Geographic Information Systems: Tools for Displaying In-Library Use Data

Article excerpt

In-library use data is crucial for modern libraries to understand the full spectrum of patron use, including patron self-service activities, circulation, and reference statistics. Rather than using tables and charts to display use data, a geographic information system (GIS) facilitates a more visually appealing graphical display of the data in the form of a map. GISs have been used by library and information science (LIS) researchers and practitioners to create maps that display analyses of service area populations and demographics, facilities space management issues, spatial distribution of in-library use of materials, planned branch consolidations, and so on. The "seating sweeps" method allows researchers and librarians to collect in-library use data regarding where patrons are locating themselves within the library and what they are doing at those locations, such as sitting and reading, studying in a group, or socializing. This paper proposes a GIS as a tool to visually display in-library use data collected via "seating sweeps" of a library. By using a GIS to store, manage, and display the data, researchers and librarians can create visually appealing maps that show areas of heavy use and evidence of the use and value of the library for a community. Example maps are included to facilitate the reader's understanding of the possibilities afforded by using GISs in LIS research.


The modern public library operates in a context of limited (and often continually reduced) funding where the librarians must justify the continued value of the library to funding and supervisory authorities. This is especially the case as more and more patrons access the library virtually, calling into question the relevance of the physical library. In this context, there is a great need for librarians and researchers to evaluate the use of library facility space to demonstrate that the physical library is still being used for important social and educational functions. Despite this need, no model of public library facility evaluation emphasizes the ways patrons use library facilities. The systematic collection of in-library use data must go beyond traditional circulation and reference transactions to include self-service activities, group study and collaboration, socializing, and more.

Geographic information systems (GISs) are beginning to become deployed in library and information science (LIS) research as a tool for graphically displaying data. An initial review of the literature has yielded studies where a GIS has been used in analyzing service area populations through U.S. Census data; (1) sitting facility locations; (2) managing facilities, including spatial distribution of in-library book use and occupancy of library study space; (3) and planning branch consolidations. (4) These uses of GIS are not mutually exclusive; studies have combined multiple uses of GISs. (5) Also, GISs have been proposed as viable tools for producing visual representations of measurements of library facility use. (6) These studies show the capabilities of a GIS for storing, managing, analyzing, and displaying in-library use data and the value of GIS-produced maps for library facility evaluations, in-library use research, and library justification.

* Research purpose

Observing and measuring the use of a library facility is a crucial step in the facility evaluation process. The library needs to understand how the facility is currently being used in order to justify the continued financial support necessary to maintain and operate it. Understanding how the facility is used can also help librarians identify high-traffic areas of the library that are ideal locations to market library services and materials. This understanding cannot be reached by analyzing circulation and reference transaction data alone; it must include in-library use measures that account for all ways patrons are using the facility. The purpose of this paper is to suggest a method by which to observe and record all uses of a library facility during a sampling period, the so-called "seating sweep" performed by Given and Leckie, and then to use a GIS to store, manage, and display the collected data on a map or series of maps that graphically depict library use. …


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