England & Wales

Libraries: the data difference

Libraries: the data difference
Councillor Dogus re-opening Coombes Croft Library in Tottenham with local MP David Lammy after major improvement work.

Dilek Dogus (Labour, LB Haringey), Cabinet Member for Adults and Community Services, explains how Haringey is using retail techniques to get the best out of the council’s libraries.

This article was originally published in the LGiU’s C’llr Magazine which is distributed to all councillors in LGiU member councils.

Multi-national companies know all about you. The big supermarket chains know what social background you come from, what your buying habits are and when you like to shop. And just like supermarkets, libraries can offer a better a service the more they know about their customers.

Many of the issues which affect supermarkets also affect libraries: the brand, marketing, location, opening hours, car parking, the product range, merchandising and the quality of customer service … the difference, of course, is when and how the customer pays.

Like other retail organisations, libraries gather customer data and – more importantly – have the potential to use that data to develop and improve the range of products they offer.

In Haringey, the nine libraries across the borough were used by almost 60 per cent of residents, the highest level of use in London. With over 2.1 million visits annually, libraries are the third most-used council service, and were recently voted “good” or “excellent” by 63 per cent of our residents. They have become “high performing” largely because they have used the information which they gather to alter – and keep altering – their services and facilities to make sure they remain relevant and attractive to their customers.

Haringey libraries, like all libraries, have access to a wide range of information on their customers. At the most basic level, they know how many people visit libraries each day or each month. They know who the members of the library are, how old they are and where they live. They can identify what members borrow from their libraries and so can monitor and improve the effectiveness of their selection of books, DVDs and other materials. They can identify how often computers are used in the library, in how many sessions and by how many customers. They can also monitor the level of use of wireless technology, how many hours are used each month and when peak use levels occur.

The information is pored over and analysed each month at our libraries management team meetings. Some of the information confirms what everyone knows – just by looking at the statistics we know what the weather’s been like – more people use libraries when it’s raining or snowing and fewer people come in when it’s a nice day and we’re always looking at new ways that we can attract more customers as well as making sure existing customers keep on using the service.

Analysis of data over time shows us trends in usage and that has an impact on what we do. For example, more people in the east of the borough stay at home during holiday periods so we provide more children’s holiday programmes.

Other trends have changed the layout of our libraries. The significant increase in computers at our libraries means that people need sockets to power up their laptops. Wireless users also seem to have a more casual approach to seating, happy to perch on stools at high tables.

Does this all work? Does knowing your customer guarantee a constant supply? No, it does not – but it does increase the odds.

For us in Haringey, autumn was a relatively quiet period, with lower numbers of visitors than usual. We responded by pushing the use of our loyalty card and introducing a “Snuggle up with a DVD” offer. Thousands of people came into the Central Library during November. The seats were full and the shelves emptied.

Related LGiU Event: Libraries: rethinking library provision for the 21st century

31/03/2011  10:00 – 16:00
LGiU, 22 Upper Woburn Place, London WC1H 0TB
Rates (ex VAT)
LGiU affiliates and voluntary sector organisations: £150 

Others: £250

Local authorities have a statutory duty to provide a free library service. Many councils view it as an area where significant cost savings can be achieved. In this seminar we will invite a panel of informed speakers to explore:

  • the duty to provide a library service – what it means in practice
  • linking library provision with that of other council services
  • involving community and charitable groups in providing the service including asset transfer
  • opportunities for realising income from those who visit the library
  • new technology and the library of the future.

This session will also include an analysis of the scale of the government’s public spending reductions, adding a broader policy context to the seminar. A workshop will allow attendees to share best practice and review what steps other local authorities are taking.

Case studies of private and charitable groups’ involvement in operating library services will be examined to highlight the issues involved

A booking form for this event can be found here