Monday, October 13, 2008

Best Practices Study conducted for the Metropolitan Library System (Burr Ridge, IL)

What follows is a bullet-points outline of the findings of the report, "Best Practices for the Customer-Focused Library".

Visitor profile snapshot

· 95% visited once per month, over half visited once per week, and the majority visited alone.

· 56% spent less than 10 minutes in the library, a surprising finding more typically associated with bookstores and grocery stores.

· Two-thirds did not know what they wanted before they arrived. Since patrons may not come to the library with a specific “need,” we have an opportunity to appeal to their

Visitor profile key findings:

· 95% visited once per month, over half visited once per week, and the majority visited alone.

· People already in the library are a primary target for items and services. The fact that a large percentage visited alone indicates an openness to ‘product’ placement and service pitches. The short length of time indicates the need for a simple, easily transmitted message.

· Audiovisual materials accounted for 1/3 of circulating items. These items should be positioned in a browsable collection, particularly where patrons encounter a wait. Patrons aged 14-24 are particularly drawn to AV.

Visitor behavior snapshot:

· One-third of patrons visited a desk as their first destination.

· Age impacted the sections of the library visited by patrons. Younger patrons used the computers and seldom visited sections with circulating materials. Older patrons were less likely to use the computers and self-check.

· Highest impact services were circulation (60%), internet access (18%), nline library catalog use (15%) and reference services (15%).

· Two-thirds of patrons were using the library for reading or conversation, and 15% of weekly visitors never borrow from the library.

· Half of patrons pulled an item off the shelf while browsing, with more items pulled in AV collections.

· 70% of patrons checked out books, 51% checked out AV materials.

Visitor behavior key findings:

· Patrons are seeking staff interaction to serve their needs. Staff must be available and willing to help, no matter what desk patrons seek.

· Diversify material types to meet more patron needs. Patrons short on time may prefer a movie to a book, and those with commutes may prefer audio books as opposed to print.

· If patrons are browsing materials, collections must be browsable. It’s easier to change to fit patron needs than it is to retrain them. Communicate sections in common language instead of solely relying on call numbers to guide browsing.

· Patrons are utilizing the library as meeting and study space, not just for items, computers or services. Allotting space for study and socializing needs is important when creating an overall atmosphere of service. Patrons using the building are easier to convert to users of library services than those who do not enter.

Assistance snapshot:

· Over half of patrons, excluding circulation transactions, were observed receiving assistance of some kind.

· Finding items on the shelf caused the greatest need for assistance, followed by finding the right section. Less than 15% of patrons needed help with guiding research, explaining services, and recommending items.

· Better directional/explanatory signage would alleviate observed need for finding

Assistance key findings:

· Staff trained to offer assistance in more efficient browsing and research may be a better use of personnel than stationing at desks.

· A more visible staff identification would similarly help patrons find assistance when needed while away from formal desks.

Signage snapshot:

· Only 12% of patrons viewed library signage. Patrons aged 45-64 were most likely to view signs, with 34 and under least likely.

· Stacks signage was viewed by 45% of people who viewed signs.

Signage key findings:

· Signage is the greatest tool to connect patrons with materials, either by indicating sections or introducing patrons to new authors. Easily changed, attractive signage in highly visible areas produces the most impact.

· Desk surfaces are not the best location for collateral and signs. The patron waiting can’t see them, and the person who is engaging with library staff doesn’t need them. Consider an attractive central collateral station instead that leaves surfaces clear.

· Sightlines and sign positioning were the most common symptoms of poor signage. Move through the library to determine patron flow and best positions for signage.

Best practices solutions: Marketing

· Provide strategic links to the online catalog, and use catalog tools to lead users to additional items.

· Bring images into the space to create a more visually stimulating environment.

Consider ways to work within the Dewey Decimal System in order to free up how books are displayed. Face out more books to take advantage of cover art and increase capture power.

· Offer more ways to pair patrons with materials. Best Sellers, New Releases and a designated area for Staff Recommendations are a good start. Email lists with updates on New Releases, Best Sellers and Hot Topics are a good way to reach out to patrons while they are not at the library.

· Expand the Audio Visual section both in terms of the amount of space allocated to the section as well as the materials carried. Consider adding console games and other new technologies that combine learning with entertainment.

· Group all AV materials together (Music CDs, DVDs/Videos and Audio Books) and position the section close to Circulation to encourage impulse borrowing. Consider placing AV materials for all ages in the same location, rather than having separate Children’s and Teen’s sections, thus creating a “store-within-a-store” concept.

· Change displays frequently, at least monthly or even weekly, to re-capture patron’s attention, based on frequency of library visits.

Best practices solutions: Orientation

· Coach your responses at the first-visited desks to be service-focused. Often the desk closest to the door is where the most questions are asked and where a service impression is formed.

· Look at signage with a patron’s eye – check sightlines, proximity to wait/traffic areas, and remove jargon.

· Create a large site map for each library and clearly identify sections on both the map and through signage, preferably in view from the map location. Position the map near the online catalogue to enable patrons to look up specific items or browse by section.

· Face-out shelving makes retrieval slightly more difficult, but dramatically increases circulation. Consider sacrificing quantity for quality in face-out arrangements. Face-out children’s books at Frankfort circulated 40% more than when shelved traditionally. Space concerns are alleviated by frequency of circulation.

· Find ways to extend service beyond the desk, and get to where your patrons are.

Best practices solutions: Space use

· Group computer workstations, lounge seating and periodicals to create a “waiting area” for patrons who are waiting for a computer to become available.

· Consider how your space is used. Allow for gathering and loud spaces as well as quiet spaces. Create “buffer” zones between high-traffic and quiet study spaces.

· Little-used collection areas can become your new power walls. Move or remove collections to make space for new arrangements.

· New fixtures should focus on displaying circulating materials rather than storing the materials. This will facilitate cover art functioning as a sign.

· Investigate flexible signage and fixture packages for future renovations or new libraries that enable easy asset reallocation as individual library needs evolve.

· Recognize the unutilized or underutilized spaces in the library and adjust the layout accordingly. Sections with little or no visitation should be re-evaluated in terms of necessity, location and aisle space. When possible, condense these sections

Best practices solutions: Signage

Follow a Signage Hierarchy

· Level One: Section Identification. Text signage is visible from the main path through the library.

· Level Two: Theme. Images are immediately accessible information to the viewer; use them to convey the topics and content of the section. Theme signage should be visible from outside the section in order to attract patrons.

· Level Three: Dewey Identification. Keep the Dewey signage on the ends of the stacks, as patrons know where to look for this information.

· Level Four: Shelf Talk. Face out titles on the shelves, and use framed easel signs to direct readers to similar titles.

Use Signage Strategies

· Remember that “less is more.”

· Make sure the sign matters.

· Keep it concise.

· Position in-depth signage in wait areas.

· Ensure viewing signs from back to front.

· Utilize odd shapes and sizes.

· Create a sense of movement.

· The most frequently-viewed signage type should also be the most user-friendly.

· Computer-generated signage must be kept fresh, or else it loses capture power among frequent visitors.

And in summary…….

  • Don’t try to change people’s behavior: identify it and design for it.
  • Let go of sacred cows, including materials, furniture and beliefs.
  • Prepare staff for change.
  • Use density maps to gather information on space use and areas for improvement.
  • If your focus is service, make sure staff are service focused.
  • If circulation is your primary point of human contact, train circulation staff to be ambassadors for other services.
  • Analyze service at your first point of contact, often the desk closest to the door.
  • Gain insight into patron wants through multiple means.
  • Look for small wins while breaking down larger projects. Track your success through an overall building plan.
  • Involve new eyes: people outside of the library can give you incredible insights. Pick people carefully to not be restricted by traditional

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