Librarians have, in general, very little systematic information about activities inside their libraries.
Test The Traffic (TTT), which used to called Count The Traffic (CTT) is a cheap and simple method to gather such data. It gives a good numerical picture of how library users actually use the various parts of the library. CTT reveals both the quality – or the kinds of activity – and the quantity of use. Combined with data on the number of visitors it will also indicate the average length of stay.
Tours of observation
CTT is based on regular “tours of observation” through the public areas of the library, normally once an hour, during one or two weekly cycles. The actual observation days – Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, aso. – should preferably be distributed over several weeks. Data gathering and analysis can be carried out by the library’s own staff rather than by hired observers and consultants.
To carry out a TTT, you need:
- A time plan, with dates and times for all observation rounds (”sweeps”)
- A floor plancovering all the public areas of the library
- The plan should be divided into functional zones: reception area, newspaper section, children’s books, etc.
- A list of activitiesto be observed
- We recommend using – or adapting – the standardized CTT list (revised March 2012)
A fifteen minute video lecture on CTT is available on Vimeo. See also the collection of library cases in the right hand pane (margin).
Resources from CTT
- Links to several brief empirical summaries from Norwegian libraies – academic and public – are listed in the right hand pane
- A fifteen minute video lecture on CTT (by Tord Høivik) is available on Vimeo. Beta version …
- The GLOSSA blog presents ongoing work from the IFLA project Global statistics for advocacy.
- For related external resources – see CTT: Bibliography
- PL 47/10: Children who “live” at the library. Case study.
- Observation data: getting started. Posted in GLOSSA blog
- Students in action: An observation study of the Oslo University College Learning Centre.
- Large-scale traffic count during the spring 2009.
- PS 2/09. Private lives and public libraries.
- Count the traffic. Paper for IFLA, Quebec 2008.
- Preprint published .
- See also Physical and virtual traffic
- Paper for IFLA 2008. How much is much? Developing and interpreting national library visitor statistics.
- PL 17/08. Students gather in Porto. Abstract for BOBCATSSS 2009 workshop – on students as traffic observers.
- PL 23/07. NTC – What happens inside libraries?. Introduction to CTT for Stellenbosch workshop in August 2007.
In the social sciences observation is often described as a qualitative method. But systematic observation can definitely be used to collect quantitative data – as in the case of seating sweeps Its use in library studies seems to have been initiated by two Canadian researchers, Lisa Given and Gloria Leckie, who used the method to study user behavior in the Toronto Reference Library and the Vancouver Public Library in 1999. See CTT: Bibliography for details. Outside library studies, systematic tours of observation are used in many professional areas, like agriculture, biology and field archeology.
In Norway we have tried to develop CTT as a standardized instrument to collect reliable comparative statistical data. An alternative, but closely related method, is to observe people as they enter and leave the library – see Children who “live” at the library and Observation data: getting started.
The method was first tried out at Oslo Public Library (Deichmanske bibliotek) in 2004 and at Gjerdrum Public Library in 2005. Gjerdrum is a small community of five thousand inhabitants thirty kilometers north of Oslo. Full scale traffic counts have been carried out in Lillehammer (25.000 inhabitants) in 2006, in Drammen (60.000) in 07/08 and in Oslo University College (OUC) (about ten thousand students) in 2009. In 2008, 2009 and 2010 students collected CTT data from about seventy-five Norwegian libraries. During their second-year practicum periods (five weeks), OUC library students carry out small projects in the libraries to which they are assigned.
A first report on the results, mainly based on Drammen Public Library, was presented at the IFLA conference in Quebec 2008. A more extensive report, based on public library data from 2008 and 2009, was presented at the Northumbria conference in Florence in August 2009. The method has also been presented at workshops in Stellenbosch (South Africa) and Porto (Portugal) – see Resources (below).
In the spring 2009 three Erasmus students did a comprehensive study of student activities at the OUC Learning Centre (which combines the library and the audio-visual services). The study covers 9.500 observations registered during one full week in March 2009. Additional materials from CTT are available from the Norwegian version of this page.
Further resources (analyses, data) based on Norwegian counts in public, academic, special and school libraries will be released.
You can test out the method for yourself in a couple of hours by
- sketching a floor plan with zones
- making one copy of the list of activities for each zone
- doing a single tour of observation, noting the number of people engaged in different observable activities as you pass.
- putting the numbers in a spreadsheet
- finding the distribution of users by zone
- finding the distribution of users by activity
If you decide to gather data about one typical day at the library, this will require two to three days of full time work:
- read more about the method and how it can be used
- adjust the zones – based on the test run
- walk through the library at regular intervals throughoutthe day
- choose the distance between rounds so that you end up with several hundred observations – at the least
- in smaller libraries – less than thirty users present on the average – rounds may be done every twenty or thirty minutes
- in medium-size libraries, with thirty to one hundred simultaneous users, rounds could done every hour
- in larger libraries, rounds every second hour would be sufficient
- put the numbers in a spreadsheet
- calculate the distribution of users by hours
- calculate the distribution of users by zones
- calculate the distribution of users by activity
- explore the bivariate distributions
The work should preferably be shared of two or more persons.
A full scale CTT study should cover at least one – and preferably two – full weeks. If you want reliable quantititative data, the counting days should be spread out as much as possible. The ideal sampling plan would be one day a month through one full year.
A decent alternative, however, is to
- do a one week study (in a typical, routine, ordinary week)
- register the number of visits on monthly, a weekly or even a daily basis for a year
- repat the one week study a year later