Adapting Operations Data Collection in Response to COVID-19 (Part 1)

January 3, 2022

History of the Library Operations Data Program

In 2016 Library Operations staff began a strategic approach to data collection and analysis. The goal was to develop practices and systems that could help us better understand what was happening in the public spaces of our buildings, at our service desks, and how our physical collections moved, so we could use this information to aid decision-making about changes to our services. Early efforts focused on gathering comprehensive and consistent data about library traffic, public space use, and desk interactions across our locations. 

The Library Environments team worked with Operations colleagues, including service point supervisors and a Data Stewards team, to grow the data program; developing collection methods, collecting data, cleaning and analyzing data, and then synthesizing it into recommendations. With each collection method we took an approach of piloting the method, gathering feedback from data collecting staff and operations managers, and then expanding across our locations. 

The program eventually involved service point staff collecting gate counts and building head counts using Suma every 4 hours, and classifying and logging every interaction with a patron at our desks using a product called Desk Tracker. We also used regular reports created by Library Information Technology staff to understand checkouts and hold requests. In addition to this regular data collection, we did more in depth Suma counts a few times a year, and conducted project based studies on space use. 

We incorporated assessment into the program as we went, by testing individual methods, and the information we could synthesize from the data. Our efforts were due for reflection when events outside of our control forced a pause to our regular data collection: when the library closed because of the Coronavirus pandemic in spring of 2020, our regular data collection also necessarily stopped. 


A Pandemic Forces Changes 

The interruption to services caused by COVID-19 meant two things for our data program: 

  • A need to develop new collection strategies to give us the information to manage our modified services for the 2020-2021 academic year
  • an opportunity to conduct a deep reflection and assessment of how our regular data collection had been going, and to be ready to make changes as we reinstituted more regular services.

Library Data Collection Aug. 2020 - Aug. 2021

In the period prior to the pandemic Library Environments had a comprehensive system in place to track occupancy of Library spaces and usage of its services. This involved both passive measures (e.g. recording numbers from the counting devices at entrances to Library buildings) and active measures (e.g. periodic counts conducted by staff and recorded in the Suma software, and recording patron questions using Desk Tracker). 

This system, of course, ended in mid-March 2020 when all Library buildings were closed to the public. For the next several months no measurements were possible or necessary.  

This changed at the beginning of Fall Term 2020 as the Library, and the University as a whole, opened to the public, albeit in a very limited way. Unlimited access to the buildings was not allowed due to the pandemic, so a registration system was set up for study spaces (study tables, study rooms and computers) in the Shapiro Library. At first, registrations had to be made a day in advance, but this was soon changed to allow registrations up to the beginning of the available half-hour blocks.

Although the previous methods of measuring Library traffic and usage were no longer available, the silver lining in this cloud was that a very precise and detailed picture of the usage of the limited Library space available could be assembled. For the Fall Term of 2020 through the Spring/Summer term of 2021, the following numbers of persons reserved the available spaces in the Shapiro Library:

Study Rooms

Study rooms reservation data

* Study rooms were closed part way through the fall term due to consistent non-compliance with COVID rules for the spaces.

Study Tables

Study tables data

Public Computers

Public computers data

Maximum and average percentages of the total capacity of each type of study space reserved were as follows:

Study Rooms

Study rooms maximum and average data

Study Tables

Study tables maximum and average data

Public Computers

Public computers maximum and average data

The data collected during the pandemic showed a number of things, among them the following:

  • Although there was a decrease in use over the semester, there was solid and enduring use of Library spaces
  • Although the total number of reservations declined, the percentage of reservations kept generally increased
  • The maximum percent of capacity reached for public computers shows that there was demand for this service, although not all the time, and perhaps not at the levels made available
  • The Library’s capacity was never truly strained for any study spaces

Overall, the constraints of the pandemic allowed us to collect a much more detailed look at how the Library’s spaces were being used than was possible in normal conditions. This was useful for decision making about how to adjust services across the next two semesters.

The description of our assessment experience will continue in the next Tiny Studies blog post.