The Fall of 2023 was a time of unexpected transition for Operations and Web Services, with the departure of the Head of Technical Services and Manager of Operations who pursued other professional opportunities. In December we welcomed Amber Protzmann, our new Manager of Operations, and hope to fill the other Head position soon.
In spite of these changes, our work to sustain Operations and Web Services continued uninterrupted throughout the semester. Much of this work concerned the physical space itself – its rooms, chairs, tables, desks, and the people who use them.
From the very start of the semester, we noticed a considerable uptick in the number of requests made to book the Goodman and Schwarz rooms on the Library’s third floor. As a reminder, these rooms are outfitted for classes and larger meetings and presentations, and generally are not booked for private study, and because of their size and the variety of needs they service, these rooms are the only rooms for which we mediate bookings. The large rooms were a hot commodity from the very beginning with 52 room requests in September requiring our mediation. This number only grew as the semester progressed, with 67 more requests in October, 85 in November, and finally 43 more in December before the semester ended. Of these 247 requests, we’re pleased to report that 170 of them, or 68%, warranted approval, and we were able to provide space for a variety of meetings and presentations.
Large room bookings proved to be just the tip of the iceberg of our space reservations apparatus. The library also offers ten self-bookable rooms that require no mediation, and they were in constant demand throughout the semester. Indeed, during the weekdays of the semester, the Library routinely furnished between 70 and 90 room reservations per day.
Clearly the Library was not immune to the College-wide problem of finding space for quiet study, class sessions, and meetings. In fact, we in Operations and Web Services have been keen on finding new ways to visualize this phenomenon, and we have successfully done so through the adoption of Occuspace, our new gate count solution that has been live since November. In addition to telling us how many visitors we get to the library in a given span of time, Occuspace provides us with round-the-clock data on our space occupancy throughout the three floors of the library. In the time since we went live, we have established several key observations about library activity. The first is that, quite simply, we get a lot of visitors to the library: In the first official count we found that we were averaging 727 visitors per day.
We also found that our third floor is generally the floor with the lowest average occupancy, and with that, the space most available for quiet study. This is buttressed by the fact that the third floor has the most bookable rooms and the greatest number of 4-person tables in the library.
Finally, we found that the library’s “crunch time” to be between 2 and 5 PM on Mondays through Thursdays, with 4 PM on Monday being the busiest time in the Library across the whole week. This appears to coincide with class time blocks ending at 2:50 and 4:50 PM and others beginning at 3:10 and 5:10 PM.
In the Spring, we’re looking forward to continuing to work with TCIT to develop each of our space-related services. Currently, we’re hard at work developing protocols to display our space occupancy data publicly on our website and on the Library’s eBoards. We’re also considering an upgrade to our bookable rooms application to also allow for seats and tables to be booked, as well, which may come in handy during finals weeks, when the need for quiet study space is at its highest.
Operations and Web Services is not strictly a team devoted to exploring and adopting new services. We’re also constantly assessing usage patterns of our applications and platforms. Internally, the team began issuing a statistical report on patron use of and engagement with virtually every public-facing system, including the above applications, as well as the website itself, the Library’s catalog, and the digital and physical resources within them. As of this writing, we’ve issued six of these monthly reports.
In addition to these reports, we performed a two-part assessment with the Reference and Readers Services Department on user compliance with room bookings. This assessment would come to be known as the ‘RSVP’ assessment. Essentially, the question on our minds was: are all of these users actually showing up for their room reservations? In order to answer this question, we selected three rooms to look at during finals week, gathered a list of all of the reservations made for those rooms, and locked the doors of each room with a sign on the door indicating that the user had to obtain a key to the room at the service desk. For each check in, we’d note that the user got their key and had effectively been in compliance with the purpose of our application. If they hadn’t they’d be marked as a “no show”. While we’re uninterested in punishing these “no shows”, we feel it’s important to get a sense of the realities of our systems and their use, and not simply rely on the data that they show us as an accurate reflection of their use. If we find that we have a large yield of “no shows”, we have justification for implementing a confirmation/auto-cancelation protocol to our room bookings workflow. While the data we got from this assessment was strong, we feel that an additional assessment – perhaps even routine assessments around the academic year – is needed with a more robust methodology, and only then will we be able to see whether or not such a confirmation workflow is warranted.
We performed a parallel assessment during finals week of our late-day bookings. This assessment was intended to answer similar questions as the ‘RSVP’ assessment, but a greater variety of data was collected, and we found that variety reflected some important details about room usage. This assessment would come to be known as the ‘Rooms Occupancy’ assessment. In this assessment, we looked at every room past 7 PM every night of finals week and asked users present whether or not they had booked that room. We found that only about 55% of users showed up for their bookings, while another 18% of people using rooms hadn’t booked the room at all. Another 2% of rooms were occupied by someone after the person who reserved the room had already left. These metrics together confirmed that our rooms were at least 75% in use at the time checked. Only about 5% of time slots were totally unbooked, and only about 3% of reservations left early without anyone else coming in to take up the remainder of the time slot. Finally, actual “no shows” accounted for only about 17% of bookings, which both those of us in Operations and Web Services and Reference and Readers Services agree is a manageable figure not warranting immediate further action.
Another key assessment we performed was on student usage of Teachers College Digital Collections (TCDC), our new platform for hosting digitized holdings of our rare and archival collections. For this assessment, we developed a fairly simple prompt calling upon use of TCDC, but we did not provide any indication of what the Collections are or where to find them. We then established a number of routes through which a user might access the platform online – including starting points at tc.edu, the Gottesman Libraries website, and Google – and recreated those paths and all the diversions that they might encounter on the way. This helped us determine how quickly and with how many digressions a motivated user might arrive at TC.DC, or whether or not they would arrive there at all without giving up or seeking help. Of our respondents, we found that a clear majority of users could at least complete the prompt and provide items from the collections, which was reassuring, but there did not appear to be a clear set of uniform characteristics among those that succeeded versus those that did not. Research into these characteristics will likely continue through observation from users that contact the Library’s Special and Digital Collections department.
Although the library did not make many significant changes to the website, its primary user interface, it did undergo the same beautification as the rest of the College. The Operations and Web Services team worked with the Branding and Design Office’s new guidelines to expand the new look and feel to the Library’s peripheral applications in LibCal, LibGuides, and Primo VE – the software that powers our catalog.
Additionally, we added new access points to Teachers College Digital Collections across the whole site, such as new buttons mounted in the front page highlights section.
We also worked with the Reference and Readers Services team to implement a direct solution for students to book research consultations with the reference and special collections librarians.
Before this, students generally had to submit a support ticket to the library’s general inbox before receiving a response from the librarians offering them a time slot to get help on research. Our new solution offers students the time slots in which the librarians are available (as programmed into their personal calendars), and then students choose from among those time slots to meet with the librarian who’s slot they’ve chosen. This effectively side-steps the process of mediating the booking for the librarian (which forces them to compare the student’s availability with their own) and reduces the lag time in which the student is waiting to hear back on confirmation of their consultation.
We look forward to hearing feedback from students and other consultation-seekers on the effectiveness of the new system. We also look forward to other web development projects on the horizon, such as an audit of the site's content to add more access points to vital collections and services, and making steps towards universal accessibility and usability of all web pages connected to the Library.