15 Oct 2013

Incorporating a retail perspective into library services

I came across this interesting study the other day, which looked at creating patron focused library services from a retail service perspective. While a few years have passed since its completion, it’s intriguing to see how a consumer behaviour research and consulting firm for commercial environments had input into library service design.

Back in 2008, Envirosell was drafted in by the Metropolitan Library System in Illinois to assess four regional libraries. The research objectives were 1) explore the dynamics of visitor behaviour at four Chicago area libraries, including both public and academic libraries, 2) measure visitor interactions at touch points in the library, 3) generate information on how public and academic libraries in the Chicago area can better service and educate their visitors, thereby creating a more satisfying library visit.

What struck me was the sheer intensity of the research project. Over a period of only two days in November 2007, 424 visitor groups were observed in all libraries. Observation involved the use of mapping programmes to track and time library customers’ movements and interactions. Small video cameras were also placed in all key areas of the libraries to record behavioural patterns, traffic flow, wait and transaction times. A total of 750 hours of footage was generated for analysis.  Upon exiting the library, all customers were asked to complete a questionnaire enquiring about their library experience and the services they regularly use. In addition, 267 customers were interviewed after their library visit.

The detailed findings of the study can be accessed here.

It’s not so much the research findings that are of particular interest here (they are, but the study is six years old and a lot has happened in the library world since), but the research methodology applied and high granularity of results produced (the research methods toolkit is here). For example, the researchers differentiated between the activities “Pull” an item (– means the visitor touched the item on the shelf with interest, or pulled the item from the shelf. Touching items in the process of looking for a specific item does not count as a pulled item) and “Take” an item (– means the visitor takes the item off the shelf and away from the aisle. Take does not imply the visitor will check out the item). Further, the study differentiated between two important facets: customers’ stated attitudes versus tracking their actual behaviours in the libraries.

One particularly interesting finding relates to the
importance of library signage (see pp 60-66 of the report). A considerable number of signage viewers (45%) looked at Stacks/Dewey signage during their library visit, which highlights the importance of carefully designed shelf-signage.

You can find the recommended best practices summary as a result of the study here.

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