Scottsdale Library Board crunches the numbers

People are coming back to the Scottsdale Public Library–though numbers still lag, compared to pre-pandemic days. (City of Scottsdale)

Like it or not, America’s pastime has become dominated by numbers crunching.

Diving catches and smart base running are ignored as baseball melted into stats-dominated “Billy Ball,” a reference to Billy Beane, who embraced Bill James’ “Moneyball” theories.

A more general philosophy of analytics more recently leached into football and other sports just as advanced databases are making businesses ever-more numbers-dominated.

It’s even creeping ever more deeply into local government, in as unlikely places as the Scottsdale Public Library system.

After a chart- and graph-filled Library Board meeting last week, one might be tempted to call it…‘brary ball. Or, perhaps, studymetrics….

At the Feb. 15 board meeting, Anna Anderson, a management analyst, looked at “Second Quarter Library Usage Statistics” for the current fiscal year.

The “gate count” of people at libraries is up, sharply, over the last two years, she said.

While the gate count was just over 285,000 in 2020-21, this year’s gate is already over 250,000, projected to far surpass last year’s total of 453,067.

Even so, numbers lag well behind pre-pandemic years 2018 and 2019, when the gate counts averaged over 900,000.

The number of library card holders here has dropped from over 170,000 in 2019 to under 75,000 – primarily due to a relatively new policy of closing cards for those who have not used the library in over two years. Several board members expressed distress over this, but were relieved to hear cards can be renewed online.)

Meanwhile, remote usage – involving Library Help Line calls, database usage, e-circulation and “Ask-A-Librarian” – seems to have plateaued, with a combined remote usage of about 1 million per year.

Board Chair Janet Smigielski wondered if people are more interested in actually being in libraries or being there digitally.

Kira Peters, the library director who was leading her last meeting before departing for a new job in Montana, answered: “Libraries are still trying to figure that out.”

“Patrons are still trying to figure it out,” added Alicia Brillon, a library senior manager.

The board also approved its Jan. 18 meeting minutes, which included a summary of patron comment cards that included “several positive comments regarding customer service, window decorations, and programs” as welll as “several negative comments regarding ‘woke’ book displays, and noise complaints.”

Also formally approved was the Library Board 2022 Annual Report.

Among the “key issues” the report cites: “Supporting the unhoused population continues to be an area the library anticipates managing in 2023. Specifically, Mustang Library experiences challenges relating to encampments and biohazards.”

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