or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Reference Question of the Week – 6/12/11

   June 18th, 2011

SAT score reportOne afternoon, three high school kids came up to the desk and asked if they could use one of the study rooms. I set them up, and then about a half hour later they came back with this question:

Do you have a book with SAT scores by town for all of Massachusetts?

I didn't think we would have anything in print with scores down to the town level, so I told them I'd search online. They said they had been and couldn't find anything - I told them I'd try anyway, and I'd come get them if I found something (said the librarian, with confidence).

The first place I went was the MA Department of Education website, but a search for SAT scores didn't provide statistics, just news articles about trends.

Next I tried a general web search for SAT scores by town Massachusetts, which did produce a Boston Globe article with scores by schools from 2006. Since this proved such data was available, I thought surely the DOE website must have something.

So I searched again limiting to site:doe.mass.edu (actually, at first I just typed in .gov, but it turns out the DOE website is a .edu - huh), and found the exact same Boston Globe data on the DOE website - plus data from previous years.

It always bugs me when Google's site: limiter search works better than a website's own native search, but at least I found something.

And finally, I searched around CollegeBoard.com to see if they had breakdowns of SAT scores. All I could find there were national percentile tables, but that seems like it might be useful, too.

I went to the study room to tell the kids what I found, and they were pretty happy. Of course, since everything I found was online, the only real way to get it to them was to get the email address of one of the girls in the group and email her the URLs - which seems a little awkward to me, but it worked well enough in this case.

This was the email I sent them...

From the Department of Education's website:

The same table a little easier to read from Boston.com:

And if you need general statistics on SAT test takers overall, that's
on the SAT website:

Let me know if you guys need anything else.

They stayed in the room for an hour or so more, and stopped by the desk to thank me on the way out. How nice.

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7 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 6/12/11”

  1. Ben Says:

    This may seem a little counter-intuituve, but if you find that getting the personal e-mail address of a patron to send them links is slightly awkward, you may want to consider having a flash drive around to which you can drag-and-drop URL shortcuts (alternatively, a text file with the links as well as any short context you think might be necessary). That way a patron can borrow the flashdrive, double-click the shortcut, and launch the found link, and you don’t have to ask for personal information. The only downside — aside from the fact that it may seem inefficient — is the potential loss of flashdrives.

  2. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Ben: we actually do have a “desk” flash drive that we use for moving patrons files around in a pinch. It probably would have been more efficient in this case, since it would have been one less trip to the study room – but then I guess the trade-off is the kids don’t have the easy-access later on in their email.

    I’m not sure what would be easier – is just seemed like, since their computer was so close, and on our network, there should be an easy way to IM the urls to them or something – kind of like the Bump app for sharing contact information. Hmm, but maybe smacking laptops together isn’t a good idea.

  3. Mary Jo Says:

    I love the way you explain your thought process. Following along, I stumbled upon:


    This link shows by district or school up through 2008-2009. Can also be filtered by gender, ethnicity, etc. Might be helpful?

  4. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Mary Jo: Thank you – I thought there must be more recent data. The breakdowns if offers are interesting, and I’ll send it to the students.

  5. Ruth Says:

    I love these Reference Questions of the Week, I do enjoy a good mystery!

  6. Oleg K. Says:

    I’m with Ruth, Reference Questions of the Week is one of my favorite ongoing things in library blogdom.

    As for your answer this week, two comments:
    1) I’ve never found it awkward to ask for patron’s email address since it’s clear that I’m getting it to help them with something they need. No patron has ever looked at me weird when I ask them for it (nor a phone number, if I need to get back to them about a question later).
    2) I don’t know how busy it was at the info desk when you were typing your answer, but a suggestion for the future would be to throw in a sentence or two about your search process or at least something about limiting searches. I’ve shown many people “advanced” Google techniques (librarian secrets :O) ) and they’re always surprised and amazed that there’s ways to find things using Google that goes beyond basic keyword searching.

  7. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Oleg: Thank you (and @Ruth). And regarding your #2, you’;re right, that is the perfect time – I’m sure they’ll refer back to the email more than once, and that is a great way to give them tips in writing they can digest at their own pace. Thanks for the suggestions.