Who Are Your Top 10 Borrowers?

Growing your library isn’t just a worthy goal; it is a necessity for your survival. But growth requires focus – a focus on your number one market. A business doesn’t grow by treating all customers equally and neither should libraries.

Now, before you respond with: “but we’re part of council and we must serve all our residents and ratepayers”, or “but how can we treat our students differently, they all deserve our attention”, hear me out. I’m not suggesting you ignore parts of your target market, or that you treat them unfairly. What I’m suggesting is that you focus on your most valuable users within that target market.

Not all users are the same. Some borrow, some read newspapers, some surf the net, some ask for help, and some attend events etc. They aren’t all the same, you don’t treat them the same, and neither should you try to.

The Pareto principle or 80:20 rule means that in anything a few (20%) are vital and many (80%) are trivial, and this also applies to library users. That is, 80% of a library’s business (or value) comes from only 20% of users. Therefore, doesn’t it make sense to identify these users, find out more about them, and encourage others like them?

Let’s look at each of these questions in a bit more detail:

Which segment of your target market are your most valuable library users?
This question is not easy to answer because it requires you to define how you measure value. How value is defined will depend on the library’s goals and primary purpose for existence. For example:

  • A tertiary library whose primary purpose may be produce information literate students, may consider students who attend their information literacy classes (or perhaps lecturers who send them) to be their most valuable users.
  • A public library whose main goal is to facilitate the enjoyment of reading may consider borrowers to be their most valuable users.
  • A special library whose main role is to provide research and analysis services to staff may consider their most valuable users to be staff who utilise that information.

Remember, this is about identifying your most valuable library users, because this is the group you want to focus on and grow.

What do you know about your most valuable library users?
Once you’ve determined who your most valuable library users are, the next step is to find out more about them. Consider not just their demographics but also their preferences, such as:

  • When do they use the library?
  • Which library services do they use? Which library services don’t they use?
  • What books do they borrow? Are they fiction or non-fiction? Are they of a particular genre or subject?
  • How often do they use the library?
  • Do they place requests, have fines, or return books late?
  • How long have they been using the library?
  • Are library staff familiar with any users within this group?

A public library may find that its top borrowers are staff rather than customers, which is always interesting. And a tertiary library may find that students who attend their info lit classes are first year students from just one department, and perhaps only 3 or 4 of the lecturers within that department. How do these students differ in their use of the library, from other students within that department?

What are you doing to keep and grow your most valuable library users?
The deeper your understanding of your most valuable users, the easier it will be to grow your library through loyalty programmes, focus groups, surveys, personal recommendations, special VIP invitations to events etc. These are the users that you want to turn into raving fans, who will share their library experiences with their friends and encourage them to use the library in the same way. These are the types of users that you want to actively pursue because they provide your library with the most value.

No business would neglect their number one market, and neither should libraries. How easy is it for you to name your most valuable users?

A version of this article appeared in Library Life: Te Rau Ora, 9 March 2011.