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Find more At the Corner of Baker & Taylor
SPONSORED CONTENT FROM BAKER & TAYLOR
In building and maintaining their collections, librarians have traditionally relied on a combination of research, expertise, and intuition. But as technology advances, savvy librarians are leveraging innovative tools that allow empirical comparisons of circulation statistics and comparable libraries—all based on actual usage data.
One of the most innovative resources for modern libraries is a web-based software called collectionHQ, which was acquired by Baker & Taylor from Scottish-based Bridgeall Libraries in December 2011. Many top library systems have engaged this collection management technology to help them more closely align their purchasing decisions with patron demand. By using the data, librarians have a clearer picture of circulation trends, make more efficient use of staff time, and ensure that patrons can access the books they want.
“Before, it was like groping in the dark; now somebody has turned on a light and you can see what is going on,” says Kathleen Sullivan, collection development coordinator with Phoenix Public Library. “We used to make very intelligent guesses. Now it’s getting to a point where we don’t have to guess.”
Since Phoenix implemented the technology in June 2011, Sullivan says collectionHQ has saved the staff time and money. The library system has 17 branches and a floating collection of 1.7 million items—with an average circulation of nearly 14 times a year. Sullivan credits collectionHQ with helping her and the collections staff make more strategic choices than they would have made on their own. They have used the data for a wide range of projects, from moving titles to branches where demand is higher, to designing displays around popular authors and subjects, to quickly selecting $700,000 worth of replacement books.
Sullivan says library patrons are the ultimate beneficiaries. “The customer is getting a much more focused collection, based on their interests and needs,” she says.
Finding Surprises in Fiction
The software has also unearthed some surprises. In examining one branch’s holdings of children’s fiction, Sullivan and the branch librarians knew they had books by popular authors such as Richard Peck and J. K. Rowling. But it turned out that the most actively circulating titles were a subsection that wasn’t on anybody’s radar: princess and fairy fiction. A closer look showed that most of the books in that category had been pulled because they were worn from overuse, and the library needed to replace them immediately.
At another branch, patrons were checking out a higher-than-average number of James Patterson novels. Using collectionHQ, staff spotted the trend and redirected some of the author’s older work from a location across town. The branch built a display around the content, helping readers find and enjoy thrillers they never knew existed.
San Diego: “Dialed in Closer to Customer Interests”
In San Diego, librarians are seeing similar results. The library system has 33 branches, two bookmobiles, and a floating collection of 1.5 million items. In addition to keeping the library’s average item circulating well above the benchmark of six times per year, collectionHQ is helping change the way San Diego County Library officials view their collection, says collection development manager Heather Pisani-Kristl.
“Part of the legacy of traditional librarianship is thinking of each branch as a self-supporting island of general information that covers all topics,” she says. “With collectionHQ, you can have a more specific collection, one that’s dialed in closer to customer interests. You don’t have to have one of everything on the shelf at each branch.”
The technology is even changing the way the library designs new buildings. With two buildings opening soon, Pisani-Kristl and principal librarian Robin Isicson worked with the capital projects staff to ensure that the buildings’ shelving reflected customer book preferences. They used collectionHQ to determine that fiction is extremely popular and needed adequate shelf space.
Although their selection of materials is centralized, Isicson and Pisani-Kristl share the collectionHQ data with local branches, which then analyze their patrons’ check-out habits to create relevant displays and programs, such as selecting titles for book clubs. They’ve found collectionHQ’s help with purchasing decisions to be especially helpful in an era of tight budgets. “We can’t afford to make bad purchases,” Isicson says. “We can’t afford to have something that might only circulate once or twice. We need every book to circulate.”
Using an evidence-based approach has helped in working with stakeholders, such as the county board of supervisors. Besides making the library more effective in serving its customers’ needs, collectionHQ is now giving librarians the data they need to make better decisions and to better explain them. “When you have the statistics and the data, decisions are not coming from an emotional place,” Isicson says. “It’s easier to tell other people you’re being responsible stewards of public money.”
Scott Crawford is Vice President and General Manager, collectionHQ.
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