Libraries Pool Big Data Analytics Investments

By now, most public libraries are supposed to be defunct. The rise of search engines puts almost every type of document or book a simple click away. And yet, many libraries across the country continue to thrive.

A big reason for this is because many libraries have transformed to meet the needs of the digital age. Instead of simply stocking books on shelves, libraries now make use of the internet to create social experiences for their communities. It’s not uncommon to see people from all walks of life pursuing a common interest in one activity or another at a local community library.

Of course, each local community is different. For a library to really serve its community, the leadership of that organization needs to have a firm grasp of how those needs and interests are evolving over time.

Fortunately for libraries, thanks to card catalogs based on the Dewey Decimal System, they all have access to one of the richest sources of structured data ever conceived. The challenge now is finding a way to turn all that data into actionable intelligence.

To achieve that goal, 10 midsize and large public libraries have joined together to make use of a big data analytics service that applies fuzzy logic technology to card catalog data to identify patterns and trends. Based on database technology developed by Fuzzy Logix—which is optimized for running a big data analytics application—the service itself is provided by CIVICtechnologies, a company that specializes in providing libraries with access to big data analytics.

Big Data Initiative Spans Multiple Libraries

Danielle Milam, development and planning director for the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District and Foundation, says this initiative spans multiple libraries using the service. With a little help from government grants, the cost of deploying big data analytics becomes a lot more affordable for public institutions operating with tight budgets.

More importantly, Milam adds, investing in analytics is a good business decision. “We look at this as a way to better connect with our community,” she explains. “It’s about market segmentation.”

Armed with the insights gained via the CIVICtechnologies service, each library gains a deeper understanding of the demographic it is serving. In the case of the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District, the big data analytics service uncovered the fact that 76 percent of the community is made up of 21 distinct types of households. That information has changed both the offline and online resources the library promotes to various segments of the overall community.

For libraries, that ability to better target community interests translates into more credibility with voters when it comes time to lobby for funding, Milam points out.

Patrick Moorehead, an industry analyst with Futurum Research & Analysis, says that given the general shortage of data scientists, it’s clear that organizations of all sizes need to find ways to pool big data resources. “The incentive to leverage resources is great,” he says. “That’s now ingrained in the big data analytics community.”

Moorehead adds that the real challenge is that even when those big data analytics resources are found, making sense of all the data an organization has takes time.

Libraries, however, have one big advantage relating to any big data analytics applications: All the ontology work associated with creating the metadata that drives those applications has already been done.