New York Library Association. - The eBulletin

Facility Planning: Gathering Data

Part 4 of the Facility Planning Series by Karen Watson & Robert Hubsher

The temptation to form premature theories upon insufficient data is the bane of our profession.
 ~ Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

INTELLIGENT VISIONING:  It is essential to the success of your library project to have a vision.  The clearer this vision, the better will be the final result.  Intelligent Visioning combines your vision with data to back up all your decisions and to help guide the vision into action.

In order to collect meaningful and useful data, you will need to know what topics and issues that need examination and why and how they tie into your Strategic Plan.

Efficient and intelligent planning will help you achieve the vision you and your community have for your library.

So many dreams are left to languish and fade.
VISION must be combined with ACTION!

  • Vision without Action is only a Dream

  • Dreaming without Action is a Wasted Opportunity

  • Action without Vision is Time Wasted

  • Vision with Action leads to Change

  • Action with Vision gets you Results

How do you advance from your dream to your library project?  Let's recap.
In the NYLA Bulletin Article 2 in this series we talked about the importance of doing the work to produce a Strategic Plan that is relevant to your library and community.  Your library's STRATEGIC PLAN begins to take shape as you gather various types of data on each of your four resources - STAFF, COLLECTIONS, TECHNOLOGY AND FACILITY.1

DATA will show you, and help you to show your Board and Community, where your current resources meet or fall short of those required to meet strategic objectives.  Throughout the process of gathering data a picture will emerge that will guide you in the direction you need to go.  Ultimately the DATA will help you to allocate resources to serve your community needs.

COMMUNITY NEEDS – needs identified by the community as those required to support and enhance the quality of life in the community.  

LIBRARY SERVICE PRIORITIES – the key service responses of the library to address the set of identified community needs.

MISSION STATEMENT - a clear statement of the overall purpose of the library.

GOALS - the broad outcomes the library will achieve, usually no more than 4 to 6 (e.g. "Everyone is information literate.")

OBJECTIVES – clear objective statements that help to measure the library’s progress toward reaching its goals (e.g. "X% of the community will attend information literacy training and be certified information literate within Y years.")

ACTIVITIES - what the library will do to accomplish the objectives (e.g. "Build a computer lab;    Hire or train staff to be information literacy trainers; Offer training opportunities each month.")

1     Sandra Nelson, Strategic Planning for Results. American Library Association, 2008.

DATA GATHERING - What It Is, What It Involves

Well substantiated, reliable data leads to sound decision making.  Well formulated decisions lead to a successful finished library building project (whether reorganizing a room/adding a wing or new building).  Gathering, recording and understanding the data that describes the library’s activities, services, programs and usage will also build your confidence.  Understanding the data and how and where it was collected will help you to answer challenges and questions about the library project.  Making good decisions, based on data, throughout the library project will enhance your credibility in the library and community.

Librarians are particularly well equipped to lead the process from Strategic Plan to operation of a new building because they have the skills and deep understanding of their profession.

The data that you collect becomes the common thread that runs throughout the building project and forms the basis of communication and the translation from the language of librarianship to the language of the built environment used by designers/builders/architects.  

Effective and meaningful conversation with your staff and library users gives a better chance that the outcome (space, building, addition etc.) will be a success.  This process takes:

  • Time
  • Effort
  • Organization
  • Documentation and
  • Research

This process has been done thousands of times with varying degrees of success in libraries across the world and it is possible, with your informed guidance and attention to detail and organization, to do it well at your library.  Begin gathering data early in the process.  Constantly and consistently gather data for those issues that are ongoing.  Keep updating data that is obviously changing.

Data gathering is an organized and systematic retrieval of numbers, statistics, and information.  
Data can be obtained through research, measurement, observation, focus groups and surveys.  Data can be quantitative or qualitative:

Quantitative data defines (counting or outputs); whereas qualitative data describes (outcomes or satisfaction).

In a library building project, quantitative data will provide information about such things as the size of your collection; the number of chairs and tables or workstations; the number of staff, the number of users entering the building and demographic information about your community.

Qualitative data will provide you with information about user satisfaction with available resources and the subjective, intangible perceptions and experiences of library users.  It is important to describe the qualities that you like or dislike about a space or a part of a library or building.  Qualities can include everything that is not immediately quantifiable such as, the quality of afternoon sun in the reading room or the welcoming feeling of the foyer.  It will help the designer too, if you can explain why you do or do not like a certain aspect of a space.  Your designer will design a space to your quantitative needs and qualitative desires only if you can clearly pass that information on to her or him.

If a building is designed upon assumed requirements, it will not be the building you actually need to fulfill your Strategic Plan.  Assumptions are based on beliefs. Data will often contradict assumptions.  That is why you have to collect as much data as possible about your existing facility, collections, staff work procedures and work flows.  Make sure to include the things that work and don't work in your existing facility.  

Inefficient procedures usually have space implications, more efficient workflows within a department and between departments lead to a more efficiently designed architectural solution.  If you do not closely examine what you have now in the library and how it functions, you risk moving inefficiencies with you.

You can use the simple act of gathering data to start building interest in the project and renew the energy of your staff team.  Staff can begin to be involved with the library project very early in the process.  Their deep understanding of the work involved will help the project, and you, throughout the years of planning and to keep up momentum through times of setbacks and waiting for your project to come to fruition.

The types of data you and your staff will be collecting and recording will fall roughly into five categories:

Research - includes retrieving data from the library's automation system, (the integrated library system or ILS). Statistical reports from the ILS will provide detailed information about the number of library materials by type, number of circulations, number of registered borrowers, and so on. In addition, the ILS can produce reports on the items that are not circulating or circulate infrequently.
Research also includes reviewing census data for information about the demographic breakdown and population projections for your community.
Reviewing expenditures for heating and electricity for example, will help to give an indication of cost trends.

Measurement - involves actually counting or measuring, for example, counting the number of people who enter the library each day; measuring the linear feet for each collection; counting the number of people on the waiting list for computers.

Observation - involves observing activities to record patterns of use or workflow; watching how people interact in different spaces; recording the number and types of seats that are occupied at different hours of the day and days of the week and during different seasons; observing the use of study tables to record how often all of the available seats are used.

Focus groups and surveys (using paper forms, online, face-to-face, telephone interviews) are used to collect information from library users and/or staff about their perceptions of the library building; satisfaction with different services; adequacy of the collections; satisfaction with programs. Staff can be an invaluable source of user feedback as they frequently hear user complaints about experiences of perceived barriers to user needs as well as positive user experiences.

Informal interviews with library users and staff - these conversations can help to further refine the areas of interest and concern about the library building and flag issues that you may not have considered. Also, make time to interview people who provide services within your community, particularly those who are working with organizations that support the library's mission such as English as a Second Language, literacy organizations, etc.

Remain open and inquisitive throughout the time you are gathering data.

Do not make any assumptions about what the data will reveal. Rather, allow the data you collect to speak for itself. You may discover that some services or programs are underused, while demand for others is greater than your current capacity.

The data may point you in directions that you may not have considered, expand your options or help you to find solutions to problems or issues that you have grappled with before. Remember that the data gathering process allows you to see and document what exists now, as if your eyes, and the hand that records the data, are a camera taking a snap shot of your library today. It is important to remember that you are planning for tomorrow and possibly 50 years into the future.

Be sure to visit and look at what other libraries have done.  You can usually learn more easily from mistakes than from successes. If it works well you may not notice, but if it does not work you will immediately see that something is wrong.  Take notes.  Take photos. Organize your collection of facts and measurements and photos at the beginning of the process.  You will be relieved to have that information easily at hand when you are asked, three years into the project, why a certain decision was taken or why something was taken out of the design.

All of this takes enormous effort, but it is unavoidable if you are to remain the leader of your library project and the project is to be a success.  The preparation, research, documentation and attention to detail will ensure that your library project, no matter how small or large meets the directives of your Strategic Plan.

A word of caution, library building standards are only guides.  One such guide, The Southern Ontario Library System (SOLS) Library Development Guide #5 – Making the Case for Your Building Project, has standards that can be used to give you a very rough idea of the space your library may occupy.  There are serious limitations in using standards of any kind, from any source, as the final numbers used to estimate your library space requirements.  Generic/generalized standards do not take into account the individual needs of your community.

Here is a link to Section 5 - Estimating Space Requirements of the SOLS publication The Library Development Guide #5 Making the Case for Your Library Building Project: (PDF)

Section 5 refers to two methods for estimating space requirements the standards approach and the components approach; here is the link to the SOLS Standards Table (Minimum Square Footage and Square Feet/Metres Per Capita)

Here is the link to the Word format document version of the - Workform for Estimating Space Requirements using the Components Approach (DOC)

The act of gathering data in all its forms has five outcomes:  
1. To help you “make sense” of elements that will affect the library’s space requirements;
2. To assist you in assessing whether the current facility, and the furniture and equipment within it, are appropriate and adequate to support the attainment of the goals and objectives in the library’s strategic plan;
3. To help you determine the best course of action for your library, whether to reconfigure an existing space, renovate existing space, construct an addition to existing space, some combination of these options, or to build a new building;
4. To provide the data required to complete the area/room data sheets which are part of the library building program and an essential component of any renovation or construction project. In a future instalment to this series of articles we will discuss area/room data sheets.
5. The data collection process:

  • Supports you as a project leader for the library by providing you a solid, fact based decision-making framework.  You do not want to be caught off guard by questions for which you do not have fact-supported responses.   
  • Eliminates the danger of relying on fleeting personal impressions upon which to base concrete actions.  
  • Increases your credibility with your community and staff and gives you evidential, factual support in your dealings with design professionals.
  • Provides useful data for furniture and equipment needs and hence costs.
  • Provides useful information for your communication plan.

Our next set of articles, Making Sense of the Data, will lead you through the process about how you look at the data that you have collected and how you can you can use it to both make a case for your project and to support you through a building project.