Counting more than the gate: developing building use statistics to create better facilities for today's academic library users.

Author:Dotson, Daniel S.
Position:Report
 
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Introduction

Use of facilities is an issue of great importance to academic libraries. As the academic library is increasingly called upon to justify its existence through performance measures that are linked not only to their own strategic planning process, but that of their parent institutions (Hiller and Self, 2004), the need to acquire the necessary tools and/or methodologies to effectively and efficiently evaluate library functions is becoming a top priority. With an increasing amount of information available remotely, users do not have to come into the physical library to meet many of their information gathering needs. Whether the gate count is decreasing or increasing, what are academic library patrons using while they are in the building? In 2002, the University of South Carolina's main library, Thomas Cooper Library (TCL), began examining use patterns within the facility by conducting a detailed and systematic count of patrons in all public areas.

What is the purpose of such a study? Traditional library statistics employ data such as gate counts and circulation statistics. While these may provide an idea of how much the library is being used, they do not give a clear indication of the use of particular physical resources. Information collected through random surveys shed some light on the issue, but they cannot capture every individual. Quantitative data can be collected from the study described herein; providing the library with concrete evidence of how much and how often its physical resources are used. This evidence may provide the necessary data to support increasing support for resources that are being used, and the reduction or removal of underused resources to make way for those in greater demand.

Review of Literature

When the Royal Library of Alexandria opened in the 3rd century BC (Wiegand and Davis, 1994), there was no need for building use statistics. As largest library in the known world at the time and lacking the now ubiquitous Internet, why would you need to know if people were going to use your services? You could assume that those who needed to do so would travel to gain access to the wealth of information housed within your collections for the simple reason that no other collection could compare to your offerings. In modern times, academic libraries are constantly wondering if they will be relevant in an electronic age; an age which allows researchers at all levels of scholarship access to vast quantities of information via the World Wide Web. This conundrum has led many to ask the question, is the physical library still a vital component of the research and education process (Carlson, 2001)? These statements have even led to the resignation of a library director, due to self-perceived lack of support of upper level administrators (Albanese, 2003).

Hundreds of articles have been written on the topic of statistics and their use in libraries. The need for statistics is driven by the desire of administrators and librarians to know how their collections, services, and spaces are being used by those they serve. Libraries are now entering an age of not only statistics gathering, but also of assessment. Assessment is a process by which administrators and librarians learn about their communities and evaluate the ways in which the library and its services support them (Storey, 2006).

The cornerstones of data collection in libraries are collection size, budget, serial holdings, and number of staff. These measures sufficed when the primary goal of libraries was collection building (Weiner, 2005). This information was collected periodically and then reported to an overseeing agency or department often with the simple goal of increasing or improving on the previous year. The question now is: do these measures accurately depict the value of the academic library within the modern university/college environment (Kyrillidou and Crowe, 2001)?

Allocation and use of space in libraries has always been a complex issue and most libraries will need more physical space in the future (Crawford, 1999). As libraries adapt to the demands of their users, the concept of "library as place" is becoming an area of greater concern (Storey, 2006). In an earlier work, Leighton and Weber erroneously predicted that "over the next decade, the computer will not be an instrument that is carried around more than was the portable typewriter in the 1950s. The real workhorse for readers as well as staff will remain a unit that is not portable" (Leighton and Weber, 1989). Library administrators and planners who followed this advice were safe, but only for that decade, based on current use trends found in today's academic libraries. Those currently working in libraries can certainly attest to the rampant use of mobile technologies in the form of laptops, PDAs, cell phones, etc. Furthermore, studies have found that priorities differ among groups commonly found on college and university campuses (Hiller, 2001). With administrators and librarians still wanting to provide traditional services and students demanding a large degree of portability, there is no need to wonder why so many of today's academic libraries are unable to meet the demands and needs of their users. These libraries are now faced with the increasingly difficult and costly struggle to meet current needs as well as plan for future expectations. Fox (2004) explores this crazed dash to renovate and build libraries in an article that discusses 203 public and 36 academic building projects from July 1, 2003 to June 30, 2004. Shill and Tonner (2004) explore the impact of these new and newly renovated facilities. The modern library is becoming a place that promotes social interaction, relaxation, group study, and countless other services not traditionally thought of as integral parts of the academic library (Freeman, 2005).

Door Count

Many academic libraries use door count data to determine building use. However, door count is only a measure of patron entrances and exits, not where they went or what they used in the building. TCL has used a manual door count of people exiting the building since the mid-1990s. A person at the exit gate clicks a counter for each person who leaves. The library added an electronic counter to obtain an entrance count in July 2002; however, the counter was not always accurate. In one instance, a wastebasket was placed in front of the counter, which led to a period of missing data. Analyses of door count records for the past few academic years have shown increases. The door count rose steadily from 2002 to 2006, with a slight decline in 2005. From 2002 to 2006, TCL has seen increase of more than 24% in its door count. In light of these increases in use, how are patrons using the Library's physical resources? How can TCL capitalize on the changes that prompted these increases in use? These are the questions for the present study.

Examining the average door count for each day of the week, several observations can be made

* 2006 saw the highest...

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