Purpose: To examine reference questions asked through traditional means at an academic health sciences library and place this data within the context of larger trends in reference services.
Methodology: Detailed data on the types of reference questions asked were collected during two one-month periods in 2003 and 2004. General statistics documenting broad categories of questions were compiled over a fifteen-year period.
Results: Administrative data show a steady increase in questions from 1990 to 1997/98 (23,848 to 48,037, followed by a decline through 2004/05 to 10,031. The distribution of reference questions asked over the years has changed-including a reduction in mediated searches 2,157 in 1990/91 to 18 in 2004/05, an increase in instruction 1,284 in 1993/94 to 1,897 in 2004/05 and an increase in digital reference interactions 0 in 1999/2000 to 581 in 2004/05. The most commonly asked questions at the current reference desk are about journal holdings 19%, book holdings 12%, and directional issues 12%.
Conclusions: This study provides a unique snapshot of reference services in the contemporary library, where both online and offline services are commonplace. Changes in questions have impacted the way the library provides services, but traditional reference remains the core of information services in this health sciences library.