In libraries, it’s not about the banality of “doing more with less,” but facing the reality.
As I wrote about previously, Charlotte Mecklenburg has been working hard to refocus their efforts following the budget hardships of the past few years.
And as with many libraries, Singleton and his staff have sought to bolster these renewed efforts with analytics and demographics data based on hard numbers and utilization of new uses of existing resources.
In one illuminating example, Singleton described an alternative outlet for many of the used books the library has weeded and designated for sale. Traditionally, the sale of these and similar donated materials is the province of friends groups, which use the proceeds to supplement library budgets. And Charlotte has that going on, too.
But they also have a partnership with Goodwill that nicely complements the physical books sales. Whereas popular fiction and a few other collection areas are stalwart materials for friends’ group sales in branches, there are many other materials that have significant value but may not have a local audience.
Charlotte works with Goodwill to get these books listed online. After the library scans the books for inclusion, the rest of the heavy lifting is done by Goodwill to price the items and get them into outlets for sale. With relatively little extra effort, the library earned some $40,000 in the first six months of the program, and roughly $70,000 in the first year. As an added benefit, the funds go directly to the library’s budget.
Meanwhile, Singleton also echoed the benefits of granular data about the library and its collections. I previously noted his example working with the demographics department of the county, but he also mentioned the insight the library has been able to glean into the use and movement of its collections via CollectionHQ, which has been crucial to them in managing their floating collections.
On this trip, we’ve seen example after example of libraries focusing on outcomes and success stories, and heard from dozens more librarians at these libraries and the meetups in each city about telling us that they could do more with better access to library data. As Chesterfield County Library public service administrator Library Nanci Clary put it to us at a meetup in Richmond, “it’s about taking information and transforming that into usable knowledge” — making it work for the library and therefore its users.
It was a common refrain: They want more data out of their systems, and they want to easy-to-use tools with which to work with that data. Whether the pressure is coming from county administrators or other overseers demanding increased documentation of return on investment, it all comes down measuring what a library can do with its dollars.
As we head toward on to the last leg of our trip, we’ll continue to talk to librarians and administrators about how they’re tackling this issue, and the tools that help them make the case to internal and external stakeholders.