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Thank You Very Much, Mr. Roboto

iPad sign in

iPad kiosk at the registration desk

In early June Watson Library unveiled a new digital sign-in "book" to help us get a better picture of who is using the library. Attendance statistics provide a concrete, rather than an anecdotal, portrait of who is using the library, where they're coming from, and what their research needs are. This information can then be used to tailor our outreach efforts, direct our collection development, and improve or adapt our reader services. Though we have always had data on new users when they register for a reader's card, it is only now that we can track information about who is actually in the library at any given time.

registration book

Watson's old sign-in book

Our old sign-in book was, as one patron put it, "quaint," and it provided limited, incomplete, and inconsistent statistics about our users. The book's size restricted the amount and scope of data we could collect: we were only able to get names, patron type (staff or visitor), and an institutional affiliation. The format confused many visitors and they often marked the wrong box, several boxes, or left whole areas blank. Even when the book was used correctly, poor penmanship caused us to lose nearly half the names and institutions given. Worst of all was the endless amount of staff time required to manually input the statistics into a spreadsheet.

sign in

Oftentimes we couldn't read what people had written down.

Rather than redesign the paper sign-in yet again, we decided to go digital. This gave us an opportunity to increase the granularity of our data, save staff time and effort, streamline the sign-in process, log an automatic time stamp for each sign-in, and have a system that could be easily modified and updated.

After researching numerous automated check-in systems (we tried everything from an automatic card swipe to a bouncer-style QR code reader) we ultimately chose the web-based survey software SurveyGizmo. Friendly pricing for non-profit organizations, as well as detailed, automatic, and customizable reports, a wide variety of customizable survey types with unlimited responses, the ability to fully edit the software's CSS, the best on-hold music ever, and seriously excellent technical support won us over. In addition, we can email surveys to event-goers and create forms and surveys for internal use.

local usage stats

Automated report on the occupations of our patrons

There was a steep learning curve involved, since neither of us are web designers and we had to make drastic CSS edits to force the web-based software—which is primarily geared toward email and embedded surveys—to meet our static (kiosk) needs, but we are satisfied with the results. You can click here to test a version of our final design.

As a result of all this success, we will soon be adding attendance kiosks at other public libraries within the Museum, and our Book Conservation department is even developing a form to track conservation treatments!

Although the response from patrons has been mostly positive, we have encountered some unforeseen issues. Notably, some patrons have a difficult time using the iPad. Also, spotty Wi-Fi can slow down the survey functionality, and the iPad must be locked up and charged overnight.

With that said, we continue to improve and tweak our sign-in to hit the crucial balance between extracting as much information as we can from our users with the least amount of effort on their part. It is a work in process, but so far, so good.

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