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.
Making the rounds on many blogs and dlists is the article from the Chronicle of Higher Education entitled, “A Sociologist Says Students Aren’t So Web-Wise After All.”
Eszter Hargittai, the sociologist involved, asserts the claim made that just because students are of the younger generation it doesn’t justly follow that they will be more “Web-savvy.” According to Dr. Hargittai college freshmen are often unable to exhibit a “basic understanding of such terms as BCC (blind copy on e-mail), podcasting, and phishing.” She goes on to claim that such deficiencies could relate to students not realizing the volatility of such online tools as Wikipedia and how they are created and maintained.
For the most part, this statement seems to hinge on the assumption that being “Web-savvy” directly relates to the level of knowledge about “how” these systems work and not on “how” to make these systems complete the tasks they are designed to do. The aspect of this issue that really needs more attention is the acceptance of technology in their tasks and rate of adaptability. Sure they may not be able to speak WIki code just from looking at the published page, but would they understand the “document structure” in a faster time frame than the Baby-boomer generation?
I hope that this article, and the wave of “I told you so’s” from those questioning the skills of Gen-Y, won’t be used as ammo to negate the development of advanced technology services. We have an open road in front of us for sharing information with those who are “Web-savvy” and possibly even inspiring the next generation of web geniuses. On the flip-side, I whole-heartedly support assessing student skill levels in technology competencies. I would go so far as to start pushing for a standardized assessment tool to be rolled into our library instruction tools. It would not only help instruct the students but their faculty and ourselves at the same time.
For those who missed it the first time, here is a post in which I talked about issues such as this in longer detail.
The down time I experienced over the past few weeks was due to a career shift. As of April 1st, I am now the new Assessment Librarian for the University of Pittsburgh. What that means is that I have been charged with finding solutions needed to better assess the services provided by the library.
Hopefully the direction of this blog won’t shift too much from the original focus, but I would wager that more posts involving assessment may begin to pop-up.
If you or your library have any information you feel a new assessment librarian would be crazy to be without, feel free to send me a link or comment on this post.