Merton Libraries: A fresh Approach to People Counting
Merton Libraries thriving at the heart of the community
Effective people counting is a key tool for measuring the success of libraries' activities, giving library managers valuable information about their impact on library footfall. This enables the management team to effectively evaluate and report on footfall figures and trends. Feedback from libraries has highlighted that many existing systems simply don't deliver the levels of flexibility and accuracy that libraries need. So we have partnered with Irisys; with our extensive knowledge about the needs of libraries and their expertise in people counting we have been able to provide a new solution. This case study examines how an effective people counting solution has impacted the libraries of Merton.
“It is vital in protecting the future of libraries to be able to accurately report on library visitor figures.”
The London Borough of Merton is situated in the southwest of London, which includes Mitchem, Morden and Wimbledon. It's a diverse area economically and, as you would expect, the needs of the community vary throughout the borough. There are seven libraries for people who live, work, study or visit the borough along with a home visits library service for those unable to visit the libraries in person.
The libraries of Merton have an established role in the heart of the communities that they serve, and they have developed a wide range of services, events, and activities to meet the needs of all members of their local communities. Karren Whyte, Library Service Manager, Merton told us:
“Our libraries are not the traditional sort of book-lending library, we have so much more to offer… health & wellbeing hubs, events – the amount we put on in our libraries is incredible.”
Like all libraries, Merton have experienced first-hand the challenges that the pandemic has brought over the last 2 years, where library footfall has been significantly impacted. Though online services have seen growth in usage, a key strategic priority for the libraries of Merton is to encourage library users back into the libraries on a regular basis.
They are thinking innovatively about new ways to meet the needs of the community and provide safe and enriching spaces for their users through the introduction of new services, collaborations with other local organisations and businesses, as Karren explained, "Our libraries are used by people across all age ranges… Libraries must move with the times, simply relying on book borrowing is not sustainable. The library needs to be a hub of activities for the whole community".
Managed by an established team, Merton libraries understand that the future of their library service lies in finding new ways to interact with their library users creating a valuable third space that sits at the heart of community life in the borough.
Their range of services extends way beyond their thriving lending service to include supporting those looking for employment, fitness, children’s services and events, and a key focus is the development of libraries as Health Hubs by linking with local GPs.
Merton libraries take a holistic approach to their services and accurately measuring footfall will be a key KPI as part of the evaluation and measurement of the impact of these new library services.
“We are always looking for ways to measure the effect our services have on people’s lives and being able to accurately report our visitor figures is a key part of that.”
Finding a new people counting solution for Merton
The previous system was just not providing the level of accurate reporting needed, and as such was significantly undercounting footfall particularly for one of their key user groups – children. Merton Libraries regularly run school sessions for entire class groups at the library and so their existing system was no longer fit for purpose. Karren explained, "The previous solution couldn’t meet our needs of being able to accurately count multiple people entering the library together".
Like all libraries, the library management team are required to produce regular reports to demonstrate their libraries’ footfall. Being unable to accurately report a true picture of library footfall impacts library funding and ultimately the future of the library in the community, the loss of which would have a significant impact upon library users and the community at large.
As part of the selection and installation process we took time to listen to the needs of the Borough’s libraries, assessing the individual buildings within the estate and propose a new highly accurate and cost-effective solution for Merton Libraries’ people counting needs through the True Occupancy system.
“Nexbib were the stand-out organisation in the tendering process and were able to put together a solution that was right for us, at the right price.”
Nex.Count was installed in September 2021 once the tender had been approved. The initial installation was a smooth process with limited impact on the day-to-day operation of the library with the sensors having been discretely installed in the ceilings above each entrance point to the various buildings.
Our team at Nexbib were on hand to work with the library management team to assess the operational effectiveness of the system once it had been and installed, making adjustments to the positioning of the sensors to ensure that the smallest of children were being counted on their way into the library.
Accessing the data
When it comes to reporting, the data is accessed via a unique URL enabling both the Stock Team Manager and Library Manager to run their regular reports. Nexbib provided support to design and set up these reports so that each month the required data is available at the click of a button – greatly reducing the time taken on this administrative task.
Reliability and peace of mind
In the past parts of their previous system had relied upon battery power and as such could not be relied upon to be fully operational all the time. With Nex.Count this reliability has been greatly increased and through the management dashboard it is more easily managed giving peace of mind to the library management team.
The reaction to the system has been very positive. The data generated can be relied upon to be accurate and will be key in measuring the impact of their footfall driving strategy therefore protecting the future of the library service in the Borough.
“With the figures that we can now access we feel it is giving a true reflection of the number of people coming through our doors. The data we receive is now more reliable.”
"The team at Nexbib have been really responsive", Karren said of the support she and her team have received since the installation.
“People on site don’t notice the system – it just runs itself.”
Which is exactly what it was designed to do – provide accurate data simply with no impact on library users. The system is a terrific example of innovation and data helping to safeguard library services for the future.
The covid measures that we have had in place have impacted footfall, but it is important for us to continue to protect the safety of our visitors. We want people to know that the library is a safe space.
“We are continuing to focus our efforts on recovering our footfall to pre-pandemic levels and hope that, all being well, we will be able to lift measures and recover these figures in 2023.”
The role that accurate and effective people counting plays in supporting the recovery of libraries in this post-pandemic time cannot be underestimated. Through accurate and accessible data libraries like Merton have a reliable understanding of their footfall whether that’s hourly, daily, weekly or monthly. This information helps to ensure the safety and wellbeing of its users and understand the success of events, groups and new initiatives and their impact on library occupancy.
"It just works - it's great!" and that is the best endorsement that we can share on this innovative people counting solution for libraries!