How Focusing on Data Can Help Calgary Public Library Tackle Inequality
Statistics were a success story of the library, touting the number of visits, or the number of books in digital and physical collections in circulation. Now the Calgary Public Library wants to focus on how its large database can highlight where there are inequalities in the system in order to better serve its users.
“We are one of the largest library systems in North America and we are proud of the impact we are having,” said Mary Kapusta, Director of Communications.
“The pandemic has shown us [that] we have to look beyond the big numbers. We need to understand the gaps. “
This work is led by Library Business Analyst Trevor Myers, who helps the library leverage the millions of data points it collects each year.
“I’m looking at the data side, the stats here at the library, taking that information and trying to make sense of these big, aggregate numbers,” Myers said. “I’m trying to contextualize it so that… we can improve the services we provide.”
Digital circulation has exploded with the pandemic
On March 15, 2020, when then-mayor Naheed Nenshi declared a state of local emergency, he said the decision to close Calgary public library branches was particularly heartbreaking because they are a lifeline. rescue service for many of the city’s residents.
The effect of the closures was immediate. Many users flocked online for books and movies, and the library quickly adapted and started offering some services, like story time for children, in digital form.
“Our digital circulation has exploded,” Kapusta said. “Almost 30 percent of all broadcasting is digital. But it depends on your devices in your home. It may depend on how flexible your schedule is.”
But before the pandemic, some of the busiest locations in the system were not bustling due to the circulation of books. These were spaces where users gathered to study, write resumes, play cards, and gain reliable Internet access.
So when the pandemic forced locations to close, Myers said those users had nowhere to go – and the data showed him they hadn’t made the leap to access online services.
To remedy an immediate injustice, the library launched a Chromebook loaner program. Before the pandemic, laptops were required to stay inside library branches, but users can now disconnect them and take them home for up to eight weeks. And for those who don’t have internet access at home, there’s a new WiFi lending service.
“It really shows the importance for us of targeting specific in-person activities and activating those spaces in those neighborhoods,” Myers said.
These types of adjustments are due to the data to which the library has access. And as Calgary and the world fall into a new normal, the library may emerge from the pandemic stronger with this new direction.
“As we use these data tools, we can get more and more detail,” Myers said.
“I can break it down not only by the number of visits to a location, but the number of visits each day of the year, and average to find that for some reason Tuesdays at 11 am are the most common times. loaded for a specific location. “
Kapusta said this kind of granular information told the library that teens returned earlier than other library users.
They are told that some places, like Signal Hill, serve more as a place to come in and take a hold, while branches like Forest Lawn are reaching capacity every day due to the number of users looking to sit and take a seat. stay awhile.
As the system continues to grow with the city, she added, it can tell them where to put what services and open new library branches.
“At the Calgary Public Library, our power is that we can mirror the city to itself, and data is the way to dig that deep,” Kapusta said.