An Easy Way For Libraries To Better Understand How Their Library Is Being Used


Our janitor was out sick today and over the past few days we’ve had almost a foot of snow in our area. With snow comes wet boots and shoes and salt being tracked in through the doors. All of this mixed together results in our library being a little messier than usual these days. It’s all good…everyone deserves sick days to rest and heal and even though the snow can get yucky it is a pretty beautiful sight to see at least a foot of snow all around this time of year.

All of this led to me coming in to work a bit early today so that I could vacuum the library and tidy things up a little bit so everything didn’t add up. As I vacuumed mind mind began to wander. I thought about what Corinne Hill once told me back in the Chattanooga days…”make the maintenance team happy and everything will go smoothly”. I thought about how employees who work in maintenance and janitorial services really do make the library continue to operate and thrive and how we don’t usually think about the great work they do. I also veered off into the world of what janitors may see in libraries. I started to think about the details and what kind of information and ideas can be gleamed from those details. And then this idea hit me as my vacuum hummed and the salt it was picking up made small plinking noises as it made its way up the nozzle and into the dirt chamber…could we better understand how our community is using the library by the snow and salt their shoes are bringing into the library in winter? Why yes, Justin, I think we can!

Here’s what I noticed at the Benson Memorial Library:

  • The most affected areas by the snow and salt were the front entrance. This is of course something that can easily be understood.
  • From the front door, most of the snow and salt seemed to make a straight line past the circulation desk, past our DVD collection, and into our Children’s area.
  • To the left of the front door there was a bit more snow and salt than any other area. This is due to our newspapers and reading tables being in that area. These are heavily used by folks reading the newspaper or using their laptop in the library.
  • In our Reading Room, the most heavily used area was in front of our new books and NYT Bestsellers display. The couches and chairs in that room had some snow and salt, but not as much as in our newspapers area.
  • The back of our building, which is home to our nonfiction and fiction stacks, did not have much, if any, salt and snow. What can I learn from this? Maybe people are not browsing as much?
  • To the left of our circulation desk is the walkway to our restrooms. Of course, there was a lot of snow and salt in this area but we also do have a side exit so it could have been as a result of people using that as their exit.

What I’m trying to say with all of this is that there are many different ways for us to learn about our libraries. This is just one way, and in my opinion, one of the better ways to learn. I think there’s a lot for us to process and understand if we just look around. Look up, look down. Sit somewhere different during the day. Try something out that you don’t usually do during your day at work. What you may see or hear can be pretty amazing and overall it could change how you work as a librarian. All in all, these changes are for the best! We need to keep on growing.



  1. Justin, I always enjoy your posts – thank you for keeping it real with the holistic way you approach library services! I am thankful that the snow and salt metric isn’t as relevant here in North Carolina, but I’m sure our janitor has plenty to tell us about how our patrons use our small public library.

    • “Peak Hoenke” is a good term. In thousands of years this will be using this phrase a lot. However, I wish I have yet to reach “Peak Hoenke”. I think I have a few more decent to great things to do.

  2. Thanks for this reminder, Justin. Since my job is so different now, and I’m not in the Access Services department, I really have a disconnect with our students and how they use the building, though it is quite busy (we don’t have a student union). Since the instruction/research services librarians don’t manage a reference desk and work in mostly an appointment capacity, it’s rare that I actually go into the library proper. I’m either in my office and traveling out of it to other events/departments, which, granted, is what I need to do for my current job). I should at least walk around each floor once a day!

  3. […] THIS MAGIC MOMENT: I have found it to be a tremendous idea to be present in the moment. As a Library Director for a small town library that means being involved in every part of the library that I can help with at that moment. Does a patron need help? Does the restroom need cleaned? What are some of the other little things that need attended to? Just because I’m a Library Director doesn’t mean that I should take myself out of the everyday moments that happen at a library. Instead, I feel like most library directors should try to put themselves in those everyday moments. When you’re able to understand why work is done a certain way then you are able to either make changes to it or keep it where it is at. I think libraries need to be flexible and part of that includes looking at all of the ways that the library works. Just because something has been done a certain way doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. To keep the library around as a healthy and functioning space and idea, adaptations need to be made or things should be kept the way they are. Testing out and trying a bunch of the little everyday jobs helps you understand where to go. SO, in conclusion: clean those toilets if you have to. You may learn something. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s