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Welcome to The READ Scale Research Web Site


What is the READ Scale?

The READ Scale (Reference Effort Assessment Data) is a six-point scale tool for recording vital supplemental qualitative statistics gathered when reference librarians assist users with their inquiries or research-related activities by placing an emphasis on recording the effort, skills, knowledge, teaching moment, techniques and tools utilized by the librarian during a reference transaction.

The READ Scale

Why develop the READ Scale?

A 2002 reference services and assessment survey conducted by the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) hoped to reveal current best practices, but instead "revealed a situation in flux" and "a general lack of confidence in current data collection techniques":

With many librarians feeling as busy as ever, some have concluded that the reference service data being collected does not accurately reflect their own level of activity.

ARL SPEC Kit 268, Reference Services & Assessment, 2002

It was with similar sentiments that the READ Scale was developed.

Can anyone use the READ Scale?

We welcome and encourage all interested libraries of any type to test and use the READ Scale and contribute to its development as a supplemental tool for gathering and qualifying reference statistics.

The READ Scale is available for any institution to use free of charge. However, we do ask that before using the READ Scale, Bella Karr Gerlich be contacted at so that an implementation document can be forwarded electronically. We may ask that certain data from your institution be shared to add to a collective data set (anonymity is assured) for the purposes of improving and calibrating the Scale and to promote its use.

Determining if the READ Scale is an effective tool for gathering reference statistics and applying assessment practices requires gathering data over a long period of time from a variety of institutions. By using the READ Scale and sharing experiences with colleagues you will be helping to take part in a collaborative research effort to introduce and refine a supplemental tool for gathering and reporting reference statistics (effort, knowledge, skill, teaching) usually unrecorded during the reference transaction. Including every institution’s data to a growing cache of statistics helps to create benchmarks, validate the research process and calibrates the READ Scale, normalizing it for all libraries.

Why measure reference statistics using the READ Scale?

The 2002 survey conducted by the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) gives supporting evidence that many academic institutions are not completely satisfied with the usefulness of the reference statistics gathered. Using the READ Scale as a supplemental tool, libraries can give recognize the effort, knowledge, skill etc that is required during a reference transaction and also recognize the value-added service that is provided.

In addition to recording reference staff personal efforts, there are practical applications for using the READ Scale:


  • Alter staffing patterns to best serve the users and librarians.
  • Can be used to supplement and strengthen the value of reference desk staffing at busy times

Training / Continuing Education

  • For new staff. Develop a training regimen.
  • Continuous learning. Writing down any questions that elicit an assignment of a category of 4 or higher at the service point and share with colleagues.
  • Student / other service point training. Teach referrals from other service desks and use for difficult 'information' questions.

Renewed Personal & Professional Interest

  • Self-Assessment / Reference as Activity. Reference staff can rate their effort / knowledge / skills as appropriate.
  • Gives recognition to primary function and can be compared to other libraries / librarians using the Scale.
  • Acknowledges the two activities most important to reference staff in terms of job satisfaction (Gerlich): helping users and detective work.


  • Recording Liaison Activity. Off-desk statistics are often not recorded, or if they are, given the same hash mark as a directional question.
  • Demonstrates subject specialization knowledge / needs of the campus.
  • Where off-desk statistics are low or READ Scale assignments are in the low-end range, outreach activity could be re-examined, surveys taken, etc in that particular area and services redesigned as needed.

Research / Statistics

  • Develop narrative statistics. Records hidden work for administrators who have little library / reference knowledge.
  • Underscores value of resources used during the transaction.
  • Time. Estimate or actual real time statistics for effort working with patrons.
  • Comparisons with like institutions that use the Scale; normalize reference statistics at the professional level.

What librarians and libraries say about using the READ Scale:

“An assessment tool that does a better job of reflecting how reference librarians spend their time. It gives more value than tick marks on a page. It's a tool we can use with administrators to show what we really do.”

“It gives ME a tangible scale on which to rate my efforts, ultimately spurring me to strive for better service.”

“Using the READ Scale added to my sense of accomplishment!”

“I felt it was very useful because it challenged me to come up higher in those areas where I need improvement in certain concentrations like ____ which is not my specialty. I need to learn so much more.”

“We've always known empirically that a large percentage of our reference transactions were quick and easy. This study provided concrete evidence of this, with possible staffing implications.”

“It shows a much clearer picture of what we are actually doing with reference. It is possible to see where the true "busiest times" are in the day.”

“We have found the Read Scale information to be easy to use and implement and will be continuing this for our fall semester.”

“We only sample reference transactions 4 times a year but we will be using READ in the sampling for now on.”

Some Institutions Piloting the READ Scale:

Indiana University
Dominican University
Kent State
University of Nebraska, Omaha
University of Nebraska, Lincoln
Radford University
Sullivan University
Georgia College & State University
Carnegie Mellon University
Northern Michigan University
Messiah College
Gettysburg College
University at Albany/SUNY
Boise State University
Western Michigan University
Champlain CEGEP, Saint-Lambert, QC
Northern Michigan University
Lawrence University
Clarke College
Washburn University
Kansas University Medical Center
University of Wisconsin-Madison
St. Cloud State University
West Virginia University Libraries (IM)
Loyola Marymount University
University of Notre Dame

Don’t see your institution? Please let us know at

The National READ Scale Study – Bella Karr Gerlich, Ph.D. and G. Lynn Berard

Results from a 2003-04 pilot study at Carnegie Mellon University were disseminated at an ALA poster session in Toronto, Canada.

Institutional grants received from Georgia College & State University and Carnegie Mellon funded the launch of a national study in 2007, with Bella Karr Gerlich (PI) and G. Lynn Berard as co-researchers at 14 diverse academic libraries. Over 22,000 transactions were analyzed; the return rate of an online survey was 52%, with over 80% indicating they would consider adopting the Scale.

Read the report on the study here, from an upcoming issue of C&RL:

Testing the Viability of the READ Scale (Reference Effort Assessment Data): Qualitative Statistics for Academic Reference Services (College & Research Libraries Pre-Print)[PDF]