How Charlotte Mecklenburg Library convinced 13,000 people to come back

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You’re used to Harris Teeter knowing you better than you know yourself because of the VIC card on your key ring. Charlotte Mecklenburg Library is now proving that even civic groups with much smaller budgets can harness data analytics to improve.

The library is in the middle of a project to track cardholder behavior and use that information to place programs in the right locations, better advertise services and give people gentle nudges to influence behavior. The end goal is to get more people either in the doors or using the library’s online services. The ultimate goal is to more effectively tackle community issues like third-grade literacy and the digital divide.

[Read more about little-known library services]

It’s involved a significant investment in technology. The library’s computer systems were built for books. They weren’t built for people. So Charlotte Mecklenburg Library decided to build a new customer relationship managing tool that breaks library patrons into demographic clusters based on their activity.

The system doesn’t track people by name and doesn’t look at what specific titles people are checking out, said library director of marketing and communications Cordelia Anderson. It also can’t see when people are using the free Wifi. But it logs in when people check out a book in person, or download an e-book or use the site’s other services.

Kindred-Library-in-the-Kitchen

New cardholders now get an email welcoming them and a list of services. If you haven’t interacted with the library in three months, you become “occasional” and get an email every month with a service you might be interested in. This is now the library’s free access to Lynda.com tutorial videos.

After a year, you go to “inactive” status and begin getting emails saying the library misses you. These alone have brought back 13,000 people so far, Anderson said. Interestingly enough, the library’s found that the No. 1 thing inactive users do first is to actually go into a branch and check out a book.

More granular demographic clusters include “dependables,” or heavy users, “rising stars,” or children who check out books regularly, “audiophiles,” who use audiobooks, or “bedtime stories,” or people checking out a lot of fiction/nonfiction books.

The data project coincides with a special advertising campaign the library is introducing this fall. Beginning this month, the library will have billboards on I-77, I-85 and Independence Boulevard, each for eight weeks at a time.

CMLibrary-ads

It’s funded by about $185,000 in county money specially allocated this year. They’re expecting at least 200,000 views by people age 18 or older each week. The library will then measure to see whether locations in those areas bring in new cardholders or more activity.

Other ads will run on Pandora, Yelp and on-screen at movie theaters.

Charlotte Mecklenburg Library by the numbers

20 locations

486 employees

271,000 active users

947,863 print books

6,110,131 books checked out last year

$35.9 million budget this year

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Andrew Dunn
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