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New York Library Looks To BI Software For Help

The massive library system, facing a $23 million budget cut, hopes business intelligence software will help it make the right decisions about staffing and hours.
The New York Public Library faces a $23 million funding cut from the proposed mayoral budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 -- the expected result is hundreds of job cuts and slashed operating hours.

Meanwhile, the library's 91 branches are getting more visitors than ever, as New Yorkers look to escape a chilly recession for the comforts of free books and Wi-Fi.

Will a $250,000 investment in business intelligence software help?

The library system, which served nearly 17 million visitors last year, finished implementing a customized business intelligence system, based on Information Builders' WebFocus software. It couldn't have come at a better time. The library is using the system to track visitor traffic, borrowing habits, and other key metrics so managers can make better decisions about which library resources and services are most important to the general public, said director of strategy Sarah Gillinson.

Dubbed Metrics On Demand, it replaces a spreadsheet-based reporting system. It also tracks the library's vast holdings, more than 15 million borrower transactions each year, and the accounts of 2 million cardholders. Library personnel can analyze attendance and circulation on computerized dashboards and generate graphic reports of data.

The library faces tough decisions between now and July, and the system will assist in determining staffing levels and hours for each site, said Gillinson.

"Manhattan is a very different community from Northern Bronx," she said. "Harlem is quite family-oriented; it doesn't have strong traffic in the morning, but does in the afternoon and evenings. But our branch at 58th has very strong early morning and lunchtime crowds."

And knowing at what times people are using computers helps make decisions about the best hours for staffing personnel with computer skills. "It's allowing us to view the different relationships between print and nonprint materials, and to ask the right questions," Gillinson said.

Meanwhile, libraries everywhere are seeing rising attendance and point to the recession as the cause. And it's not just for the free books and other materials. Gillinson's new business intelligence system tells her that between November and February, attendance at the main lion-guarded library on 42nd Street was about 480,000, up more than 21% from the same period the previous year. She attributes much of that rise to the free Wi-Fi offering that started last year.

"The economic crunch means we're potentially facing cuts," Gillinson said. "There's no doubt that having better information will allow us to make decisions that least impact the community."

You give employees electronic reports, but are you helping them make better day-to-day decisions? InformationWeek has published an independent analysis of this topic. Download the report here (registration required).