Phoenix Public Library (PPL) City Librarian Rita Hamilton

Savannah Community Forum Discussion Summary and Recording

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Phoenix Public Library (PPL) serves a population of 1.6 million across 17 branch locations, offering special programs that set it apart from other city services like early literacy, preschool prep, makers-artist-crafter-hackers (MACH) programs, preschool and kindergarten boot camps, coding and STE/AM events, entrepreneur resources, high school college prep and workforce literacy help.

But like most libraries, Phoenix Public Library faces management challenges that include a lack of growth in public funding, overcoming the image of the public library, and allocating staff resources effectively. As City Librarian Rita Hamilton explains in the presentation, performance statistics help her manage through these challenges. By using data, PPL has done so effectively. Examples in effective use of data tp solve organizational challenges include:

  • Analyzing wait times for public computers to increase the length of public computer sessions in branch locations
  • Evaluating call center data and customers’ needs to change staffing to clerical instead of professional resources to reduce costs 
  • Keeping track of workload measures to shift staff based on activities

PPL also uses data to speak with key community stakeholders. Geographic analysis of reading levels by school district indicate the percentage of kids reading at a third-grade level. The library points to the areas where literacy rates are the lowest to focus its early literacy efforts. 

For kindergarten boot camps, data support the service with only 35% of kids in Phoenix attending pre-school. Using this data combined with the percentage of cardholders by school district helps lead discussions with stakeholders. 

Hamilton also points to customer data for resource allocation discussions. Cluster segmentation helped the library understand its customers and create a common language and culture for internal discussions. 

Externally, email marketing messages are segmented by cluster and tracked through the integrated platform Savannah to provide an understanding of the impact of email on customer activity. For example, the Occasionals cluster receives messages about digital services to keep them from becoming inactive users. 

Computer users (Staying Connected) are the library’s second largest active segment. Data from this segment are used to help determine the need for the number of and length of computer sessions at each library location. 

Other examples given by Hamilton include the use of program data to create targeted and specialized newsletters, and customer turnover and retention trends to design acquisition and retention campaigns. 
Methods used by the library to acquire new cardholders include school card signups, outreach to schools near branch locations and local college events.  

The library’s approach to customer retention includes targeted email communications to customers, staff involvement in acquiring and updating customer email addresses, autorenewals of library cards, family holds pickup, and fine elimination.  

Results from acquisition and retention efforts yielded the issuance of 4,783 new cards, a 75 percent increase in student cards in 2015, and an overall increase of 8% of new cards issued in the same year.
Other examples given by Hamilton in the video including using tools like Savannah to support other city departments. The library has partnered with the City of Phoenix to communicate about community-specific news and information. The communications:

  • A transit survey distributed to library customers to collect feedback in specific communities about transit services 
  • A fitness promotion in downtown Phoenix for the Meet Me Downtown event
  • Sending a “know before you go” message to all customers in the downtown area about the NCAA finals event

Hamilton concludes with a discussion about how to not get bogged down in data and make effective decisions. Her team includes four deputy directors and, while all staff have access to the data and it is distributed broadly in the organization, when it comes to making decisions, this small executive team makes the final call. 

Hamilton ends with the advice to “use your judgement,” stating that the best strategy is to respond to customers’ needs to remain relevant and make effective discussions—confidence comes from using the appropriate decision-making tools.  

Watch the full presentation