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66th IFLA Council and General

Jerusalem, Israel, 13-18 August


Code Number: 083-120-E
Division Number: VI
Professional Group: Management and Marketing - Part II
Joint Meeting with: Information Technology and Social Sciences Libraries
Meeting Number: 120
Simultaneous Interpretation: Yes

Use of New Technologies for Better Library Management: GIS (Geographic Information System Software) and PDAs (Personal Digital Data Collectors)

Christine Koontz


Dean K. Jue

Florida State University, GeoLib Program
Allahassee, FL, USA
Web: http://www.geolib.org/


New technology for any discipline is frequently technology that is not necessarily new from the broadest perspective, but technology that is finally capable of being widely adopted within the discipline. Two such technolgies are currently available and can now be used in the library and information discipline: GIS (geographic information system software) for library market profiling and location analysis; and PDAs (palm pilot type instruments) with built in bar code scanners, for better collecting in-library use. This paper describes and discusses applications and technologies.



"New technology" for any discipline is frequently technology that is not necessarily new from the broadest perspective, but technology that is finally capable of being widely adopted within the discipline. The lag time from the initial development of the technology to its adoption within a discipline may be caused by a variety of factors, such as costs, difficulty of usage, or lack of required support services. Two technologies that fit into this "new technology" description that are in existence presently, for well over a decade, but can now be widely used in the library discipline, are geographic information systems (GIS) and portable data collectors (PDCs) or personal digital assistants (PDAs).

Geographic information system software was developed in the early 1960's. However, up until the early 1990's, the use of GIS required a computer configuration that would cost well over $100,000 USD. The GIS software was command line driven, (code and number language) making it difficult for casual users to easily understand and use. As a result, a dedicated support staff was often needed. Finally, data for the software was expensive to either buy or to develop in-house. Today, GIS sofware can cost less than $1000 USD and be run on PC-compatible computers costing less than $2000 USD. Many GIS software vendors provide several data sets as part of the initial purchase price of the software, further lessening costs.

A study funded by the U.S. Department of Education combined bar codes representing pre-defined in-library use data attributes with bar code scanners to collect such data in a manner that is more detailed than previously available. ("Handheld..." 1999). The study involved 100 public library branches in over 40 library systems within the U.S. The general categories of in-library use in which data were collected were in-library material usage, library assistance, and library user activities. Refer to the web site http://www.geolib.org for a detailed look at the level of data details that could be derived from the collected data.

Although the initial study involved public libraries, there is no reason why similar methodology could not be adopted in other types of libraries (e.g., academic, special). The rapid pace of technology has meant that the technology used in the initial study is now even more affordable and can be collected using hand-held devices running the Palm or Window CE operating systems.

In March of 2000, the in-library data collection methodology was presented to the Federal-State Cooperative System, the group responsible for setting library data collection standards within the U.S. In addition, the methodology was adapted to both the public and academic library situation within France. As the value of better measurement of in-library use becomes better know, it can be expected that the use of PDCs and PDAs in libraries will become standard library practice.

Personal digital assistants and portable data collectors have been widely used in warehousing applications since the late 1980's. New technology have made these PDAs and PDCs even more portable (e.g.. Palm Pilots which can be held in the palm of a hand). These PDAs can now be easily integrated with built-in bar code scanners to help standardize data collection in a variety of library environments that were traditionally ignored within the U.S. (e.g., in-library usage). Today, PDAs can be bought for well under $1000 USD, including application generator programs that can be used to develop custom library data collection programs on the PDAs.
This paper will discuss the applications of these two technologies in a library environment.


GIS: Geographic Information System Software Applications for Libraries

For retailers the two basic functional uses of GIS are market profiling and location analysis. Marketing requires a detailed breakdown of the socio-economic and demographic status of immediate locales, the surrounding population, and subsequent estimation of the geographic market range. These types of retail applications are useful for libraries - as libraries share the "travelled-to" characteristics of many retail outlets (Koontz, 1997, 112).

Library Market Area Measurement There are five ways to measure geographic markets that illustrate the dynamisim and versatility of GIS ("Using..." 1996, 187.) A market area is the geographic area from which a library draws most of its users. Maps based upon US geographic and political boundaries are provided to illustrate these concepts.

  1. Assigning each library branch a certain number of census tracts or block groups. Block groups are smaller divisions within a census tract. These can vary from country to country, e.g., Scotland population districts are called cachement grids.

  2. Determining a branch market through overlay of zip code (or postal) boundaries. These zip codes are based upon customer/user address data.

  3. Determining branch markets by assigning equal portions of the population to the nearest existing facility. This is a modeling technique, location allocation which simply assigns each member of the population to the nearest facility.

  4. Determine a branch market by assigning a certain mile radii to be served. This is a standard and more general approach used to compare key features.

  5. Determining the actual market area by geocoding user address data. This is by far the most accurate.


Market Profile

In the US, US Census Data provides hundreds of variables that describe the population and is collected every ten years. Research in the library field (Koontz 1990) recognizes certain broad variable groups that are strongly associated with library use. Nine broad groups include: 1) population; 2) sex; 3) race/ethnicity; 4) age; 5) family life cycle; 6) owner occupied housing; 7) income; 8) education; 9) vehicles per housing unit. These are strictly US based, and relevant to the US environment. Within the US there will of course, be important population differences that the library manager must be aware of in their own locale. These of course, will be different from country to country and within countries.

Once the important population characteristics are identified, the library manager can identify who resides within the geographic market, to better determine what products and services may be desired.

Further analysis can be performed by GIS to provide more precise information. Several examples include: 1) analysis of overlaps and gaps in library service; 2) market areas that have over 50% college graduates, or under 30% children (any variable can be input and displayed); 3) identification of which library market has the highest per capita circulation; and 4) new site analysis, including distance of new facility from other branches, population growth, and a review of major topography.

The power of GIS to have many data sets collapsed and viewable in one environment, provides a powerful dynamic digital tool for library managers.


Other Applications

There are other uses of GIS that may be of interest to library managers. For example, because GIS allows one to view many geographic data sets in one environment, the software also permits research and analysis into aspects of regional or national library policies that may be difficult to perform in other analytical environments.

A recent political issue in the United States has been the difficulty of providing computer access (and, by extension, information access) to individuals with low income or in poverty. The public library and its many branches have been held to be one of the key solutions to this problem. But this assumes, among many other assumptions, that individuals with low income or in poverty are located near a public library outlet.

To research this, GIS was recently used to estimate the geographic market area being served by each individual public library outlet in the United Stales (Jue, et. al., 1999). The market profile of each of these market areas was analyzed to estimate how many people in the estimated geographic market areas of existing public library outlets were in poverty. In addition, an estimate could be made on how many people were in poverty that were completely outside the estimated geographic market areas of all existing public library outlets. From these analyses, it was determined that there may need to be regional policy differences in the funding of public library outlets if the original goal of improving information access to individuals in poverty through public libraries was to be realized. In policy issues of providing information access over a geographic area, whether it is local, regional, or national, the power of GIS may prove to be quite useful and the results enlightening.

Finally, as GIS becomes more affordable and easier to use, the software itself may become a new service that a library manager may want to provide. It is quite common for libraries to provide access to computer software such as word processing, spreadsheets, and databases. GIS is simply computer software that manages and analyzes data that have a geographic component to it.

There have been attempts to introduce GIS software within both academic and public libraries since the early 1990's in the U.S. ("Implementing..."). This effort was hampered significantly by lack of inexpensive geographic data, especially local data. Today, as local governments develop local data sets and want to provide easy access to this information, libraries may find that they can be a vital local institution in providing information access to all.


PDA Application for Collecting In-Library Use Data

Libraries collect materials circulation data because those materials are cataloged and, consequently, their movement out of and back into the library can be automated. This has not been the case, however, for materials that were used but never left the library at all. Because library user activities have also been difficult to collect in an automated manner, good data on this aspect of library usage is also difficult to find. Today's technology has provided an answer to these problems, however. The non-collection of in-library use data today is not due to the inability to collect such data in an automated manner but because of the up-until-now lack of habit of doing so and the lack of widely-accepted standards for what types of in-library use data to collect.



"Hand-held computers check out library usage." (1999). Automatic IDNews. (June)

"Implementing GIS in the Public Library Arena." Jue, Dean K. (1996), a chapter in Geographic information systems and libraries: patrons, maps, and spatial information: paper presented at the 1995 Clinic on Library Applications of Data Processing, April 10-12, 1995, Graduate School of Library and Information Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Jue, Dean K., Christine Koontz, Andrew Magpatnay, Keith Curry Lance, Ann Seidl. (1999). Using public libraries to provide technology access for individuals in poverty, the hope and the reality: a nationwide analysis of library market areas using geographic information systems. Library and Information Science Research, 21.

Koontz, Christine M. (1997). Library facility siting and location handbook. Westport, CT.: Greenwood Publishing.

Koontz, Christine M. (1990). Market-based modelling for public library facility location and use-forecasting. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Florida State University, Tallahassee,FL.,US.

"Using geographic information systems for estimating and profiling geographic library market areas". Koontz, Christine M. (1996), a chapter in Geographic information systems and libraries: patrons, maps, and spatial information: paper presented at the 1995 Clinic on Library Applications of Data Processing, April 10-12, 1995, Graduate School of Library and Information Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.



Dr. Christie Koontz is associate of research at Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL, USA, with a focus on applying marketing research to solve library and information agency problems.


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