CIVICTechnologies’ March 2016 white paper, “Core Customer Intelligence: Public Library Reach, Relevance and Resilience” report findings from a one-year study of ten public library systems in the United States. The findings provide insight into commonalities of public library patrons and their behavior across the nation. The Core Customer Intelligence report is based on analysis a data set of over 67.4 million patron transactions and four million customers that occurred in 2014 at ten participating library systems. The authoring company is CIVICTechnologies, which specializes in customized location-based web software and offers demographic analysis, urban planning, and strategic planning.
The study focuses on behavior of “core customers,” the most active library patrons. CIVICTechnologies defines this type of user “as the top 20% of the ‘most active’ and ‘high volume’ cardholders who check out physical library materials.” As the title of the white paper indicates, this report focuses on the reach, relevance, and resilience of public libraries.
Reach is the breadth of customer groups engaged by each public library studied. The study found that public library patrons in the sample represent diverse elements of the population. The white paper argues that custom segmentation services, which CIVICTechnologies offers, are critical to better understanding the current reach of the public library and identifying strategies for improving this aspect of the organizational performance. The white paper concludes that public libraries have a broad reach into many segments of the customer market, demonstrating that public libraries serve diverse user groups.
Relevance explores the relationship of customer segments with their library. This area of study also seeks to measure the strength of the relationship between the library and its patrons. The white paper advocates for a benchmarking approach of metrics capturing elements of the library’s reach (notably, this is also a service offered by CIVICTechnologies). Per the findings of this study, the relevance of public libraries is local, or specific to the community. The report focuses on “each community’s uniquely local alignment of core customer, card holder and community market segments.”
A shortcoming of the study’s approach regards customer segmentation. This approach focuses exclusively on current customers. On one hand, customer libraries can learn about their current customers and how to improve in the future. However, a large piece of the puzzle is missing. This type of study doesn’t explain why non-patrons do not use the library. Additionally, the internal focus does not address new patron acquisition.
Lastly, resilience explores the abilities of the studied libraries to keep up with change and maintain relationships. This area underpins strategic planning initiatives as it informs relevant directions for today’s library services, programs, and collections. In short, there is not one pathway or strategy that is a good fit for all or most public libraries. The study shares demonstrated examples of how libraries have developed resilient strategies based on analysis of the organization’s reach and relevance. Customization of services, programs, and collections is critical to meeting local demands.
Challenges and conclusion
One challenge that is fully recognized by the authors is that this study relies heavily on circulation data, which tends to be easily accessible as it is primarily held within one data source, the library’s interlibrary loan system. The study does not capture use of public computers, program attendance, or use of other library services, as data on these tend to more difficult to collect. All in all, this study offers a window into the nature of current patron use of library collections.
The white paper concludes that “the business of libraries is hyperlocal.” This finding is illuminating and thought-provoking for libraries. The reader should keep in mind, however, that this white paper has the additional commercial purpose of positively highlighting the resources that CIVICTechnologies offers.
View the executive summary and the full report at http://civictechnologies.com/core-customer-intelligence.