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Using Data to Guide Service Changes and Improvements

January 8, 2020

Qualitative data—from anecdotal feedback provided by Drexel Libraries clients, Libraries staff and student Information Explorers to survey results or social media comments—is always useful and generally easy to come by. Drexel students and faculty regularly provide feedback about everything from Libraries resources to the types of services we offer to the state of the equipment and learning environments we provide. These comments regularly help guide our decisions around programming, renovations, services and operations and more—and better decisions are made when we can include both quantitative and qualitative data.

For example, after the recent closing of Hahnemann Hospital, Libraries staff immediately noticed decreased activity at the Center City Library, which they initially attributed to the loss of medical school students who previously worked nearby as interns and residents. Would we see changes in what services were needed at this location? As Director of Services, I recognized that anecdotes about decreased activity would not be strong enough evidence to guide a review and make the best decisions possible about our services. We needed quantitative data to support those observations if we were going to make responsive changes to the availability of services the Libraries provide in Center City.

First, I wanted to be sure we had as much supporting data as possible. I asked Katherine Fischer, the Libraries’ Manager for Client Access Experiences, to gather a variety of data from all Libraries locations, including exit gate counts and services data (describing circulation, reserves and room reservation activity). We compared data from the term during which the hospital closed to data prior to the hospital closing, including data from exactly one year earlier.

Because the collected data came from different sources and was accessed from different data stores—some automated, some recorded and inputted by hand by different staff—building an overview of the stats that could then be manipulated and analyzed took some work. Luckily, the Libraries’ Organizational Data Analyst, Dr. Haemin Kim, provided support and advice on how to pull the data together to most efficiently use pivot tables in Excel. These analyses showed extremely low engagement with the Center City Library on Saturdays very low engagement in the later evening hours on “school nights”.

After analyzing the data (and with client needs and expectations in mind), we created a proposal to adjust the service hours at Hahnemann Library to reflect our most high-activity times. The Libraries’ Strategic Leadership Group reviewed the data analysis and accepted our proposal in December 2019, and changes went into effect on January 6, 2020.

This is just one recent illustration of how the Drexel Libraries uses data to guide service-related decisions. A more complicated challenge for us is identifying and visualizing the data that best illustrates the Libraries’ strategic impact. With help from several other Libraries staff, I have been designing a dashboard that will provide at-a-glance views of various Libraries data. Although this dashboard is still a work in progress, we are excited about the opportunities it will provide and to use it to help us succinctly summarize and promote our strategic work to advance Drexel’s mission and ambitions.

By John Wiggins, Director of Services, Drexel University Libraries