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Who goes there?


In the modern library why do we still worry about gate count?

The first response I usually get is that the number relates to user traffic, which equals library use.  From this administrators can adjust library hours to suit user needs.  Where this may seem like a viable opinion, how many libraries can tout having contents through which their entrants only do “library-centric” activities?  When we started adding cafes, video games, and group study rooms; how far did we stray from what makes a library a library?

I am not saying these innovations aren’t effective or contrary to our mission, but are there other ways to determine peak activity and effective library use?

Head counts done through sampling are another common means to identify library use by time, but this is a rather labor intensive process that may not capture consisten trends in seasonal use.  In larger libraries this process may be more wasteful in staff utilization than the value of the data produced.  If a parton shifts floors or areas, will the recorder notice this and not count?

It is equally implausible to use circulation data or reference data to justify traffic, but these numbers are more accurate for actual use than gate counts can truly be.  Depending on the level of granularity employed in collecting the statistics, one can begin transforming raw data into a patchwork of trends and predictions.  Are there times when the desk is unusually busy and we can staff an extra person as back up?  When the desk is equally as barren can we rely on a triage model or smaller staffing decisions?

At some point in time libraries will be forced to set their hours for what they can financially support.  Budget cuts across the nation have already forced some libraries to eliminate positions and revamp their services.  What would happen if we started keeping shorter hours and allowing students to do more remotely?  Would some students be offended?  Perhaps, but I have seen students waiting outside the doors at the most ungodly hours and not understanding why the doors weren’t always open.   Libraries will always be used and we should be focusing on what students need from us and what services are most vital to the campus.  If what we do is an accurate respresentation of what they need, our success will speak greater volumes than any spreadsheet showing archaic gate counts.

Just my opinion though.

Categories: assessment
  1. Alison
    01/22/2010 at 10:18 pm

    This is not related at all to library gate counts, but if anyone has read Her Fearful Symmetry (Audrey Niffenegger), this is how the back entrance to the graveyard from the apartments looks in my mind. That’s the first thing I thought of when I saw your blog post!

    On a more related note, gate count is very important in my academic library. Working in circulation, I write down the gate count every day and we noticed a 70% increase in library use over the past year. We do not have a cafe, or anything like that so we have to ask ourselves what is that cause of this increased usage? Laptop checkouts, increased number of student lab computers, and classes being held in the library definitely account for the bulk of it.

    Oh, and we always have students waiting outside our doors at 7:45am wondering why the library isn’t open yet. These are mostly students who have never been to the library before. I know because I ask 🙂

  2. 05/09/2010 at 2:16 pm

    Done properly, traffic counts inside the library can be quite useful for planning – without requiring too much work. See: http://samstat.wordpress.com/ttt/ctt/


  3. 06/02/2010 at 12:20 pm

    @plinius: The CTT or TTT method is interesting but that is a bit more than the gate counts I was mentioning. I suppose I didn’t outline how I would go about measuring what our users are doing once they enter the gates but your example is a fine solution.

  4. Ibrahim Damilola
    08/25/2011 at 10:25 am

    This is a good work for librarian of the 21st century.

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