Merton Libraries are thrilled: Nex.Count secures our future
Optical visitor counting as the key to success
Evaluation of services and programmes is central to any library's ability to soundly assess its own offerings and thereby solidify the library's standing within the community. With a precise, visual people counter, visitor frequency and trends can be reliably recorded to measure the success of services and enable ideal staff planning.
Following a tender process, Merton Libraries replaced their previous tool with the new Nex.Count in September 2021. It now uses a solution that has been proven in the retail sector for many years and is flexible enough to adapt to the different needs of the library sector. Unlike many commercially available devices that detect people's movements with cameras, Nex.Count uses infrared technology. The high reliability and measurement accuracy were decisive factors in the choice of the tool. The people counter can differentiate between body sizes, i.e., children and adults. This is a plus point that is very much appreciated in Merton because of the numerous school class programmes. Staff members passing through the entrance can be automatically and easily excluded from the measurement so as not to distort the statistics.
For Karren Whyte, Head Librarian of West Barnes Library, one of seven locations of the British Merton Libraries, it is clear: "In order to secure the future of the library locations, it is essential to use an accurate people counter. In addition, it is of course important for us to evaluate exactly how our services are received by the people. The new people counter provides us with meaningful performance metrics for this." The team in Merton is aware that correct, regular reporting, including visitor numbers, is fundamental to securing the library's desired budget in the long term.
Modern data management
With its dimensions (approx. 20 cm x 11 cm x 3 cm) and 550 g, Nex.Count is a real lightweight. The sensor was mounted directly on the ceiling in the entrance area. In a very short time, the devices were completely set up in the branches without interfering with the ongoing library operations. The Nexbib team took plenty of time to set up the sensors perfectly and to check that all persons were well detected.
The data can be accessed at any time via a specific URL. Together with the library team, the preferred layout of the reports was created so that they can be easily accessed at the touch of a button. Data can be collected hourly, daily, weekly or monthly. This has significantly reduced the amount of time previously spent on this administrative activity. The data management dashboard is not only easy to use, but thanks to its modern integration, it always works reliably, which Merton welcomes.
Especially during the pandemic, Nex.Count offers additional security. The device not only measures the number of people entering, but also mirrors the actual room occupancy. This allows the library to immediately detect when the maximum limit of people per room has been reached and take appropriate action. "It is still very important to us that everyone feels safe in our library. We are doing everything we can to bring our visitor frequency back up to the high level we had before the pandemic," says Karren.
To modernise was critical
The people counter that had been in use in previous years did not provide the desired measurement accuracy. So, Merton Libraries went in search of a more powerful solution. Especially the important group of children fell through the cracks when counting with the old device. Since Merton hosts many programmes with school classes, this was a definite drawback. Karren explains, "When whole groups of students entered the library together, the previous system could not provide an accurate measurement. Thus, it no longer met our needs."
Merton is extremely satisfied with the smooth operation and accurate, discrete measurement process. "We finally feel confident that we are getting a true reflection of the actual number of our visitors inside. People don't even notice the people counter - it just works," the librarian is pleased to say. And she emphasises: "The Nexbib team has always been very helpful."
About Merton Libraries: Focusing on the community
The challenges posed by the pandemic have been felt first hand by Merton Libraries: Visitor numbers have plummeted. Even though the online services have been very popular, the challenge now is to attract more people back to the library.
Merton is therefore developing new strategies to provide an inspiring, safe place for her community and to develop new programmes. Collaborations with local service providers and businesses will help. "Our libraries are used by people of all ages. Libraries need to move with the times, focusing solely on lending books is not sustainable. The library needs to be a hub of activity for the whole community," explains the library manager.
The London Borough of Merton is located in South West London and is an economically diverse area with correspondingly diverse needs of residents. There are seven library locations in total and a mobile delivery service for those who are unable to visit the library themselves. The range of services and activities is enormous. Karren Whyte comments, "Our libraries do not see themselves as traditional libraries that are purely lending stations. We are Health & Wellness Centres, event venues and much more. The wealth of services is incredible." For example, the cooperation with local GPs is remarkable, allowing the library to act as a Health Hub. Job seekers are also actively supported. Children's and family programmes come as standard to establish the library as a low-threshold third place for the whole community.
More at Merton Libraries.