Using GIS to Improve Library Services

Want to know more about your library users? Map it! By harnessing geospatial information, you can learn more about your patrons and their library use habits in ways that can help you make decisions about everything from collection development to library space design to outreach services. You can also learn more about your own professional habits, as well as the habits of your colleagues.

Consider the following:

Where are your library users coming from?

Are most of them using the library due to proximity to the library (e.g. campus/community residence, classroom or cafeteria)? Gate counts don’t cut it here. Instead, depending on your library and/or campus, Facebook check-ins can provide some information. You can also draw conclusions from patron statistics or through patron surveys. By mapping where they’re coming from, this type of information can help you plan for outreach services. Who aren’t you reaching?

Are there location trends in the items your patrons check out?

For example, do items in convenient locations get the most circulation (e.g. displays, inside end of stack units, middle shelves vs top or bottom shelves)? Understanding these trends will help you make strategic decisions about such things as displays, shelf labeling, shelf organization and general library user-friendliness. You do need to create a catalog mapping system for this to work though. Check out what the Wayne State Library System did (to benefit their patrons).

How does your reference data map to the library collection (digital and physical)? How does it map to populations served?

This information gives you insight into both library staff and library user behavior, and can help drive decisions on ways to provide and/or improve reference services. For example, you might discover a need for more staff training or awareness of useful, but underutilized library sources. Or you might find that reference service is failing to reach certain populations that would benefit from it (e.g. specific department faculty). Who aren’t you serving through reference? Are there any unmet reference needs?

GIS is broad and complex and has a place in an enormous number of disciplines. But, if you are familiar with tools such as Access and Excel, jumping in isn’t so difficult. I see GIS tools as very useful in library analytics for analyzing, supporting, and improving  library services.

Mapping resources:


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