Sunday, August 06, 2006

If You Build It, They Will Come

What makes a “good” post-secondary institutional library? Is it the collections? The atmosphere? Or the photocopiers? Unfortunately, students rarely (usually never) visit libraries to attend a teaching session by a particular librarian as they would for a well-published academic professor. Frade and Washburn’s recent article, The University Library:
The Center of a University Education?
studies the recent trends of how the library is being used by its patrons.

Not surprisingly, numbers are down: there are simply less people walking through the gates. The survey reveals that two core library services, instruction and reference, were ranked very low in terms of patron’s importance. Rather, the study found that patrons came to the library for study, using the internet and computer labs, copy machines, courtesy phones, and signing out books.

In the second part of the research, the study found that two services increased the usage of the library: (1) extended hours; and (2) the implementation of an Information Commons. Interestingly, usage statistics increased during the extended hours, particularly in the area of the IC’s, where there are multimedia computer workstations and plenty of study space are located.

The study doesn’t surprise me much. The library will always be the core of the academic institution. Perhaps times have changed. Although reference and instruction may not be as highly regarded as in the past, that doesn’t render the library and the librarian as ineffective. Far from it, the library will forever be a place where learning and quiet study takes place. As many institutions are advocating cutting back hours to keep costs intact, the library seems the most convenient scapegoat, and hours are particularly the easiest to lop since apparently the numbers are down.

But are they? As this study shows, perhaps more emphasis needs to be placed on tracking when patrons are entering the gates. Unlike bookstores, which keeps statistics on hourly gate counts, most libraries do not (not even the big ones). Just cutting back the hours without careful consultation is clearly a costly mistake, for both the patron and the library itself.


Dean Giustini said...

What's interesting about gate count is that for several years it was down; now, it's going back up again. Check out the ARL statistics up to 2004; many statistics in many ARLs are up, including reference, and circulation.

However, librarians do need to track use of their libraries better, either through manual or automated gate counts per hour (as you suggest) or doing head-counts.

I am looking forward to seeing the gate counts in the new library.


Allan said...


Interestingly,the HSS over at Koerner is doing something like this called "Greeters." I haven't asked about what this is exactly, but from the results of hour-by-hour analysis of statistics, it appears as if a circ staff member counts the number of people he or she greets at the circ desk.

Not sure if that's the method, but nonetheless, the important point is that it's being tested at UBC. Hopefully, it'll lead to more studies.