Libraries are essential resources in many communities. They serve as gathering spaces, a place to take classes and learn new skills, and a refuge for students who need a quiet place to study and pursue school projects. Libraries often operate on tight budgets, however, and must find the most efficient ways to deliver the best service for patrons. That’s where people counting technology comes in — and onetech asset that can make a significant impact is a library door counter.
A library door counter tallies each patron who comes through your library doors to help you understand traffic patterns, justify funding requests, and adjust staffing needs accordingly. These counters are designed in various ways, so take a good look at your library’s architecture to determine which door counter is right for you.
Why Do Libraries Need People Counters?
Libraries make books, resources, technology, and information available to everyone, including people who might not otherwise be able to afford access. But they are perpetually in need of funding to supplement the meager revenue they generate. College libraries, for example, receive less than 3% of the money spent on higher education, despite studies that link student achievement with having use of a well-staffed and well-funded library.
Funding requests are most successful when backed by hard facts that clearly demonstrate the need. Circulation information, such as the number of books checked out in a given period, does not provide an accurate or complete picture of library usage. Many people visit the library for other reasons, such as using the computers to do research, or bringing kids in for story time in the children’s section. Counting the number of patrons is a better measure than counting books checked out.
Some additional signs that you need a people counting system include the following:
- Justifying project funding is a nightmare: 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.
- Determining display effectiveness is impossible: 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.
- Your circulation desk is frequently over or under staffed: 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.
Benefits of People Counters
Library door counters offer several benefits. First, they can help libraries make better business decisions. Budget cuts are an all-too-frequent occurrence, and they can reduce funding not only for materials but also for staffing and hours of operation. People counters provide data on which entrances and areas of the library get the heaviest use, and which times and days are the busiest. Knowing which areas experience the most traffic is helpful in deciding how to arrange resources such as exhibits, kiosks, or guest speakers. And seeing which resources are used most frequently can assist in deciding which lesser-used resources can be pruned when it’s time to tighten the belt.
Second, people counters can help libraries stay in compliance with state standards that govern such factors as labor percentages and technology usage. Library door counters provide the best detailed statistics to report so that state governments and taxpayers know how the money they provide is being spent.
Third, library door counters can help libraries make cases to administration to gain more funding. Across the country, public libraries have been enduring reductions in their operating revenue, even though circulation, program attendance, and computer use have all been on the rise. When they need to make a strong case for funding to continue providing those resources, libraries can use the data from their people counters as evidence of the demand.
Armed with traffic statistics, libraries can make appeals for additional resources and technology, such as an expanded computer lab with faster, high-capacity broadband Internet access to best meet patrons’ needs. Libraries can also petition for additional staffing and hours of operation by providing the numbers of patrons using the facility on a daily basis. The ability to clearly demonstrate necessity is the key to a successful funding proposal — and that’s what a people counter can do.
Horizontal vs. Overhead Counters
The type of doorway will influence the kind of people counter that best fits your needs. For narrow entrances, a door-mounted horizontal door counter will suffice. The horizontal door counter is the simplest of all people-counting systems. It functions by tallying every person who interrupts the infrared sensor beam by walking through the doorway. Generally speaking, only one person at a time can enter through a narrow, standard-size doorway, making the horizontal library door counter a suitable choice.
For larger entrances where multiple people can come and go at once, however, a horizontal door counter would provide an inaccurate traffic count, as two people entering and interrupting the sensor beam simultaneously would likely only be counted as one. For these wider doorways, a library door counter that’s mounted overhead would be a better option.
Overhead library door counters can use either thermal sensors — to pick up each entrant’s body heat — or video recording to count people entering the library. When deciding between the two types of overhead counters, it’s important to remember that video recording carries with it some surveillance and privacy concerns, as some of your patrons may feel entitled to have their privacy preserved.
Where to Put Your People Counters
Depending on the size of your library, you may benefit from having people counters distributed throughout your facility. For example, you might want to install people counters in the children’s reading section, the audio book area, or other spaces that experience high traffic. This will help you to determine when the highest volume of patrons visit these areas and schedule your library staff as needed.
You’ll also need to decide which type of people counter is best suited for each individual area. While your main entrance may only need a horizontal door counter, you might find overhead thermal sensors give you the best results in the children area or computer lab.
By evaluating the data provided by your library door counters, you’ll be able to understand which areas of your library need more or fewer staff members to manage and monitor patrons as well as the best placement for promotional book displays and other important materials.
How Software Can Help
Your library door counter is only as useful as the software that compiles and makes sense of all the data it collects. This user-friendly software gives you access — virtually in real time — to your traffic data via any internet-connected computer or mobile device. Use your software platform to generate reports that offer critical insights about your library traffic that can influence and inform your decision-making.
Door counters are becoming an important feature of the modern library facility. In choosing the library door counter that’s right for your institution, you’re poised to make objective, data-driven decisions on how best to serve your patrons and create the space your community needs. Contact a Traf-Sys representative today to learn how you can add people counting capabilities to your library.