READ (Reference Effort Assessment Data) Scale - Staff Website

The READ Scale (Reference Effort Assessment Data Scale) © Bella Karr Gerlich


  1. Verify that your library’s form used to record reference transactions includes a field for the READ scale
  2. Record a READ scale number (1-6) for each question answered, on- or off-desk
  3. Include your status (SA, GA, staff, Faculty, etc.)
  4. In the Description field, include the following elements, particularly for questions rated at 3-6.  Be Brief.
    1. The question asked
    2. Sources consulted
    3. Indicate whether the question was successfully completed
  5. Be sure to note where/to whom a question was referred.

Off-Desk Statistics

Studies suggest that most reference staff do not record, with any regularity, the transactions that occur away from the desk – this can result in large data sets being lost, in terms of reporting effort / knowledge / skills etc.  We strongly recommend anyone using the READ Scale also keep statistics OFF-DESK in their office. It is important to gather as much of this data as possible; data gathered to date shows a pattern of higher level questions being answered in offices, as opposed to at the traditional reference desk, and many reference staff do not as a matter of habit record these statistics, resulting in lost data and skewing the total number of reference transactions that actually occur at a library, but are often not counted.  Counting off-desk reference transactions adds to the bottom line when measuring value-added reference service. Statistics from the spring 2007 READ study confirmed that the majority of transactions recorded away from the public service point were given a READ Scale level of 3 and above, where the opposite where true of the reference desk.  DeskTracker can be used off-desk in offices or even when working from home.

READ (Reference Effort Assessment Data) Scale©

Bulleted Format


General Notes:

  • If you feel a question is in between categories (e.g. either a 3 or a 4) score the higher category
  • There should be no 6’s and very few 5’s done at the desk.
  • If extra effort or instruction is required, bump a question up a category (i.e. a 3 might be a 4 if a patron has never used the library before or has trouble understanding you)

1 :   

  • Answers that require the least amount of effort
  • No specialized knowledge skills or expertise; anyone in the library could answer
  • No consultation of library resources
  • Less than 5 minutes
  • Mostly questions you can answer by pointing or with a few words


  • Directional inquiries
  • Library or service hours
  • Service point locations
  • Rudimentary printer and computer assistance (locating/using printers, filling paper trays, helping someone log in)


  • Answers given which require more effort than a 1
  • Require only minimal specific knowledge skills or expertise
  • Answers may need nominal resource consultation
  • Anyone in the library can answer


  • Call number inquiries
  • Item location
  • General library or policy information
  • More involved printer and computer assistance (troubleshooting problems, incorporating more instruction into how to do something)
  • How to scan and save images


  • Answers in this category require some effort and time (more than 5 minutes)
  • Consultation of library resources is needed
  • Instruction in some form is required
  • Subject based questions where 1 source is briefly consulted, or a patron only requires 1 article/book
  • Reference knowledge, skills, and training come into play
  • If referrals are done, they occur quickly, or after consulting 1 or 2 sources very briefly


  • Answers that require specific reference resources
  • Basic instruction on searching the online catalog
  • Direction to and minimal searching in relevant subject databases
  • Introduction to web searching for a certain item
  • Increasingly complex technical problems (assistance with remote use that need extensive troubleshooting or instruction)


  • Answers or research requests require the consultation of multiple resources
  • Patrons require multiple sources for research
  • Subject specialists may need to be consulted and more thorough instruction and assistance occurs
  • Reference knowledge and skills needed
  • Efforts can be more supportive in nature for the user, or if searching for a finite answer, difficult to find
  • Exchanges can be more instruction based as staff teach users more in-depth research skills


  • Instructing users how to utilize complex search techniques for the online catalog, databases and the web
  • How to cross-reference resources and track related supporting materials
  • Assisting users in focusing or broadening searches (helping to re-define or clarify a topic)
  • Most statistical data questions 


  • Does not normally resolve at the reference desk; typically by email, consultation, etc.
  • More substantial effort and time spent assisting with research and finding information.
  • On the high end of the scale, subject specialists need to be consulted
  • Consultation appointments with individuals might be scheduled
  • Efforts are cooperative in nature, between the user and librarian and or working with colleagues
  • Multiple resources used
  • May include primary sources as well as secondary sources
  • Dialogue between the user and librarian may take on a ‘back and forth question’ dimension


  • False leads
  • Interdisciplinary consultations / research
  • Expanding searches / resources beyond those locally available
  • Graduate research


  • The most effort and time expended; involves multiple days
  • Does not normally resolve at the reference desk; typically by email, consultation, etc.
  • Inquiries or requests for information can’t be answered on the spot
  • At this level, staff may be providing in-depth research and services for specific needs of the clients
  • This category covers some ‘special library’ type research services
  • Primary (original documents) and secondary resource materials may be used


  • Creating bibliographies and bibliographic education
  • In-depth faculty and PhD student research
  • Relaying specific answers and supplying supporting materials for publication, exhibits etc; working with outside vendors
  • Collaboration and on-going research