We're moving!

Our new website is coming on June 28, 2018.
Preview the site now

You can also continue to the old site.

Harvard College Library News: News from around the libraries

Turnstile Data Highlights Library Use


Second-year graduate student Sam Barrow passes though the turnstiles in Widener Library's main entrance.


March 15, 2010 – Harvard College Library administrators are using data collected from turnstiles installed in Widener, Lamont, Cabot, Fine Arts and Pusey libraries to better understand who uses the libraries, and when they use them.

Compiled by Sarah Tudesco, the Collection Management Analyst and Reporting Librarian for Harvard College Library, the data draws the clearest picture yet of how the libraries are used, and will be a catalyst for libraries to think about how to tailor services more precisely to the users of each buildings, said Associate Librarian Marilyn Wood.

Related Links


  • Facebook
  • Twitter

“This is information that will help us understand how we can better support library users in a way we haven’t been able to in the past,” Wood said. “For example, there’s always been an anecdotal feeling that Widener is used only by faculty and graduate students and that Lamont is only used by undergrads, but these data show that’s not the case.”

In fact the statistics show that of the student entrants who came into Widener in 2009 – more than half, or 103,000, were undergraduates, while graduate students from across the University made up more than 20 percent of the student entrants who swiped their cards at Lamont.

Among the other key findings:

  • The turnstiles at Widener, Lamont, Cabot, Fine Arts and Pusey libraries recorded nearly 1.4 million entries in 2009, 55 percent of which were students. “That’s a clear indication of the high volume of user activity in our buildings at any given time,” Wood said.
  • The busiest times at the libraries, with more than 130,000 entries recorded for each month are September, October and November. A similar spike occurs toward the end of the academic year, in March, April and May.   
  • Many students take advantage of Lamont Library’s 24 hours-a-day, five days-a-week accessibility. In May, on average, more than 45 students entered the library between 1 and 2 a.m. Even in the earliest hours, however, student use of the library remains consistent, with an average of more than a dozen entries between 4 and 5 a.m.
  • Across all of HCL, the data show that the majority of students who use the libraries are undergraduates. At individual libraries, however, the story is different. At Cabot Science Library, more than 81 percent of the students who entered the library were undergrads, while graduate students from the GSAS made up less than 10 percent. At the Fine Arts Library, by comparison, more than 60 percent of entries were by graduate students, and undergrads made up only about 37 percent of the total entries. 
  • Students aren’t the only population making use of the libraries – the data show that more than 300,000 swipes were from Harvard employees or faculty.  This figure excludes swipes made by HCL staff, who account for 157,000 swipes. 

Gathered by Timothy Gray, Manager of Security Services for HCL Operations and compiled into a series of reports by Sarah Tudesco, the Collection Management Analyst and Reporting Librarian for Harvard College Library, the data draws the clearest picture yet of who uses the library.

Pulling all the information together was no easy feat. To ensure private information about students, faculty and staff was protected, Gray worked closely with a handful of Harvard University offices, including the Harvard University Police and Harvard University ID Services, to specify what information would be included in the reports.

“When someone swipes their ID at the turnstile, that gets captured by our security system and stored in a database,” Gray said. “But there is a very limited amount of data you can actually extract from the system, so first we had to get permission to access parts of that data, which was a lengthy process.”

“We also had to build a customized database which would display the information properly, so it would be usable for Sarah,” Gray said. To ensure the data on who enters the library is as accurate as possible, Gray also worked out a system which would update staff and student information every 15 minutes throughout the day.

In an effort to make similar data available on a regular basis, Tudesco and Gray are working with HCL ITS to develop an application which would produce a series of reports based on turnstile data. Once completed, she said, reports could be produced and analyzed on a monthly basis.

“We’re still exploring the ways this data might be used by various units,” Wood said. “I believe it will be useful for all libraries to know who is using their facilities and when, for staffing purposes and to tailor services in public services areas, but it will also be useful from an operations standpoint.”

“What this data shows is that, quantitatively, our libraries have different user groups and different user needs,” Wood continued. “This information, along with other data we are able to draw from collection and circulation use will be useful in a host of areas.  For example, when we know we have more undergrads or more graduate students coming into a particular library, we can better understand what kind of collections they might need, what kind of questions they might have, how we can best design or provide for quiet and group learning spaces, and how to tailor services to our patrons in a way that fits their needs.  We can better communicate about our library resources and services.”