Data-driven library management drives user satisfaction

"If I cancelled my Netflix subscription, I might use the library some more" is a quote from a user interviewed in connection with a Danish project on the Future of Library space and dissemination of literature.

There is no doubt that libraries globally are in competition with the entertainment industry and that they, to attract users, must think hard about how to present their collections. Danish studies have shown that books placed attractively in thematic collections—like Love/ Easy cooking /Crime fiction with their frontpages facing out and a supporting graphics can circulate up to six times more than the same titles placed on ordinary shelves. Additionally, while some categories easily attract serendipitous browsing, other categories mainly circulate through holds.

Using granular analytic data pulled from its Intelligent Material Management System (IMMS), the Copenhagen Public Library, the largest public library in Denmark, could distinguish which categories of material moved best in the open libraries and which material would be more efficiently stored near the main logistics hub.

Figure 1 The Copenhagen Public libraries remote storage and central sorting hub

Because of this, the open libraries are presently being completely reorganized—items that normally have been standing on the shelves only to be checked out by holds have been taken away and books suited for browsing and displays have been moved in. One branch had two thirds of its collection moved out and replaced with roughly half the number of items—now with more emphasis on children’s books and on changing displays mirroring the local user profiles.

Initially, the users were apprehensive about “their” collection being removed, but they soon found that the books they loved to browse and borrow were still there—just even more of them in nicer, less packed areas or attractively displayed on tables like in a bookstore

Figure 2 Bookstore like display

Vanquishing a large part of the collection to closed storage isn’t an exercise to be taken lightly, but as most libraries have experienced, there has been a marked increase of holds since March 2020—lockdown has often made this the only way to circulate books and the library users have happily taken this service to heart even after restrictions were lifted. People who normally would go to their library first and then maybe reserve a book not on the shelf now start their library visit on the web, much in the same vein as internet shopping for other goods has become standard.

Traditional holds are “expensive”, picking from local shelves/individual items checked into the library system/paper slips placed in books/ books placed systematically on reservation shelves. All takes precious staff time, not to mention the time spent when the user doesn’t pick it up and the entire process must be repeated in reverse. Basically, on average, each item is manually handled at least six times enroute from shelf location to hold shelf and back—more so if multiple branches are involved.

Figure 3 all processes are paperless

However, the IMMS usage data give a very good indication of what should be openly available and what can function well behind the scenes. As usage patterns change over an item’s lifecycle, the IMMS intelligence can change the item category so items that started their life in the high volume easy pick area at the distribution center might a year later be better suited for serendipitous browsing on the open shelves and vice versa.

The temporary storage area—like a “hotel for books”—is for items not needed in the open areas. It is a closed storage area is organized by the library’s IMMS system according to the Chaotic storage method, which is a well-known storage principle enhancing to speed of shelving (an entire crate of books can be scanned to the shelf as a batch). Also getting books back into the patron hands is fast with picking rates of up to 285 items/hour.

Lyngsoe Systems’ Colin Carter and Helle Lauridsen recently visited Copenhagen Public Libraries and were shown around the newly renovated children’s library in the main library in Krystalgade.

The renovation is part of the general restructuring of the Copenhagen libraries to support children’s curiosity around language and reading. It has 46 exhibitions on tables progressing through the floor from infants to teenagers. Not all the exhibitions are run by IMMS as not everything is suited for automatic replenishments but need a different approach.

Figure 4 the entrance to the newly renovated Childrens library

Some of the tables have piles of same title books in the same way as a bookstore would have, whereas others place the books attractively face forward.

IMMS originated as a logistics system to ease the movement of materials throughout the library system, using hand scanners instead of paperslips to track the items from shelf to user and back. Just the paperless management processes has proved a big help for the now 14 libraries in European and the U.S. that are using IMMS—the Oodi library in Helsinki has saved 50% of the time spent on managing the ordinary shelving material and a staggering 90% on their holds management. Time much better used in front of their users in their beautiful library space

Figure 5 Oodi as well as all other branches of the Helsinki, Finland libraries, are benefiting from the IMMS logistics

However, many of the Danish IMMS libraries now embrace the system mainly due to the help it gives keeping the open shelf collections fresh and attractive for the users, while having more control on collections, use of shelf space and even distribution

Helle Lauridsen ( is IMMS product manager, Lyngsoe Systems.  Twitter: @hellel