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Smarter Libraries Through Technology: Customer Relationship Management

Smart Libraries Newsletter [February 2018]

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Libraries are beginning to shift their emphasis of technology support systems from a narrow focus on the back rooms of processing collection materials to an expanded view that's more inclusive of the front lines of information services and patron engagement. Library automation systems developed to date have focused primarily on managing and providing access to collections. The integrated library system and the more recent genre of library services platforms have developed very sophisticated functionality for technical services and for circulation of physical materials. Discovery services enable library users to easily find and gain access to patron materials and continue to improve capabilities for digital lending. These systems have not, however, been developed to deliver sophisticated tools to help libraries assess and improve their services to patrons or strengthen engagement. Room remains to extend the scope of the core library automation infrastructure to fill voids unaddressed by traditional models of functionality. These tools adopt the characteristics of products and services available in the business sector for marketing automation and customer relationship management but are tuned to reflect the values and strategies of libraries.

The primary patron-facing service supported by current library automation systems has been the circulation of collection materials. Circulation modules take a transactional approach to managing the print and digital materials lent to library patrons. Most of the messaging capabilities built into library automation systems revolve around circulation activities. The standard functionality in a circulation module automatically generates messages to patrons to return or renew items past their due date or bills for fines incurred. Some libraries opt to send reminder messages in advance of the due date to help patrons avoid late fees. Such messages support the transactional nature of circulation but do not necessarily strengthen the bonds between the library and the community it serves. These messages, given their punitive tone, can reinforce less than positive impressions of the library.

Libraries can benefit from systematic technology designed to invite its community members to take advantage of its full range of programs and services and to help build a positive image of the organization. Further, capabilities are needed to help the library develop a complete picture of the interests and needs of its community members, which can serve as a resource as it makes operational decisions and shapes its strategic planning. Many libraries have already taken an interest in marketing and engagement processes and have implemented products and services to help support these efforts.

Strategies for customer support, engagement, and marketing have been developed for many business sectors through a genre of software known as customer relationship management (CRM) or marketing automation. These products include a suite of components, usually based on a data warehouse populated with information describing the activities and interests of current and potential customers, use patterns, profiles or personas that enable highly customized analytics, reports, and messaging streams. Based on detailed customer profiles, use data, demographics, and event triggers, these platforms are able to generate highly targeted messaging across multiple channels with higher rates of success at eliciting some type of positive response.

I have been interested in the opportunities for libraries to improve their services through adopting advanced analytics and CRM technologies for many years.[1] Products and services along these lines that are oriented to libraries have emerged and evolved in recent years. Academic libraries have been especially interested in analytic tools able to measure and assess collection performance to inform acquisitions and cancellations of electronic resources. Public libraries have shown a growing interest in tools to support their activities related to marketing, promotion, and engagement.

A few library-specific products have been developed. The ones that I have come across include Savannah from OrangeBoy (, Patron Point from Third Chapter (http://www.thirdchapter .com/patron-point/), and LibCRM from Springshare (https://

The integrated library system provides only the skeleton for the body of data needed to power a CRM environment. These products include a patron database populated with basic information needed to help support circulation transactions. Each record contains physical addresses, e-mail addresses, and birthdates, but usually not a great deal of information, which might be needed to support a sophisticated CRM environment. Data regarding involvement with library services, such as borrowing history, is usually limited. Most libraries opt not to retain lists of items previously borrowed as part of their patron privacy policies.

The paucity of data retained within the circulation environment reflects the contrasting values between libraries and other types of organizations. Most commercial organizations design their business environment to capture and retain the maximum level of data for each of their current and potential customers and any grain of data related to browsing and buying. They continually mine this data for advertising and messaging in hopes to generate new sales. Libraries, in contrast, tune their systems to retain the least amount of data, recording only what is needed for ongoing borrowing activity and purging or anonymizing completed transactions. Most libraries work hard to provide an environment where their users can be assured that the items they borrow will not be disclosed to anyone. Routine anonymization of completed circulation transactions provides protection even to orders from law enforcement.

Libraries interested in implementing CRM can enrich the data available while being consistent with policies relating to patron privacy. It's possible, for example, to retain categories of usage data by giving patrons the opportunity to opt in to saving their history of checkouts when they register as a borrower or update up their profiles. Additional data sets can be layered into the environment such as census data or other demographic descriptors for each zone within the library's service area. Compared to the commercial sector, libraries face more challenges implementing effective promotion and engagement services given their protective approach regarding patron data.

The Kitchener Public Library in Ontario, Canada recently carried out a procurement process for a new library automation environment with requirements that included CRM functionality in addition to that of the traditional integrated library system. According to the library's Chief Executive Officer Mary Chevreau, the major integrated library systems available on the market are expected to be able to offer adequate capabilities for traditional modules, but they are looking for a more customer-focused environment. The request for proposals that the library developed included an extensive section on requirements for marketing and customer engagement. The introduction to this section states:

The marketing system should offer the following overall features and benefits. The vendor is asked to provide a response as to how its offering meets each of the criteria. The solution proposed should provide:

  • An integrated, up-to-the-minute patron and non-patron dataset including demographics, activity (checkouts, renewals), and monitored/solicited behaviors (surveys, email responses);
  • A comprehensive set of reporting allowing the Libraries to make better informed decisions and increase visibility into virtual and “non-circ” patron activities;
  • A broad set of email, website, and social interaction tools to allow for the development of engagement programs that are customizable to Kitchener Public Library's marketing and operational goals;
  • Complete on-boarding and on-going technical support and marketing consulting services.[2]

The RFP indicated that vendors could provide these capabilities directly or through a partnership with another company:

“With this in mind, we strongly encourage vendors to collaborate/partner with marketing/customer engagement companies outside of the vendor family, if the vendor cannot currently demonstrate and support a strong marketing component.”[3] The RFP developed by Kitchener is the first to include a mandatory CRM component as part of an ILS procurement.

The Kitchener Public Library has awarded the CRM portion of its procurement process to Third Chapter Partners for its Patron Point patron relationship management system. The integrated library system component of the procurement has not yet been finalized or announced.

Third Chapter Partners ( was established in 2016 as a new consulting firm offering a diverse set of services to libraries. The firm was founded by Ted Fons, Gene Shimshock, and Tom Jacobson. Each have extensive experience with library automation vendors, including Innovative Interfaces and OCLC. Jacobson, as noted elsewhere in this issue of Smart Libraries Newsletter, has since left the firm to return to Innovative.

Shimshock and Fons have focused on assisting libraries with marketing and promotion and have spearheaded the development of Patron Point, a marketing automation environment able to produce custom reports and visualizations and to generate messaging for patron engagement. The product collects data from multiple products used by the library, including its integrated library system, PC reservation systems, and digital lending platforms to create a broad representation of patron activity. Third Chapter is then able to configure the Patron Point platform to execute the library's marketing and promotion strategy, including both outgoing messaging and dynamic reports. Patron Point is based on the SharpSpring marketing automation platform (, which provides a generic set of capabilities that Third Chapter uses to fulfill the library's desired outcomes.

Early adopters of Patron Point included The Delaware County Public Library in Ohio, the Skokie Public Library in Illinois, and the Ferguson Library in Connecticut. In addition to the Kitchener Public Library, the firm has recently announced the adoption of Patron Point by two major municipal libraries, the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library and the Las Vegas–Clark County Library District.

Libraries continually strive to be more responsive to the organizations and communities they serve. Many technology products have been developed and implemented to increase their efficiency, including integrated library systems, self-service kiosks, and automated materials handling. Everimproving online catalogs, discovery services, and content management systems provide interfaces enabling patrons to find and access collection materials. An important next phase of technology support extends beyond these areas to also include stronger tools for data-driven strategic planning, marketing, and patron engagement.


  1. See “Data-Driven Libraries,” Computers in Libraries 34, no. 7 [September 2014], 23-26, and “Transformations in Academic Libraries Demand Transformed Automation Support,” Computers in Libraries 31, no. 4 [May 2011], 27-29.
  2. Kitchener Public Library and Waterloo Public Library, “Request for Proposal for a Library Management System for Kitchener Public Library and Waterloo Public Library,” procurement document, May 15, 2017. The RFP was written to serve both Kitchener and Waterloo libraries for their integrated library system. Kitchener has selected Patron Point for their CRM system; Waterloo has not yet made any decisions regarding CRM systems.
  3. “Request for Proposal for a Library Management System,” 10.
View Citation
Publication Year:2018
Type of Material:Article
Language English
Published in: Smart Libraries Newsletter
Publication Info:Volume 38 Number 02
Issue:February 2018
Publisher:ALA TechSource
Series: Smarter Libraries through Technology
Place of Publication:Chicago, IL
Company: Patron Point
Record Number:23336
Last Update:2022-11-28 11:44:11
Date Created:2018-03-25 08:50:37