New York Library Association. - The eBulletin

Making Sense of Data – Facility. Interpreting and Organizing by 5 Categories - Capacity. Use. Access. Condition. Functional Relationships.

Part 10 of the Facility Planning Series by Karen Watson & Robert Hubsher

“It is thrifty to prepare today for the wants of tomorrow.” -Aesop (620 BC - 560 BC), The Ant and the Grasshopper.

The concept of ‘being prepared’ has been with us from our earliest time as members of families and social groups. Louis Pasteur is noted to have said that “Where observation is concerned, chance favors only the prepared mind.”  Your entire library building project depends upon knowing countless, detailed facts about your library and why they demonstrate that your existing library space does not meet the requirements of your strategic plan. Having answers ready for members of the public, your Board and City or Town Councils can possibly make or break your bid for funding. Later, as you begin to work with design professionals and contractors, having facts at hand can save your project from disaster.

In the last article we introduced the ways that you are able to organize your observations, discussions, investigations and statistics captured in your project’s data collection phase. We continue this topic, delving into it to demonstrate to you the more profound reasons for you to embrace this process oriented phase of your work as leader of your library building project.

We began by allotting two parts to the topic of Capacity – “amount’ and “capacity”.

The capacity of a building or a specific space is limited by the square feet available and the building codes that define the number of people permitted to occupy a given space, the required width of doorways, number of doors, etc. You need to determine whether each area in the building is used to full capacity. Can you add furniture, equipment or shelving? Is there space to accommodate more people at programs?

The second part of our use of the term ‘capacity’ refers to the capability of the existing furniture and equipment (including the equipment within the building infrastructure, like Air Conditioning; Parking for Cars and bikes; ramps for movement challenged users, data cabling and WiFi server capacity, etc.) to accommodate the users’ needs or total demand. Gather this data through observation. For example, do users seem to spread their belongings beyond the allocated space at tables and carrels? Is a table that was intended for use by several people never used to capacity, while it is evident that other users need a workspace? Do users work in small groups at a workstation intended for one user? At computer workstations, do users have sufficient space for their belongings or for taking notes? Are there sufficient chairs and tables, carrels and computer workstations etc.?
This data will help you determine if you have the appropriate furniture or if the furniture is the right size or configuration. For instance, if data indicates that small groups, working with computers, is a common activity and you find that there is no furniture to accommodate this need, you will need to consider different types of furniture or the reconfiguration of existing furniture. In some cases, data will point you in the direction of investigating the design of custom furniture to meet specific needs. This approach should not be automatically ruled out, as experience shows that it is not always the more expensive option.

It is much easier to determine the space requirements for existing services and programs for which you have data. Your goal is to meet the space requirements that can accommodate the services and programs outlined in the strategic plan. If the data clearly shows that demand exceeds availability and that there is a trend of continuing or growing demand, it will be easier to justify expanding a particular space. Conversely, you will not be able to justify a building design in which spaces are sized to accommodate maximum capacity that is rarely, if ever, reached. For example, if six times a year you have turned people away from a program in your multipurpose room, it will be difficult to argue for a larger space; likewise if two or three times a year the demand for parking exceeds the space available it will be hard to justify a larger parking lot.

You will need to provide other forms of justification for adding a space to provide services or programs not currently offered. These may be found in regional, provincial or national trends indicating that these services or programs are becoming common in other communities. Data about your community's demographic trends will also be useful in supporting the case for these services.

Acquiring data about the number of people occupying the various spaces within the building and how they are using the furniture and equipment will allow you to determine user demand. This data can help you assess whether user needs are being adequately accommodated. Data about use will vary based on factors such as season, day of the week, time of day and the interests of library users.

If your library has a “people counter” device, saves usage data from computer signup sheets and attendance at events or programs, and has an ILS, you already have data about the number of people entering the building, using computers, attending programs and the number of items borrowed and returned daily. You may need to refine this data collection to provide more detailed information about usage during different days of the week and at different hours during the day and whether people were placed on waiting lists or turned away.

If your library does not track use by the means listed above, you will have to manually count throughout a full cycle of library use, the number of items circulated and returned, and observe and record the number of people entering the building, attending programs and using computers.

Documenting data about the number of people occupying different parts of the building, using various furniture and equipment and lining up at service counters will have to be done through observation.

Survey your library users about their satisfaction with your library services. You might ask about ease of finding materials, wait times to check out materials or to speak with a reference librarian, whether the furniture and equipment meets their needs or provides sufficient space for their belongings, the availability of parking, etc. You will also want to ask staff for their opinions about the furniture and work areas, how well they function and how they can be improved.


Data demonstrating that certain areas of the building are underused may indicate various possibilities:

•    that the services or programs associated with those spaces may no longer be in demand;
•    that the area is difficult to access (see next section) or is unattractive and poorly furnished, or that the service associated with the space is poorly promoted.

Your observations and conversations with users and staff will help you to determine what action is required.

Data about the ability to approach, enter or use the library facility, or a particular space, furniture or equipment within the facility, will help determine if your library complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) prohibits discrimination and ensures equal opportunity for persons with disabilities in employment, State and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation. It also mandates the establishment of TDD/telephone relay services. The current text of the ADA includes changes made by the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-325), which became effective on January 1, 2009. The ADA was originally enacted in public law format and later rearranged and published in the United States Code. On Friday, July 23, 2010, Attorney General Eric Holder signed final regulations revising the Department's ADA regulations, including its ADA Standards for Accessible Design. The official text was published in the Federal Register on September 15, 2010 (corrections to this text were published in the Federal Register on March 11, 2011). More information about ADA is available from the United States Department of Justice and Civil Rights Division at:

This web site provides links to the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design here.

Observing how people of all ages and abilities access your library building will also help you determine if the unique needs of all library users in your community are accommodated. For instance, are the stacks, service counter and furniture in the children's area appropriately sized for all ages of children? Frontline staff are well placed to see barriers that affect library users’ access and they hear about these issues from the users.

Inviting input from representatives of organizations in your community that serve people with disabilities, seniors, children, teens and parent groups, can be very helpful in identifying access issues that may not have been considered.

Data gathering about access issues will include measuring such things as:
•    the distance between stacks;
•    the height of shelving;
•    the wheelchair turning radius in aisles and washrooms;
•    height of service desks, tables and carrels;
•    the approach to service desks, and ramp lengths.

Observing people as they enter the building and move from one area to another will provide information about how well the building layout accommodates their needs. For example:
•    is it easy to find the reference desk or circulation counter?
•    can they find the photocopier, restrooms or the children's department? 
•    are directional signs visible and readable? do they meet ADA standards?
•    are the stacks clearly identified?
•    do computer users have easy access to data ports and electrical outlets?
•    is it possible to navigate and park strollers without obstructing traffic?

This data will provide valuable information about traffic patterns within the building and help to identify bottlenecks, difficult to access areas, areas that are difficult to monitor, and areas which require secure and/or limited access.

Remember to include your staff in this process. Collecting data about access issues within staff areas is equally important and sometimes overlooked. Not only does this data help you to plan for suitable ergonomic workstations for staff, it will also help to identify staff traffic flows throughout the building. This information will aid in improving staff efficiency and effectiveness. If your staff can do their jobs well and efficiently, they will be better prepared to interact with your library patrons in a manner that helps forge positive connections with your community.

The physical characteristics of the building or space within the building to be assessed include the obvious elements – walls, ceilings, floors, windows, doors, finishes and coverings. They also include the building systems, (HVAC, electric and data wiring and lighting) furniture, signage and equipment. The condition of these elements is determined through direct observation. For example, is a particular room or area often too warm, too cool or stuffy? Recording this data for each room or area in your library will be helpful on a number of levels.

Should the outcome of the building review lead to a renovation and/or addition, you will have the information required to determine such issues as:

•    which surfaces need repainting;
•    whether the floor coverings need to be replaced;
•    whether the furniture and equipment can be retained;
•    which rooms or areas have adequate lighting; where the HVAC works well or poorly.

If the data indicates the need for a new building, you will know which finishes (floor coverings, paint, etc.) performed successfully and should be considered for the new building, as well as the finishes which should be avoided. In addition, you will have an inventory of the furniture and equipment that can be retained and moved to the new building.

Monitor online discussions like those on LinkedIn, NYLINE and ALA to keep in touch with such mundane subjects as librarians seeking input from fellow librarians about what carpet tiles work well and how to manage concrete floors. Your colleagues are a great wealth of information on every subject imaginable when it comes to a library building.

See the useful workforms included in Managing Facilities for Results: Optimizing Space for Services by Cheryl Bryan. Workform 9: Have - Furniture and Equipment.

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