Harvard College Library

Numeric Data Services Finds Dataquest Benefits Students and Staff

Heather McMullen, Social Sciences Data Librarian, and Meghan Dolan, Data Reference Librarian, both of Numeric Data Services, use the new Dataquest system to share ideas with colleagues and better serve patrons.
July 15, 2003 -- In a collaborative effort to better serve students seeking information on data and statistics, Harvard College Library’s Numeric Data Services and the Harvard-MIT Data Center (HMDC) created a joint e-mail tracking system known as Dataquest. The system has been active for just under a year, but already Heather McMullen, Social Sciences Data Librarian, says benefits are evident for both staff and students.

For the user, Dataquest is simply an e-mail address. Students send reference and technical questions to dataquest@data.fas.harvard.edu and promptly receive a response. The backend is more involved. The student’s e-mail arrives in a web-based software system called Request Tracking and instantly can be seen by 15 different people, a cross-section from Numeric Data Services, Government Documents/Microforms, HMDC technical staff, HMDC administrators, and the MIT Data Services Librarian. One person then takes ownership of the "ticket" and answers the question. Request Tracking makes it possible for the response to be viewed by all 13 participants, who can suggest additional information. Once the student finds the data they are looking for, they may follow up with questions on how to analyze it. In this instance, the question is sent through Dataquest to the HMDC Data Fellow, who helps the student understand how to effectively use data.

All correspondence is archived in the system, so it can be referred to as similar questions arise. In addition, the Dataquest staff can communicate with each other through the system without sending a note to the user. These messages are also archived and used as reference.

"Dataquest offers benefits for both students and staff. Students can be assured a quick response -- if one person is busy, there are 12 others who may be available. Also, the response will be comprehensive since many people with different expertise contribute. Staff are able to learn from each other’s responses, capitalize on one person’s work, and be assured we are giving accurate responses to questions," said McMullen. "In addition, sharing the response builds a sense of community within the physically dispersed team members and lays the groundwork for a successful relationship when the team comes together in the shared Library/Data Center in the new Center for Government and International Studies, which is slated to open summer of 2005."

Throughout the past year Dataquest has had a significant user base; students from the School of Public Heath, the JFK School of Government, the Medical School, the social sciences, and throughout Harvard have participated in the service. Usage peaked during the last two weeks of the spring semester. During this time, Data Reference Librarian Meghan Dolan managed over 20 in-depth reference questions through Dataquest. The team hopes more students will begin to use Dataquest as they become familiar with it and have positive experiences.

The Harvard-MIT Data Center launched a new web site in the Fall of 2002 at http://www.hmdc.harvard.edu. The new web site is a joint project between HMDC and Numeric Data Services and it provides information on locating and using numeric data sources. McMullen added that librarians are encouraged to refer patrons to this web site and to the Dataquest e-mail at dataquest@data.fas.harvard.edu.


This story appears courtesy of the Harvard College Library Communications Office
Copyright © 2004 President and Fellows of Harvard College