How One Library is Using Data to Measure the Impact of Summer Reading and Other Outcomes

By: Susan Post

Prince George’s County Memorial Library System (PGCMLS) in Maryland is a resource to a diverse county of 900,000 residents. With 19 branches of varying size and 560,000 registered library customers, PGCMLS is teeming with data – what’s in, what’s out, what’s in circulation, but “We wanted to look at outcomes as well,” says Chief Operating Officer for Support Services Michael B. Gannon.

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A cloud-based SaaS that allows libraries to track and measure critical customer interactions,
Savannah is helping PGCMLS not only collect insights about their customers and use them to make strategic decisions, but allowing employees to see the direct impact of their efforts.

Early on, PGCMLS used Savannah as a segmentation tool. They were able to see where pockets of their over half a million library customers were displaying similar tendencies. Parts of the county saw a high circulation of materials, there were other areas where computer users were prevalent, and another segment showed a high concentration of Rising Stars, or those elementary and middle school students who use the library independently.

“We wanted to be able to take our limited resources and put them where we’ll get the best bang for the buck,” Gannon says.

One thing all 19 branches of the library do have in common is the summer reading program.

“The summer reading program is designed for pre-K through high school to prevent summer slide,” says Chief Operating Officer for Public Services Michelle H. Hamiel. PGCMLS found research that indicated the average student loses up to a month of instruction over the summer. To make sure local students went back to school ready to learn, the libraries designed a number of self-directed initiatives encouraging kids to do activities like read for 20 minutes a day, rewarding them for tasks completed.

PGCMLS designed an online registration form for their summer reading program that fed data right into the Savannah system. The form tracked valuable information like address, their school district, age and what materials they were checking out.

Until this year, PGCMLS was using physical registration on index cards, making for a tedious process with no real way to track participants.

“Using OrangeBoy they [PGCMLS staff] were able to see the impact of the number of people that registered at their branch that day,” Hamiel says. With 19,000 registered participants, “One of our successes is that we’ve had a 106.7 increase in the number of participants in the summer reading program.”

PGCMLS started outreach earlier this year, proactively targeting local school districts before summer vacation.

“We were able sign up twice the amount of participants over last year with the same resources (staff time) as last year,” Gannon says.

Using Savannah’s heat map, PGCMLS was then able to overlay a school district map over a map of the county and see which branches were most successful in their outreach to local schools. The library found that some of the branches with the fewest number of staff had the largest impact. If these staff members could reach just about all of the schools in the community, then next year branches with a larger staff can work on further increasing their outreach.

PGCMLS will also use the first year of data collection to explore additional Savannah functionality. In years past, children would sign up for the summer reading program, then they wouldn’t see them until next summer. With Savannah, PGCMLS can manage the relationship of summer reading participants through fall and beyond.

“We want to make sure we keep them as users,” Hamiel says. Through messaging, the library can remind those rising stars that might become Occasionals, or infrequent visitors, of the services available at the branches. They will also be able to keep an eye on the long-term habits of students who participate in the program versus those who don’t in Savannah.

In addition to the summer reading program, PGCMLS has been able to use Savannah to track other metrics like customer self-checkout, which they were able to increase by 60 percent by raising internal awareness and promoting competition between the branches.

The library is working to make the Savannah dashboard visible to all staff with their internal intranet, not just the management team, allowing them to see data like summer reading participation and self-checkout rates. Hamiel hopes it will encourage managers who are more analytical thinkers to use data to develop programs and services.

“We really feel that if staff can see what they are doing makes an impact, it will reinforce that behavior,” Gannon says.