The Importance of Counting People in Public Libraries

One of the best decisions I have ever made in my career as a library leader/manager was to install people counters at the Benson Memorial Library at the end of 2015. I paid around $300 USD for the counters, I installed them myself, and every day I came to the library I would check the number for the previous day, reset the counters, and record our daily tally in a spreadsheet. Over the years those numbers all came together and they told a story:

  • The numbers that were previously reported were off by about 60,000 visits/year.
  • Visits to the library during my time as Executive Director grew steadily over 4.5 years.

Combining the daily visit counts with our circulation and event attendance gave me a fuller picture of the library at that point in time. Those three metrics became my go to for talking to the community about the importance of the library, for talking to the Board of Directors about the direction of the library, and to advocate for more funding through local municipalities or grants. I don’t know how I would have been able to do my work at the Benson Memorial Library without them.

Fast forward to my time currently at Wellington City Libraries, specifically the last few weeks, where I have been working with the team at Bellwether to install and begin using their people counting system in all of the 20 public libraries and community centers which we oversee. Our network of public libraries and community spaces up until this point all relied on different technologies to collect their visitor numbers, and amongst staff there was a thought that not all of our systems were working as well as they should. When it came time to finally get people counters at the largest library I oversee (Johnsonville Library @ Waitohi Community Hub) I went with Bellwether because, simply stated, they had great technology at a great price and were super easy to work with. Over the last 7 months of using our Bellwether people counters at Johnsonville Library @ Waitohi Community Hub we’ve been able to understand just how busy we are (174,108 visits since January 1, 2021), understand our peak hours of the day to better roster our staff (M-F from 3pm-5pm), and then use those total numbers to successfully advocate for an additional 1.5 full time equivalent staff positions to help with increased library usage. And now after many site visits and installations over the past two weeks we’re one step closer towards all Wellington City Libraries & Community Centers using the same people counting system to measure how much our spaces are being visited by the public. I’m excited about what we’ll see once all of our libraries & community centers are all humming along together and collecting this data using the same methods.

Look Mom and Dad! I can do physical labor!

No statistic is the be all end all for libraries. People counts will never tell the full story. Neither will circulation, program attendance, wifi usage, etc. But when we bring all of these things together and weave it into the overall story of what public libraries & community centers are doing we can really show our communities and our funders the kind of impact we have. Libraries collect stories, but we are also storytellers too. One of my favorite parts about working in library leadership these days is telling that story to everyone that asks me about libraries. Do you want to see what public libraries & community centers can do? Well sure why not let me tell you about them, and let’s sprinkle in some of these numbers here and there. Tell the story of your library! Use that data! Be very proud of the amazing work you are doing.

3 comments

  1. I am SO glad we finally have ours installed after 8 months of not having one. I *know* I’ve driven the foot traffic up since I started there a year ago, and it will be so good to actually demonstrate that!

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