Space, the first frontier…

In July I visited Peter Dennison, Head of Customer Services at UCL Library. My colleague Jay Woodhouse, the Facilities and Project Manager at UCL Library, put me in touch with Peter. I had met Jay previously when I went for a tour of UCL library in 2016 and I wanted to revisit UCL to look at a space monitoring system they had installed.

UCL Library

The UCL Estates department rolled out the Space Availability Project across the University whereby space monitoring sensors were installed on all study seats and in teaching spaces. The system, supplied by OccupEye, uses motion and heat sensors to provide data on the availability of individual study spaces, as well as other data including frequency of use, average use, optimisation rates and footfall.

Black sensor boxes, installed under study desks at UCL Library


I talked with Peter about the usefulness of the system and his plan for it going forward. Peter showed me the graphs and analytics that can be viewed within the online OccupEye system, which were very interesting and provided a richer picture of space utilisation than footfall alone.

The system allows students to see how many study spaces are available with (almost) real-time accuracy, across every Library (albeit only by way of numbers at the moment, not on a floor plan). They can see the available spaces, and also book rooms, via the UCL Go! app. Peter and his team have seen a definite decrease in capacity issues at some sites during busy exam periods and more evenly distributed use of study spaces across all his sites. Peter attributes this directly to the OccupEye system.

A wall mounted space monitoring sensor that captures footfall and usage in open and communal areas

The system has been operational for a few months, however Peter believes there are real opportunities for the system to influence decision making in regards to opening/closing hours and staffing library sites as well as being able to better evidence the impact of library initiatives on customer behaviour.  It was great to learn from Peter about the advantages of such a system. I believe that such investment (which can be significant for space monitoring systems like the one installed at UCL) must be fully justified in regards to the value it is expected to bring.

As the motto goes “measure what you value“. There is no point measuring data that you can’t or won’t use, nor collecting data that provides no value. I believe a question must be asked about the continued use of footfall as a key performance indicator of library utilisation. Although footfall is easy to collect, it is one dimensional and fails to capture a variety of detail that can paint a much richer picture of:

  • how customers use our spaces
  • opportunities to improve the customer experience
  • trends that indicate ineffective spaces

One of my Future Space Trends is Transform:

Transform – people will soon expect a space to be easily locatable and configurable to meet their preferences, by way of e.g. retractable walls and personal light and heat settings (see how this personalisation has been achieved with incredible sustainability performance at The Edge development in Amsterdam)

Is simply knowing that a study space is available enough for our customers? I think not. In a world where people have increasing opportunities to personalise the services they use, such a system should allow them to see more granular data to help them make a decision on where they wish to study, such as:

  • Proximity to facilities (toilets, water coolers, café)
  • Current temperature, noise and lights levels and air quality of a space
  • Rating of the space by other users
  • Density of people in the vicinity

Thank you for reading,

Mike Kelly
Library Space Development Manager
The University of Manchester Library




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