Monday, July 26, 2010

PL 50/10: Count The Traffic 2010

Filed under: statistics, traffic — plinius @ 8:24 am

What are the users doing at your library?

The updated version of Count The Traffic (CTT)  shows how you can collect solid, statistical information about user activities.


The CTT method has been used in about seventy Norwegian libraries. The paper illustrates the procedure with examples from public libraries. But it is easy to adapt the approach to academic, special and school libraries.

When we compare data with expectations, it is fair to say that in public libraries

  1. the actual use of computers was higher than expected
  2. the frequency of activities carried out in groups was higher than expected
  3. purely social activities – not involving computers or media – were higher than expected
  4. contact with staff was less than expected

Traffic counts from thirty-three public libraries in 2008-10 show

  • Share of user time spent with active PCs
    • lower quartile: 21
    • median: 27 percent
    • upper quartile: 31
  • Share of user time spent with groups
    • lower quartile: 17
    • median: 25 percent
    • upper quartile: 29
  • Contact with staff
    • lower quartile: 5.8
    • median: 8.5 percent
    • upper quartile: 11.4

Practical use

CTT was designed for practical use. It show how – and to what extent – the various parts of the library are used, throughout the day and through a typical week. Using traffic counts, libraries are able to document the type and intensity of use. This is useful for allocating resources and – not least – for reorganizing the library space.

Reliable data on user behavior make “life in the library” visible in a new way. Loans and visits are rather abstract categories. CTT is closer to real life. Reading, talking, browsing the shelves and using computers provide more vivid images of what the physical library actually offers.

Public spaces

The method provides important new data on user behavior in the physical library. The method can be applied in all types of libraries – and indeed in all types of public spaces. It is cheap enough to be repeated on a regular basis, and simple enough to be carried out by library staff or young students.

The observation categories are standardized, but easy to use, since they are based on normal social concepts.



A previous version of the paper

was presented at the 8th Northumbria International Conference on Performance Measurement in Libraries and Information Services (PM8), Florence, August 17-20.

The new version is thoroughly revised – and incorporates new data from 2010. We publish our data on the open web – and encourage others  to do so. In that way libraries that choose the CTT approach will be able to compare their results with others.


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