I’m a big fan of Cambridge’s Central Library, and I particularly like the fact that it’s still open when I’m on my way home from work. So I was concerned to see that the County Council are proposing to close it an hour earlier, as a cost-cutting measure. Their consultation, which closed about a week ago, asked whether it would be better to open an hour later instead. It’ll be interesting to see what the results are, but I thought it would also be interesting to have a look at what time of day people are using the library at the moment.
I put in a Freedom of Information request using mySociety’s excellent WhatDoTheyKnow site, and in due course got back a lot of data, which I’ve done a bit of analysis on. At the moment the library’s opening hours are:
- Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
- Wednesday: 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., staying open an hour later than usual. Wednesday is late night shopping in Cambridge, with many shops in the city centre open until 8 p.m.
- Saturday: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., closing an hour earlier than most weekdays
- Sunday: 12 noon to 4 p.m.
Here’s how the pattern of use looks at the moment. This graph shows the number of items checked out in each hour of the day, for each day of the week. This is from September 2009 when the library reopened after refurbishment, up to the end of May 2011. There were over 780,000 items checked out in this period. (Click the graph to see it full size.)
As you can see, Saturday is the busiest day by some way. On weekdays, things don’t really get busy until about 11:00, and they tail off a bit in the afternoons. Sunday is pretty busy too, particularly towards closing time. But what I really wanted to know was, how does the first hour of each day compare to the last hour? Should the library be opening later, or closing earlier? Are there more early birds hammering on the door first thing in the morning, or more people like me, nipping in just before closing time?
The Council’s proposal is to close an hour earlier on Monday to Saturday, keeping the same hours on Sunday. The alternative is to open an hour later Monday to Saturday. So here’s a comparison of the number of items checked out in the first and last hours of opening on each of those days.
Overall, it’s a big win for the last hour. Only on Monday are there more items checked out in the first hour of the day. It’s quite close on Wednesday, when evening opening means the final hour is 7 to 8 p.m. But Tuesday, Thursday and Friday have comfortable majorities for the last hour, and it’s a landslide on Saturday – nearly three items checked out in the last hour for each one in the first hour.
Of course, there are some caveats: not everyone who visits the library checks something out; people probably tend to check items out towards the end of their visit; the pattern of use may vary seasonally, and may have changed since the library reopened. But even so, I think this is pretty compelling evidence that opening later would be better than closing earlier.