Wednesday, February 20, 2008

PL 4/08: Observing the traffic

Filed under: IFLA, statistics, traffic — Tags: , — plinius @ 7:32 am

hadrian.jpgIn Quebec, The IFLA Management & Marketing Section; Statistics & Evaluation Section; and Library Theory & Research Section arrange a joint session with the theme

Managing Libraries in a Changing Environment – Legal, Technical, and Organizational Aspects.

I have proposed a paper on how to measure visitor traffic and activities inside the libary:

Observing the traffic

Abstract: Librarians have, in general, very little systematic information about what goes on inside their libraries.

There is no shortage of impressions, ideas and intuitions that derive from their personal encounters with users on the job. But this information is qualitative rather than quantitative. Quantitative user studies, like LibQUAL, tend to gather data by interviews and questionnaires rather than by the direct observation of behavior.

The situation is different in the commercial field. Chain stores and services are heavy consumers of survey data. But they also study the actual behavior of their customers. Layout, lighting, background music and product placement are typivally based on detailed – and costly – behavioral research. Libraries that want to attract more users – wanting to spend more time inside the library – need much more information about user behavior, for evaluation, planning and advocacy.

In this paper we present a cheap and simple method to gather such data. It is not too time-consuming – and can be carried out by the library’s own staff rather than by hired consultants.

The data collection is based on systematic observation at regular intervals.The data gathered will tell you, in some detail, about the structure of activties in the various parts (zones) of the library throughout the day (daily cycle) and throughout the week (weekly cycle). We recommend that data be gathered one day a week, over a period of 10-14 weeks, to avoid large random fluctuations.

The technique has been applied in two Norwegian public libraries, in towns with 25 and 60 thousand inhabitants, respectively. After a training workshop conducted by the author, data were collected by library staff and analyzed by the author. The data analysis is not technically difficult – we use spreadsheets – but it needs the input of a reasonably numerate person.

We complete the article by presenting and interpreting the data from these two studies.


For more information, see NTC – What happens inside libraries , which was included in a workshop at the 7th Northumbria Conference in Stellenbosch, South Africa, August 2007.



  1. […] den hyggelig beskjeden fra arrangørene i forrige uke. De hadde akseptert forslaget – se posten Observing the traffic – :som ett av de åtte foredragene på et møte som tre […]

    Pingback by P 84/04 « Plinius — Tuesday, April 8, 2008 @ 5:58 am

  2. […] 4/08. Observing the traffic. Proposal for IFLA paper on physial visitor […]

    Pingback by P 8/12: News from the North « Plinius — Sunday, March 4, 2012 @ 10:33 am

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