Running the numbers: big data not just for big companies
In August 2012 and April 2013, the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Public Library conducted major studies of community demographics and customers’ experiences. The library used data from those studies to make decisions about library services.
The information, such as which neighborhoods have the highest number of young children, and which branches have the highest circulation rates per capita, has been used to make decisions about children’s programs and the allotment of branch hours.
What some might not know is that, in addition to those large studies, the library gathers data constantly, utilizing door counters, program attendance, surveys, website visits, e-blast reports, Web link clicks and circulation statistics. For example, CollectionHQ, which the library recently purchased, is a computer program that uses circulation statistics to help librarians decide which new materials to purchase and where to locate them. The program’s ability to help focus the collection could potentially save the system up to $170,000 per year, which could be used to buy more materials.
Another example of data-driven decision making comes from library program statistics. A few years ago, the library was considering whether to discontinue the printed version of the Check Us Out program guide, but statistics showed that the quarterly guide was the primary way that residents learned about library programs. In 2013, 31 percent of library program participants heard about the programs through the guide, so Check Us Out lives on in printed form.
“Is it alarming how much information the library is able to glean? I can understand why some customers may think so,” said Nancy Levin, Heights Libraries director. “We do live in the era of ‘big data,' but rest assured, public libraries are the front lines of protecting not only your intellectual freedom but your right to privacy. Everything collected is anonymous. The library doesn’t share information about who walks into the buildings, what books they borrow, or what programs they attend.”
The library collects data that will specifically help to better serve its visitors and users. This data helps each branch cater to its micro-community, dictate how to spend its budget, and act as an advocacy tool to tell a library’s story.
“It may be a lot of information, but information is what the library is all about,” said Levin.
Julia Murphy is the marketing assistant for the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Public Library.