Libraries have come a long way toward shaking off their image as irrelevant institutions from a bygone era. Today’s libraries should adapt to the evolving needs of their communities by leverage data to improve their services and operations with even greater impact — and attract the visitors who sustain these institutions in the first place.
Use Data to Determine Your Community Demographics
What’s one simple mistake that organizations of all kinds make? Thinking you know your customers or patrons. It’s entirely possible that your library may know some of its demographics but even more likely that you’re missing the complete picture. Leverage data from many publicly available sources to “fill in the blanks” about the diversity of your patrons. You might start with these:
- Census.gov: Try comparing your patrons’ addresses with the addresses of the population area your library is in to see how much of the area you’re truly serving.
- City or county government agencies: These groups typically manage a treasure trove of demographic and geographic data.
Take It to the People
Do you want to know what your patrons want? Just ask them. There are many simple tools you can use to poll your patrons and community members to discover what, exactly, they want from you. Social platforms are especially useful for gathering feedback on the kinds of programs, activities and media your community wishes your library would offer. For example, if your library is in a predominantly retired community, you might want to shrink the young adults section in favor of titles that appeal to a more senior crowd. Or your social polling might reveal that your community of busy and tech-savvy young families wants to see more children’s literature added to your audiobook collection.
Leverage data from social polling and other direct-to-patrons methods to better align your library’s assets and activities with your community’s needs, which will aid in driving foot traffic through your doors and boosting your relevance among key constituents.
Data on Display(s)
How do you decide which books get the “front and center” treatment? There’s only so much room to promote a handful of titles so be sure to leverage data to ensure your book displays are achieving maximum impact. Technology such as people counters can help you discern which displays are drawing the most attention, and which are being largely overlooked.
From there, you can use the insights gained to inform future displays; for example, feature the same popular novelist whose mass paperback thrillers were a hit the last time around, or set up an eye-catching Harry Potter display including both the novels and films around Harry Potter’s birthday, July 31st.
You labor diligently on planning your annual programs calendar. Keep that diligence going by leveraging objective data from people counters to get a handle on which of your programs are the stars. Because libraries typically operate under tight budgets, you can’t afford to spend precious dollars on poorly attended programs. Take action: for example, if a monthly program bombs for the first quarter of the calendar, replace it for the remainder of the year with something similar to an activity that attracts good attendance.
And in planning your cadence of programming, keep in mind that the programs that add value in our tech-first world may be different from successful programs of the past. Don’t be afraid of new ideas, especially if you’re leveraging data and researching other institutions’ successes to arrive at a modern new programs calendar.
If your library wants to increase patronage and community relevance, consider all of the ways that data can be your secret weapon in serving a new generation of library visitors.