Consumers these days can do almost anything with a click of a mouse or a tap on a screen. Goods can be bought and delivered within hours. New products can be easily browsed. And online advertising seems to magically target its ideal audience, connecting customers with items matching their needs and wants.
This easy and instant access to goods and information is changing consumer expectations and could threaten our more established institutions, notably libraries. With budget constraints and limited resources, libraries can’t be expected to invest millions in research and development, experiment with unproven gadgets, or compete with the tech giants driving these changes. While technology presents a threat, however, it also offers solutions for ensuring libraries remain relevant and essential parts of our communities. One tool that can help ensure a library’s longevity is what’s known as big data.
Big data refers to the storage and management of huge data sets. In 2013, the Oxford English Dictionary added big data, which it defines as: … data of a very large size, typically to the extent that its manipulation and management present significant logistical challenges. Big data in a library setting may include a dataset of five terabytes or larger. To put this in context, five terabytes could hold one million music tracks or 85,000 hours of music, according to Public Libraries Online.
One advantage big data can provide libraries is the ability to better understand their patrons and communicate with them more effectively. Data gathered from surveys and other means, for example, can be analyzed to create in-depth patron profiles based on demographics and psychographics of a community. Reliable profiles will let libraries respond to changing tastes and plan events and services truly desired by the local community.
Big data also has the potential to give libraries insight into the specific tools to better reach new and existing patrons. Do your patrons prefer to be contacted on social media, and if so, on which platform? Do they follow Facebook or are they devoted to Twitter or Snapchat? Big data can shed light into the answers.
Another important way big data is helping safeguard a library’s future is by helping staff more effectively match material supply with demand. Libraries can use sophisticated data-based collection tools such as collectionHQ to understand what their patrons are reading, what patrons in neighboring areas are reading, and how other libraries are performing. Librarians can use this information to better meet local demand and introduce patrons to new titles. collectionHQ also lets libraries see how physical books are performing compared to ebooks, helping inform decisions about which technology they should employ.
Evidence-based Selection Planning, or ESP, is another example of a powerful, predictive tool that combines the hard evidence of data analytics with the intuition of human knowledge to guide decisions. Libraries can use this machine-learning tool integrated with their online ordering platform to make predictions about how pre-published titles are likely to perform, leading to better decisions about what quantity to buy and where to locate titles.
As more of our everyday tasks move online, big data will continue to offer new and exciting possibilities for libraries to create a personal and memorable patron experience.