(Gate)count all the things!

This post written by David Beales.

I went home to Cornwall for Christmas this year and spent Boxing Day taking in the bracing sea air at Tintagel Castle. Naturally, because I’m a librarian, as soon as I got home I looked up their visitor numbers*. I can share the great news that, according to the latest figures, Tintagel Castle had 198,214 visitors in 2011! That’s up 4% on 2010. We need to look at what they are doing right when so many other UK tourist attractions are suffering.

Okay, truth be told, I have no idea whether Tintagel Castle’s numbers are cause to celebrate or not. 200,000 seem like a large number of people willing to clamber round a bunch of ruins but it doesn’t really mean anything.

Here at our library, we had 1.3 million visitors last year (suck on that Tintagel Castle!) and yet nobody apart from us librarians seems to care. They’re probably right not to care. Where’s the context? Are those visitors more likely to get higher grades than if they studied elsewhere? Do all the library’s comfy sofas, muffins and inspirational quotes motivate students to do better? We can’t really tell you because it’s too difficult to measure. But we can count those 1.3 million visits so you can be damn sure you’re going to hear about it.

It’s easy enough to point out the flaws in the way that we currently do things; I’m finding out how difficult it is to come up with a better way. I won’t pretend that the solution I have proposed at Cal Poly will work everywhere and it goes only part way to demonstrating a link between student attainment and the library as a space for learning, but it will help us to use our space better, we can integrate it into our everyday activity and we can relate the use of the library space to our University Learning Objectives

Rather than just having a gatecount, I want us to use a combination of thermal people counters and less expensive door counters  to map how people use our space.In the same way as we already use PC availability information to help students find a free computer, we can do the same thing to help them find group/quiet study space.

With all that data, we can see when our collaboration rooms , presentation equipment, study carrels etc are being used. We can gather information on our students preferred study habits throughout the year, and use that information to create truly flexible study spaces which we can adapt as the pressures on our space change.

When reporting out to our users and our management we can provide evidence of a need for more types of space or equipment to support our institutional goals and we can present ourselves as innovators who are making the most efficient use of our space. It’s not perfect, but I’m a great believer that “done is better than perfect”.


*I need you to know that I didn’t really do this


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