Case Study

A Unified Data Landscape for Maryland Libraries

calendar iconNovember 7, 2022

The Maryland State Library Agency (MSLA) is an independent agency with a mission to provide strategic leadership, resources and programmatic support to Maryland libraries to transform lives. Within the state, there are 24 library systems and 3 regional systems. A key function of MSLA is to administer State and Federal funds to support all 27 libraries, assisting them with advancing their missions and strengthening their institutional capacity. By focusing on institutional capacity, Maryland libraries can continue to develop into innovative workforces enhancing their capabilities to provide resources that fuel education, economic and employment opportunities.

In 2016, Prince George County Memorial Library System (PGCMLS) in Maryland was actively seeking strategic growth opportunities through exploring what they could do with their data. With 19 locations and more than 500 card holders and 1.2 million in circulation, the library system was buried in spreadsheets and disparate data sets with countless hours of manual analysis. PGCMLS enlisted the expertise of Cherry Bekaert Digital Advisory. By leveraging Tableau, a leading analytics and data visualization software, Cherry Bekaert and PCGMLS transformed the way the system stored, accessed and leveraged their data. The project saw huge returns as PGCMLS was able to reduce their reporting time to county, state and federal governments by 60%, increase their system-wide circulation and provide more targeted community outreach programs.

Taking note of the progress PGCMLS was making, MSLA began exploring how they could further expand upon this success throughout the greater library system. Notoriously, libraries have been community beacons, providing invaluable resources and connection to the public. The need to allocate budgets where they would make the most impact is of the upmost importance to the agency. Creating a unified data landscape across all 27 libraries had the potential to proactively address several needs. MSLA allocated grant funding for a state-wide project to embark on building a unified data landscape for Maryland public libraries by leveraging Tableau for their data solutions.

Colin Khem, Business Analytics Manager, who had spearheaded many of the data initiatives at PGCMLS, began the initiative by meeting with Cherry Bekaert Digital Advisory. Collectively, the team reviewed each library system to determine their technology and data infrastructure needs and define an execution roadmap for unifying a data landscape across the state. Yana Demireva, Research and Evaluation Coordinator at MSLA, joined the effort to help provide system-wide resources and support. “Because the library systems operate independently from one another, the team had to factor in differences in resources, hardware, technology and databases, presenting a unique approach to implementing the project. Because of these differences, the objective was for each system to implement their initiative, tapping into the already-established PGCMLS resources, including data visualization dashboards, analysis tools and warehousing,” stated Demireva.

Khem piloted the initial implementation with five of the larger state systems who were all using the same ILS database software, Polaris. Cherry Bekaert implemented a derivative of the PGCMLS Tableau server across the state, supplying the licensing and spearheading multiple training initiatives. “We relied heavily on communication and exploring our wins with PGCMLS Tableau implementation from the start. Helping other systems see the potential in their data and using existing dashboards, which were already garnering significant insights and measurable ROI, was a big win in gaining user adoption. Eventually our training sessions went from absorbing what has been done to collaboratively sharing what is possible with our data,” stated Khem.

After the initial implementation, Khem established a regular cadence of training sessions led by Cherry Bekaert onsite and virtually for additional systems to begin learning about the power of Tableau and the potential for each entity to leverage their data.

Frederick County Public Libraries (FCPL), a mid-sized library system with nine locations, was next in the implementation plan. Their objective was to establish a more automated approach to analysis. Cherry Bekaert began the process of cleaning their data, connecting the various data points, and filtering the appropriate data into user-friendly, interactive Tableau dashboards. Through the dashboards, FCPL could explore their data in real-time, helping them identify trends with their programming, circulations, catalogs, e-content vs on-shelf activity and make the appropriate changes to further the system’s mission. New programming was established and the team shaved off hours of manual work.

Continuing FCPLS’s success, Khem and Cherry Bekaert worked with remaining systems on licensing and training. “We experienced a slower rollout with those systems because of the varying technologies and limited resources. The team at Cherry Bekaert was pivotal in establishing the different connectors and scripting to make those differences seamless. We could not have accomplished this project without the ongoing support, expertise and communication from Cherry Bekaert. Characteristically, library requirements and capacities are consistently shifting. Cherry Bekaert’s ability to understand the landscape and immediately deliver on our needs is invaluable,” Khem stated.

“We have seen huge growth in the use of our consulting hours we provide through our grant funding. It shows that libraries are now strategically thinking about and using data. A lot of libraries are establishing dedicated data positions. The returns we are seeing don’t just highlight that we are doing better at collection management – we are doing better at overall decision making – making real data-orientated decisions and reimaging what is possible for Maryland libraries. Cherry Bekaert has been instrumental in strengthening our interconnectivity and data-informed focus,” stated Demireva.