At the end of last week I was looking at the March statistics for Library Connection (our department offering service to distance students) and puzzling over the continued drop in number of items requested. Calendar year 2004 saw a drop in the number of items requested for the first time in the history of the department - our numbers since 1999 are 2487, 4881, 6211, 8969, 9509, and then last year, 7931. But the actual number of students contacting us went up again last year, as it has every year since 1999...
Inititially I had come up with two possible reasons for this drop. The first and most obvious is that we've continued to acquire more full text resources, and I figured maybe students are finding more stuff online and thus requesting less from us. And that's probably partly true. The second is that last year, because we were short-staffed, I did almost no marketing for the department, so that might've driven out numbers down. Except in reality more students contacted us than ever before, they just requested fewer items overall, and of course fewer items per student. Or if you want to look at it another way, fewer items were requested per transaction.
I realized as I was shaving this morning that this last statement might hold the key. Early last year (I still have to go back and figure out exactly when), Library Connection hitched its wagon to the traditional DocDel systems horse. I wanted easier statistics and a more streamlined operation, so I fought until we could figure out a way our distance students could use the same online forms the rest of the campus uses for document delivery requests, instead of relying on the email-based request system we had been running. That finally happened, and since then we've been suggesting that students make their requests through the DocDel forms, and though we do still accept requests via email, we stopped advertising that option.
So it suddenly occurs to me that this is likely the major reason our numbers have dropped off. In my quest to make things easier and more streamlined on our end, I think I've done a disservice to our students. First of all, the forms are not user-friendly, but that's a political issue so I won't go into details on that. But second, the forms only allow one item to be requested at a time. Fill in each blank, hit submit. Repeat. Can't copy and paste an entire citation, gotta do one field at a time.
Big deal, that's what the on-campus students have to do too, right? Right, but the on-campus students don't make requests for everything they can't find online. They have the physical collection available to them, and only need to make requests for the smaller % of items they can't make their own copy of, whereas the distance students by necessity are requesting (or wanting to) a higher number of items per student because they can't get anything for themselves.
Seems pretty darn obvious now that I write this out, but somehow it wasn't until now. I need to investigate the implications for workflow on my staff, but I may just decide to take down that link to the forms.
Any thoughts on this? Do you require your students to use forms, and do those forms make it difficult for them to request multiple items?