Increasing Library User Base – A study of over 20 Libraries

Increasing Library User Base – A study of over 20 Libraries

Vasu M Deshpande 
Easylib Software Pvt Ltd, Co-Founder and CEO,

Rajashree Bilgundi 
Easylib Software Pvt Ltd, Member – Customer Relationship Team,


Many of the librarians we met over the last few years expressed their concern related to declining number of visitors to the library. Discussions were held around causes of reasons for this decline, what are the internal and external factors, the role of library professionals and much more. During the visits to the libraries, we also started observing some of the unique things that the libraries are already doing to attract the students. 

As we visited more and more libraries, a pattern started to emerge related to the best practices followed. This article collates some of the best practices from various libraries to increase the library user base. The list may not be exhaustive and also may omit some of the obvious things we assume library could already be doing. However it does keep the current trends in the industry in mind, has basis of visits to varied locality (urban, rural), various cultures (different parts of India and overseas), library sizes (less than 10,000 in collection to over 10 Lakh in collection), types of libraries (academic, special, public library etc.) and we feel following these best practices shall indeed increase return on the investment libraries are making on their resources. 

1.    Introduction

One of the things that every librarian desires is to increase the number of users to the library. The packed a library a library is, the better its utilization to the student, research and community it serves.  This article analyzes top reasons that can help a library increase its user base and get more visitors to the library. 

The article is primarily based on our visits to various libraries and discussions with many librarians over the last 15 years and outlines various thoughts on how to increase number of users to the library. 

2.    Display Board Kiosks

The fact that impacts most libraries as we have observed is the lack of awareness of the library resources. Libraries spend Lakhs of rupees every year on physical and electronic resources. However the information is seldom available to the users in a concise and handy way. Coupled with non measurement of how many people are accessing electronic resources and library collection, the utilization remains low. So, the first thing we recommend is that every library put a few kiosks and display boards to provide information on the library contents and attract students.

The items that a display board can have are 

  • General Information about library 
  • New arrivals
  • Timings 
  • How to use OPAC
  • Library statistics

The locations that display boards must be kept are 

  • Library entrance 
  • College entrance, 
  • Hostels
  • Reading hall
  • Mess etc.

Fig. 1. The Display Board

We highly recommend putting a few silent display kiosks even at hostel mess where in students come there three times a day for breakfast, lunch and dinner and stay there for 15 to 30 minutes each or even longer. What better place than a mess, where students are captive for those many minutes, to tell about what all things library is offering?

An effective Kiosk Display board may be seen at Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru.  

3.    Library User Groups

The more a librarian is connected to the student base, the more students are attracted to the library. For example, the Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College Belagavi Library staff has formed over a dozen user groups and sends periodic communication on the new arrivals to doctors and research students.

Fig. 2. Shows the different kinds of Visitors in a Library

We recommend going one step ahead, i.e. form library user groups of different areas and publish them on to your library website by class, subject, areas of interest and much more. Allow people to sign up to the groups. Send the members regular communication of new arrivals. At least a few of those shall find the contents interesting and shall visit the library.  

4.    Conduct Events 

Events always attract a large number of visitors compared to daily number of visitors. So, the easiest method to attract more students to the library is to keep conducting various events. When people are stressed out on time, people always want to be focused on where they want to spend their time. So, the focused an event is, the easier it is for the students to chose to attend the event.

Fig. 3. Shows some of the example of the events that a library can conduct 

Table 1. Few samples and types of events conducted in Libraries

1Library OrientationMonthlyGive orientation of library collection, events, OPAC etc. on a periodic basis.
2New Arrival SeminarQuarterlyIn this session, you display all new arrivals on tables and have people speak about them
3Book ReadingWeeklyThis is an event where in people explain about a book they have read. It can even be altered as a loud reading workshop where everyone attends aloud one page of the book he is borrowing. 
4Story telling (if applicable)Week day afternoonThis would attract the students to get attracted to fiction reading
5Career guidance  and Expert sessionsQuarterlyHere you get experts from various quarters to your library and have them guide the attendees.
6General discussionsWeeklyGeneral forum for the people to enroll in discussion forums and present view on a topic
7Industry-student meets at the libraryQuarterlyHere you invite various people from industry and have them spend time wit the students. As the session is going on, you would also your books on display which automatically encourages the students to pick up a few books for reading. 

Many libraries in USA do this very effectively. The Sunnyvale Public Library in California has an event for public every week. Various Kendriya Vidyalaya (KV) have regular student reading classes. The Libraries at Sri Kottala Basaveshwara Bharateeya Shikshana Samithi Sedam in Kalburgi district invite various experts throughout the year to the campus, motivate the students to read as well purchase new books. In a small Taluka place, the number of events conducted in the high school alone exceeds over 24 in a year and thereby results in book sales as well as increased borrowing of books from the library. 

5.    Frequently Updated Web OPAC

Website is one of the most effective ways to inform the users about the library. In advanced cases, it can even be very interactive.  Some of highly ranked Universities have very informative website where as others do not have adequate information at all. Some dos and don’ts about the website are 

Fig. 4. Shows the Web Application Developed by EasyLib

Some suggestions for contents on your home page are 

  • OPAC Search Box 
  • List of periodicals  
  • New arrivals information 
  • Featured books
  • Frequent searches 
  • Your external partners
  • Links to electronic resources
  • Library Timings
  • Photo Gallery
  • List of periodicals 

Table 2. The DO’s and Don’ts in a Library

1BasicsKeep user in the mind and design the website. Information should be relevant and worth the time.Don’t bore users with about the library. Users are interested in what is inside the library than what is about the library.
2Easy SearchA general rule of thumb is to measure the time a student takes to get relevant information. It should be less than 30 seconds.Avoid nested information. Listing all periodicals in one go is much more beneficial than things like Library Contents >> Periodicals >> Subject >> Frequency >> Periodical Name. Hardly there are a few hundred periodicals and listing all on one page is generally acceptable.
3Book ImagesPutting a section called “Featured Items” is a great way to tell what you have in the library.Avoid putting heavy images that reduce the speed of uploading the home page. A library page should load in less than 5 seconds.
4Use The Real EstateThe home page is a powerful real estate. Design it for most used monitors and fill it with information as needed.Avoid undue space on the library homepage. Either keep it simple with only one search bar or provide relevant links. People usually look at first page more than anywhere else.
5Website UpdatesWhen you go for automation, buy software that allows you to change website contents by yourself rather than having to go to System Admin every time.Don’t have a super rich website that is very difficult to update it periodically. A simple more frequently updated is more beneficial than one that has very good extensive information but not updated at all.

Vivekananda College Puttur updates its Web OPAC on a daily basis. It has also allowed guest login ( that does not require login to be able to do the searches on Web OPAC. Only when a user wants to see his personal borrowing history, he or she needs to log in. Last three months data shows this is resulting in more users’ visitor. The analysis is awaited. 

6.    Different Zones in the Library 

Interview as well as observation of IN-OUT data of student’s show that, they come to the library for the following reasons. 

  • To browse through collection 
  • To borrow or return a book
  • To hang out with friends
  • To make Xerox copies
  • To spend some quite time
  • To sit and study
  • To learn about new items at the library
  • To get a reprieve from heat outside  
  • To do joint study with friends
  • To get motivation to study
  • To use wash rooms
  • To research material for assignments
  • To discuss ideas
  • To do project work
  • To charge their mobile or laptop
  • To browse internet

Fig. 5. Shows the sample of Library Environment

All of these do not require a silent zone, which is often the case in most college libraries in India today. Consistent boards like silent zone or do not bring electronic gadgets deter the students from coming to the library. To address this problem, we suggest forming a few different zones in the library. 

The zones can be

  • Quite Study Area: This is a traditional silent zone that encourages students to do their own work rather than engage in discussions. Here even the board “Silent Zone” is movable. That way if you wish to convert a zone to no longer a silent zone, it is easy to do. 
  • Activity Zone / Low Voice Zone: This is Circulation area, newspaper reading zone, casual discussion zone etc. Usually you want to keep standees for people to read the items rather than providing seating. 
  • Discussion zone: This is an area where tables are large enough, allow students to form groups and do joint studies, work on assignments or do projects. The room encourages students to engage in discussions in as needed. 

New Horizons Engineering College, Bengaluru has a beautiful student discussion area. Over twenty large size tables in a large room by itself make the library a center of buzzing activity. Many of the offices in Apple at USA have three seats round table glass-door conference rooms of size 8 foot by 8 foot. These allow the researchers to quickly get into conference rooms and hold discussions with their discussions. The set up of having a high number of small round table conference rooms is found to be more beneficial than having less number of large conference rooms. 

7.    Motivational Signboards

Success breeds success. Many a times, starting is a problem. So, once you get a user start a journey of self – motivated reading habit, it catches on own and grows further. So, putting a few motivational boards throughout the campus or in the library that encourage student are found to be attractive. 

Fig. 6. Shows the sample of Library Environment

Written in Facebook font – Put Your Face in a Book

Put Your Face in a Book

Written in YouTube font – You could Read a book

You could Read a book

Many more innovative signboards related to websites where students spend time. 

A visit to the Library at Sri Aurobindo Institute of Technology, Indore can give you a glimpse of various innovative motivational signboards.

8.    Appropriate Furniture

Appropriate furniture for board book arrangement as well as seating is one of the most important factors in increasing users to the library.

Fig. 7. Shows the arrangements in a Library

Some recommendations here

  • Casual reading zone should have unconventional furniture like more comfortable chairs, soft chairs, a sofa for the staff to sit etc. That should make students and staffs feel like spending more time at the library.
  • Provide electric plug points to each desk in silent zone so that people can read the books accompanied by their laptops, tabs, mobiles etc. At least I prefer to read a book along with a tab or a laptop so that I can quickly refer to the supporting material mentioned in the book.
  • Relevant Furniture – Make the furniture more appropriate for students to complete their homework or assignments. i.e. Much larger tables for students to spread their reading material and all their electronic gadgets.  

Navodaya Medical College Raichur and KMC Manipal are two of the best ones in terms of furniture observed. 

9.    Place for safe keeping of personal items

One of the factors affecting students’ entry to the library is the lack of place to safely keep their personal valuable items that are in their bags or backpacks.

Fig. 8. Shows the Security System of a Library Environment

One solution would to providing students with a more secure space to keep their personal items. Just like a book, students borrow locker key and keep their belongings in the locker. They return the key while going out. Sri Devaraj Urs Medical College Kolar has implemented an excellent key check in – check out mechanism. They get issued just like a book and get returned. 

10.Appropriate Ambience

Ambiance plays a great role in keeping students stay at the library.

Fig. 9. Shows the role of Ambience in a Library

Some common issues observed are 

  • Too hot – Where as a book reading hall does not have AC, the adjoining eBook area would have. As a result, people simple avoid spending time at the library and instead sit at the computer center, still doing reading in the cramped space designed for web browsing. Good option in such cases would be merging both physical and digital libraries and provide temperature controlled reading area.
  • Too Cold – Especially in winters, a library may feel very chilly. Putting thick curtains put to the windows to make the reading area feel warm during winter. 
  • Too Bright – A library I visited was too bright for reading due to the sunlight coming in from glass windows. Putting curtains would solve the issue.
  • Too Cluttered – A library made it look much more spacious by taking out extra copies of unused books and keeping them in the backside area. Gave feeling of library being much more spacious for people to spend time there.
  • Too Noisy – Most libraries solve this problem by partitioning library into different zones. 

11. Location of the Library in the Campus

Having a library in the corner of the educational campus or higher floor is a deterrent to usage. A few libraries were in third floor and the students had to walk all the up to go to library and for the purpose of going to library alone. It would be more appropriate if the library is in ground floor or mezzanine floor and on the way to classrooms, building entry-exit etc. Similarly it needs to be centrally located rather than being in a corner. A more visible library shall attract more students than a hard to find one.

Fig. 10. Shows the role of Ambience in a Library

12. Librarian and Professors to work together

A fundamental change in the educational system may attract more students to the library. 

Fig. 11. Shows the interaction sections in a library

A librarian could request the professors to give case study based, periodical article based or a current issue based assignment or an assignment that expects the students to do research rather than giving only typical assignments which require them to read books and answer them. When the assignments require students to access the library resources to get necessary data for their assignments, automatically the library usage shall increase.

For example, University of Massachusetts Librarians and Professors work very closely. Most of the assignments were case study based. There was no choice other than going over so much of material at the library or access the library resources. In addition, finance and strategy class expected students to analyze SEC (SEBI) filings. Again students would use library resources to get the necessary material. Marketing class would expect the students to take one company a week and analyze and present our findings. Again e-Resources of library would be of use. 

13. Standard Text Books vs. Guide Books

We did an analysis of circulation pattern for a select engineering college by publishers. Took noted three publishers and tried to see a pattern. Data shows as below and issue count for January month in 2014 and 2019.

Fig. 12. Shows the books circulated based on publisher wise

Table 3. The books circulated based on publisher wise

Prentice Hall India1501206350
Tata McGraw Hill95223157269

Source: A reputed Engineering College with over 3,000 students at Bengaluru

As you see, in all the three cases, numbers either dropped or did not increase proportionately even though admissions have increased. This seems to be the case for all standard publishers. 

A few engineering college librarians at Karnataka attributed this patterns to many students now preferring to read guidebooks rather than original textbooks. When this happens, less number of books are more frequently read by students. And the impact of that is the original research and reading standard books is impacted. 

Any change to this patterns needs to be dealt at the curriculum formation level itself, where in curriculum should be designed to encourage original reading/writing rather than referring to guidebooks like in high schools.

14. Friendly Welcome

Those with more friendly and approachable library staff had more students inside. Did not measure it, it is by observation. The more frequently students stopped by for a quick check with the library staff during our discussions, the more students libraries seem to have inside.

Fig. 13. Shows the children with Books in Library Environment

Interview with student’s shows that students like to read much more than standard text books alone. To aid this, students recommended add to your collection more books related to tourism, biography, culture, history, geography, local area information, music, personal finance etc., even in engineering and medical colleges. There would be many more items, but we would stop here.   

Fig. 14. Increasing the collection of non-academic books


Images are obtained from below sources.

Vasu M Deshpande

Co-Founder and CEO

Easylib Software Pvt Ltd

+91-97422-04624 & +1-408-663-2260

Vasu M Deshpande is a Co-Founder and CEO of Easylib Software Pvt Ltd. Apart from founding Easylib, he worked at Infosys, Apple Inc. USA and General Electric USA for over 15 years as IT Professional and Program Manager. He is a National Merit Scholar, BE with Gold Medal from Gulbarga University, MBA from University of Massachusetts USA, PMP (Project Management Professional) and CSCP (Certified Supply Chain Professional. He has presented various invited talks on Information Technology as well as Program Management. In addition to Information Technology, he also Program Managed construction of over 2,200 houses and 12,000 Toilets under Parishudh Program sponsored by Infosys Foundation in Northern Karnataka while on sabbatical from Easylib for a few years. 

Rajashree Bilgundi

Member – Customer Relationship Team

+91 74116 34277

Rajashree Bilgundi is an Engineer by Profession and works in Customer Relationship Team at Easylib Software Pvt. Ltd. In her role, she is responsible to speak to various customers, analyzing customers’ issues and coming up with technological changes to be done to the applications.