Can a People Counting System Justify Facility Expansion?

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  2. 2015
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BOSTON, MA - APRIL 7, 2012: Interior of Boston Public Library. TLibraries, schools and universities must deal with numerous challenges when they seek to convert or expand their physical facilities. Those that are fully or partially funded by tax dollars face static or shrinking budgets, which raises the stakes for any decision requiring capital expenditures. Even private institutions need to build a solid case for change, particularly one that will involve cost, time, and inconvenience to students and faculty.

In addition to these very real hurdles, such institutions often suffer from a “data deficit” about how their current facilities are actually used – one that can be filled by a people counting system.

Take public libraries. The growth of e-books, along with libraries’ expanded role as providers of computing/Web connection services, means that traditional metrics (e.g. the number of physical books in circulation) no longer provide a complete picture of patron usage. Universities face similar measurement challenges: students frequently use public spaces in libraries or student centers without ever registering their presence by checking out a book, logging on to a computer, or making any kind of a purchase.

In these cases, a people counting system can show that an expansion is needed by providing accurate, time-stamped data about how many people are entering, exiting, and actually using current facilities and services. And armed with this detailed information about usage and traffic patterns, schools and libraries can plan their facility improvements for maximum benefits.

Data from people counting systems can help pinpoint specific needs, particularly in multi-use areas on campuses and in libraries. Heavy traffic in an area with wired computers, for example, can justify expanding the number of terminals available. Conversely, if traffic (and computer usage) are decreasing over time, patrons may be making greater use of their own smart devices, justifying an expansion of WiFi coverage areas as opposed to purchasing more fixed terminals.

Knowing which buildings on campus receive the most traffic can guide a university as it decides where to spend its money. Making smart decisions in this area is critical as space accounts for 20% of a university’s entire budget. Facilities that are heavily traveled are more likely to provide a strong return on money invested in them, and they are also prime spots for providing information and selling advertising space. In addition, data from people counting systems can identify buildings or areas that are in need of repairs, remodeling or a physical “face lift.”

On a day-to-day basis, people counting systems offer operational guidance. Just as in a retail setting, long lines at a library’s checkout area can indicate the need to allocate more staff there. Data showing which parts of a physical facility are used, and when they are busiest, can help determine optimal schedules and placement of workers. Knowing which times are least busy can provide guidelines for scheduling janitorial services so as to minimize disruption to students and patrons.

Even after a university or library has made a successful case for expanding its facilities, people counting systems are still valuable. By providing pre- and post-expansion traffic information, the organization gets solid data to justify its expenditures. Such proofs will come in handy when the need arises for the next facilities upgrade, whether it’s major or minor.

Five Signs Your Library Needs People Counters

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Librarian handing book to woman at library deskLibrary directors and librarians know that people counts are a vital part of keeping a library healthy. Unfortunately, many don’t realize there’s an easier way to do it than with a piece of notebook paper and a pen on the circulation desk. Manual counts are inaccurate, stressful, and taxing. Fortunately, people counters offer a solution that is cost-effective, stress-free, and delivers a solid return on investment.

Are you wondering if a people counter might be right for your library? Check out the five tell-tale signs below.

1. Justifying project funding is a nightmare.

Justifying project funding is always a concern. As a nonprofit, with little to no revenue generation, libraries exist at the mercy of the communities they serve.  Proving that you’re a vital and well-used resource in the community boils down to a numbers game.

  • How many people walk through your doors daily?
  • How many people attend library events?
  • How many people participate in library programs?

All of these questions need to be answered and answered accurately in order to ensure that you receive the funding, not only to survive, but also to flourish and continue providing valuable services to the community.

2. Determining display effectiveness is impossible.

If you’re doing displays “right,” then you’re probably switching them up monthly or quarterly. However, without people counters, there’s virtually no way of determining the effectiveness of each display. With people counters positioned in zones that harbor different displays, you can monitor traffic trends overtime— and with each change of display— to see which display generated the most interest in library patrons.

3. You’re stuck in the dark ages of manual counting in order to produce numbers for your annual report.

Do your clerks, pages, and other librarians dread your annual summer reading program because they’re required to watch the door and make a tally for every patron that attends a specific summer reading event—in addition to other daily tasks at the circulation desk and among the stacks?  Manual counting is a hassle in a myriad of ways. The least of which is that it stresses out staff and disrupts work flow.

The bottom line is that manual counts are inaccurate. Staff members manning the circ desk can get caught in a rush of tending to a line of patrons. During slow periods, staff members may attend to tasks that need to be completed in the back office, or step away from the circulation desk to shelve returns. In both circumstances, staff can potentially miss important counts. Those counts can make the difference in the type of funding your library receives the following year.

People counters placed in entrances or separate library “zones” (i.e. reading room, nonfiction, fiction, children’s room, etc.) will gather accurate counts and relieve library staff of the tally-mark responsibility. Thus, freeing up their work day and ensuring that the counts included in your annual report are as accurate as possible.

4. Your circulation desk is frequently over or under staffed.

Do you find that you don’t have enough staff manning the circulation desk during busy times of the day? Alternately, do you find that during slow periods, your circulation desk is overstaffed with clerks and pages that don’t have anything to fill their time?

The optimization of labor is just as critical in a library environment as it is in retail environments. Funding is often sparse and optimizing library labor is a great way to reduce costs. People counters will allow you to pull reports and analyze traffic trends overtime. With determined traffic trends, you will be able to identify your busy and slow periods and schedule staff accordingly.

5. Facility maintenance is poor.

Does your circulation staff frequently have to perform tasks such as cleaning bathrooms, taking out the garbage, and vacuuming floors? This is a good indicator that your facility maintenance staff may need to be paid to come in a bit more frequently. However, justifying this without a people counters in place is nearly impossible. People counters will provide you with the hard numbers you need when you approach the library board to request more maintenance staff hours.

If your library is exhibiting all or one of these symptoms, people counters are the remedy you need. For assistance in choosing the right people counter for your library, read our FREE eBook, “Which People Counter is Right for You?”