Bremen City Library Milieu Study “Customers in Focus”

Library user
Library user | Photo (detail): © Joe Crawford/CC/flickr

Hamburg’s University of Applied Sciences has conducted a “milieu study” of Bremen City Library users. It provides a valid basis for gearing the services and products the library offers more precisely to the needs of its customers.

“We wanted to acquire an even better picture of our customers and their needs”, explains Barbara Lison, director of Bremen City Library. To achieve this goal, the library team in Bremen decided to take a different approach – and to work together with the Department of Information at Hamburg’s University of Applied Sciences.

In the 2010/11 winter semester, students undertook a project supervised by Professor Ute Krauß-Leichert and Professor Frauke Schade to study what potential and existing customers expect the City Library to provide in terms of products and services.

Precise customer orientation

Over recent decades, German libraries have begun to focus very strongly on the principle of customer orientation. As a result, they are constantly developing new services designed to serve the needs of their customers. However, it is public libraries in particular – which after all have a mandate to provide all citizens with education, culture and information – that often lack information about what exactly these needs are.

When they attempt to redress this shortcoming, libraries quickly find themselves reaching their limits in terms of both personnel and financial resources. In many cases all they can do is draw conclusions from the scant personal information which users provide in order to acquire a library card: usually merely their age and gender. Customer surveys are one way to gain more information, though naturally they only reach those people who are already using the library.

Conservative/established or hedonistic?

“Bremen City Library commissioned us to evaluate the milieu structure in Bremen. The aim was to find out which types of people the library is reaching, and which it is not”, explains Frauke Schade. “What is more, we wanted to illustrate how the library’s portfolio of products and services can be geared to specific target groups.”

The project team at the University of Applied Sciences in Hamburg chose to use the Sinus Milieu model, because: “The traditional socio-demographic characteristics and the classification of individuals into social classes are nowadays no longer sufficient to identify the requirements and interests of potential customers of public libraries. Milieu studies describe a society not only on the basis of socio-demographic and socio-economic variables but also via its attitudes and values concerning all key areas of experience such as work, leisure time, family and consumer behaviour.”

For the purposes of the current Sinus Milieu model, society was divided up into ten different milieus – from a conservative/established milieu and an adaptive/pragmatic milieu to a hedonistic milieu. For the study, the researchers initially acquired geo-milieu data from the company microm which they analysed and interpreted in the context of the library’s customer data. This revealed which milieus actually exist in the various districts of Bremen and showed the milieu structure of the library’s customers. Furthermore, sinus-based secondary studies were analysed and a nuanced description of the milieus elaborated.

A library for everyone

“The hypothesis that a library will find it much easier to reach people from higher social milieus who have a modern value orientation, partly because such people have a particular media affinity, cannot be supported overall as far as Bremen City Library is concerned. In fact, the milieu distribution of the library’s customers is relatively homogeneous”, says Frauke Schade, summing up the results of the study. Only the “middle-class” milieu is reached considerably less well in comparison.

This relatively homogeneous distribution poses a challenge for the City Library. “It cannot really exclude any individual milieus as potential target groups”, the professor explains. 

New perception of the customer

“For us, the study now forms the basis for further strategic decisions. Do we wish to offer our existing customers an even better service? Do we want to create new services to attract new customers? Can we achieve both financially? These are the questions we are asking ourselves at the moment”, says Barbara Lison. These decisions are then implemented in the department responsible for controlling media services as well as in the marketing department: “After all, it is not only our services that have to be tailored to the particular target groups, but also the way they are marketed.”

Perhaps the most important impact on daily work is something Barbara Lison can already see happening in her library. “Our engagement with the study has meant that many of our staff have changed their perception of the customer. They now see customers less as library card holders and more as individuals belonging to a particular milieu. The people who come to our library have many facets – and these have now become clearer to us.”

Krauß-Leichert, Ute / Schade, Frauke (Eds.): Den Kunden im Fokus. Eine Milieustudie zur Profilierung des Produkt- und Dienstleistungsportfolios der Stadtbibliothek Bremen. (i.e. The Customer in Focus. A Milieu Study to Define the Product and Service Portfolio of Bremen City Library). Hamburg University of Applied Sciences, Faculty of Design, Media, Information, Department of Information, 2011.