Colored dots stuck on a laminated Thomas Brothers map used to tell the Solano, Napa and Partners (SNAP) Library Consortium where patrons of their various northern California branches came from.

Along with various staff members, Lynne Williams, SNAP's administrative librarian for automation/technical services, would take the information from printed lists of circulation activities and manually place those pretty dots on the map.

In 2001, SNAP hired an architectural firm to help develop a facilities master plan, in which the geographic patron data was needed. In looking for solutions to this monotonous colored-dots dilemma, Williams saw Civic Technologies' LibraryDecision software.

"This is a seed that's been germinating for several years," she said. "We said, 'You know, this could take care of the dots problem. We can get a whole bunch of information about our population we're serving in a much faster way using their database."

One-Stop Shopping

The LibraryDecision solution takes many different data sets -- California Census data, California Department of Finance data and demographics -- and combines local data from SNAP's integrated library system (ILS), Williams said. The ILS is a circulation module that includes book check-in and checkout, the online catalog, and acquisitions and serial numbers.

While Marc Futterman, president and CEO of Civic Technologies, updates the LibraryDecision database with the demographic data -- and worked with SNAP's ILS vendor to anonymously transfer patron and borrower data -- Williams is uploading library-specific statistics. These include the size of collections, the size of the patron database registered at a particular branch, and how many adult and children borrowers SNAP has.

"Once that's in the system, we use this Web interface to basically customize reports," she said. "If we take one of our branches and look at all the census blocks that branch technically serves, find out what the ratio of Spanish-speaking people is, then we can use that data, potentially, to develop more programs in Spanish."

SNAP expects to be up and running on LibraryDecision in mid-April, at which point Williams said if they want to know where kids in the community are, they will overlay the census data on their local library data, showing how many kids are in a given service area. The same can be done for senior citizens and developing programs for them, as well as in underserved areas.

"It helps us justify plans to build new facilities in specific areas in the county," she said. "It's one-stop shopping, and it's customized to exactly what we want to know, so we don't have to sift through pages of different reports and compare them to pages of yet other reports, and try to do our own cross-tabulations."

Also waiting for full LibraryDecision implementation is Texas' Houston Public Library system, which has 35 branch libraries and a central library in a city of 633 square miles, said Greg Simpson, manager of planning and government relations.

"We were looking for a better way to understand our system, in both geographic and demographic terms," he said, adding that he hopes to begin LibraryDecision rollout to senior staff members in early April, and have all branch and unit managers up and running shortly thereafter.

Like Williams, Simpson said the Houston public libraries are most looking forward to the increased planning capabilities.

"LibraryDecision gives us current and projected demographic information, and will immediately re-calculate that information as we look at possible changes to our existing branch service areas," he said. "This will, in turn, give us guidance as to how we locate, staff and stock our branches."

Already up and running on LibraryDecision is the Forsyth County Public Library in Cumming, Ga.

Carla Beasley, assistant director for materials services, said reports she's generated so far are for populations in specific county

Jessica Jones  |  Managing Editor