. Articles and database entries need to be sent via email. Children are taught, correctly, not to share email addresses online with strangers, so I usually can’t email them database entries. I think that maybe in the future, it would be better to put any funds into a tutor service or perhaps expand the homework help service.

    Although I think Q&ANJ is a nice supplementary service to have (and in some ways I would miss it), in my opinion it’s not something that is absolutely essential. There are now new ways for patrons to interact with their own libraries that weren’t available when the service began a decade ago. I don’t believe that Q&ANJ, as it is right now, is sustainable. There are libraries in NJ that are on the brink of closure and if there are any extra funds to be found in the budget, perhaps they should go to saving these endangered public libraries.

  28. Pingback: Officially Weighing in on QandANJ « Library Garden

  29. Pingback: QandANJ: Further On « Agnostic, Maybe

  30. Pingback: Three Lessons of 2011 « Agnostic, Maybe

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