New software helping Indy Library ‘buy smarter’

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – A new software analysis of Indianapolis’ Public Library system is beginning to tell the stories behind each of the 1.2 million books on library branch shelves. Advocates of the new digital approach to library management say both borrowers and taxpayers could reap the benefits for years to come.

The software, called “collectionHQ,” allows the library to better analyze its collection, including what patrons are most interested in.

“We take their usage statistics—their circulation data, export it out and put it in our cloud based application,” said collectionHQ Vice-President and General Manager Scott Crawford. “And we give them easy to use tools for understanding the trends of circulation and demand for content from a branch by branch or collection by collection basis.”

Indianapolis-Marion County Library began using that analysis last year, and it’s already yielding dividends.

For example, librarians now know that the average book sits on the shelf for about two weeks before it’s checked out. Where they sit–and for how long–helps the library better manage where to keep copies of books across each of its 22 branches.

Last year, the software also found 312,201 books—more than a quarter of the library’s collection–sat idle on shelves and were never checked out.

Crawford, who says his software is now used by more than 250 library systems across the country, advocates libraries pay increasing attention to those non-circulation figures. Many library administrators from those systems are in Indianapolis this week for the Public Library Association’s bi-annual conference. It’s the largest gathering of library administrators in the nation.

“This is really a changing environment,” he said. “Libraries don’t know how much to allocate to in digital versus physical. So, while I would say that number [in Indianapolis] is about average in a public library space, if 25 percent of your content is not moving, then it should not be on your shelves. Because, it just makes the other circulating material more difficult to find for readers.”

Indianapolis Library administrators want to use collectionHQ’s software to analyze why that’s happening and how to reverse the trend. Crawford says the key will be adjusting on the front end: as the library buys new material each year.

“As the library is using our tool, they’re weeding out and getting rid of the dead wood that is not moving. But, they’re also buying more effectively for the future. So, we’re able to look at what’s moving and then guide the collection development policy into the categories of content and material that do show evidence of high demand or high usage. And, what we find is: as you get rid of non-circulating material, that it allows the patron to discover more content that is more interesting, more relevant, more topical. And, circulation goes up as a result of that,” Crawford said.

Last year, budget data shows Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library spent $6.2 million buying new materials. And, while no data exists yet on how much the library might save by more effectively managing its circulation, Crawford says more targeted purchases can save the average large library system between $40,000 and $50,000 per year.

“This is the future,” he said. “Big data has opened up opportunities that did not exist 10-15 years ago, because the amount of data we’re analyzing just wasn’t possible. We think data and science can give libraries the tools they need to better manage their collections and better serve the public.”

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