Using Wi-Fi Data to Develop the Library Programs and Spaces That Meet Your Community’s Needs

Using_wifi_data_group_shotIf your library walls could talk, would you listen?

The three greatest assets of any library are the staff, the collection and the physical space, and these are certainly three of the biggest lines in the budget. Knowing this, library directors and department managers spend a great deal of time and effort on providing professional development opportunities and performing annual performance reviews to evaluate staff effectiveness. And they use circulation and usage reports to guide collection development. But how is the third asset — space — evaluated? Program attendance, traffic and computer usage could be seen as proxies, but they each only reveal a piece of the story.

There are many facets of space usage, both within the building as a whole and within specific areas, such as the children’s room or a study room. Patron traffic patterns, dwell time and usage volume are all measurements you can use to develop services, determine staffing levels and optimize space layout. This is all valuable data that can be captured using technology that tracks Wi-Fi signals from Smart phones, tablets and PCs, all without capturing any personally identifiable information (PII). Smart phone usage has surpassed 50% in all demographic subsets and more than 80% among those under 50. Smart phones are not a luxury among the disadvantaged; in fact they are most likely their sole source of connection. By using date from these devices to measure anonymous usage over time, you’ll gain deep insight that is truly actionable. Here are a couple examples:

  • Knowing the importance of caregivers reading to their children, the children’s staff encourages storytime attendees to check out a few books before heading home, but is unsure whether this occurs. By identifying each attendee at the storytime (those devices that dwelled in the programming area for a set amount of time), they learn that the majority arrive 15–20 minutes early, but leave almost immediately after. Knowing this, the staff can focus their efforts on encouraging check-outs before the storytime rather than after, when the caregiver is less likely to linger.
  • The decision has been made to remove several rows of shelving, which will allow staff to repurpose space. There are conflicting opinions as to how the space should be used—some argue for additional study areas, others for soft seating and still others for expanding the Teen space. By tapping into Wi-Fi patterns, the staff can determine how many patrons use each of the existing spaces in the library — and for how long. The duration is the most important data point. If patrons tend to stay for longer periods, there is likely higher demand for that space.

Measuring Your Outreach Efforts

The ability to capture data is not limited to activity within the library; you can also measure the impact of your outreach efforts. Using a remote beacon, you can capture the Wi-Fi signals from people who engage with you at an outreach event and then identify whether they subsequently visit the library or attend a program. An example:

  • The children’s staff regularly does outreach storytimes at local daycares and leaves behind materials for families that encourages them to attend an Every Child Ready to Read event; however, library staff has never been sure if these efforts are effective. By capturing the Wi-Fi signals as parents pick up their children and then matching those with the signals of those who eventually attend the ECRR event, the staff will understand their effectiveness and, more importantly, modify their approach to drive even greater success.

Using_wifi_data_library_shotThe use of Wi-fi tracking technology is growing in retail, and it’s beginning to take hold in healthcare, banking and other industries where customer service is paramount. Concerns about privacy in healthcare and banking are very real, as they are in the library world. Providers of these measurement services understand the concerns and do not collect or store any PII; however they do provide reliably accurate information you can use.

As the role of the library expands, there will be a greater need for data to help support and guide policy and service decisions. The more you know about your patrons’ habits and preferences, the better you can serve them.

We’d love to hear how you’re using data to make programming and space decisions. Tell us your ideas or ask us your questions in the comments below. If you’d like to learn more about using Wi-Fi data to make decisions, contact Matt at for more information.


Matt Mulder

Matt Mulder

Executive Director of New Growth Initiatives at Demco, Inc.
Matt Mulder is Demco's Executive Director of New Growth Initiatives. Focusing on increasing community engagement, Matt develops solutions that help libraries understand their patrons’ needs and that achieve measurable impacts.