19 No. 3 — May/June 2005
Place: the Fourth 'P' of Marketing
By Christie Koontz
Proclamation of the Value of Place
Hear Ye, Hear Ye! It is time for us as librarians
to be informed and knowledgeable about siting
and location strategies. Read on, please!
A well-designed location strategy is critical
for most public and private firms. Whether offering
countywide police and fire protection or selling
goods or services, the choice of location is
considered the most important decision a manager
or retailer can make. It is through this location
or "place" that the organization's offering is
made available to potential customers. The same
is absolutely true for libraries.
Studying Public Library 'Places'
Across America there are approximately 16,000
public library "places." These "places" range
from large, centrally located sites in the middle
of heavily urbanized counties to smaller locations
in upscale suburban or low-income, inner-city
neighborhoods to a single building serving an
entire rural county. The location of each site
represents significant commitment and long-term
investment of public funds, since a library facility
usually remains in service for several decades.
If the building is a main library for a county,
the service time frame for the actual site may
even be closer to 100 years.
The disadvantages of a poor location are difficult
to overcome. While the public library's vision
for customer use is far more equitable than a
bookstore's, the placement of libraries within
the communities they serve is as strategic as
that of a customer-based business. Therefore,
the location affects how the library is used,
by whom, and how much.
This article argues in favor of the critical
need for library location strategies and presents
a review and examples of the topic.
The Need for Library-Specific Location Strategies
Historically, location strategy and theory
have not been applied when choosing a site for
a public library, even though it appears that
libraries could benefit from them. There are
several reasons for this: 1) librarians lack
training and education in this area, 2) local
funders and influential citizens traditionally
affect decisions on siting according to governance
structures, and 3) there is a historic reliance
on widely published descriptive checklists used
by library building consultants who are hired
due to lack of library management experience
in this area. Hence, the cycle continues.
Yet retail stores and public-sector agencies
have successfully employed location theory since
the 1930s. More recently, these agencies started
utilizing geographic information system software.
GIS is used to review dispersion of customer
markets by geocoding user addresses, identify
the demographics of potential customers surrounding
the facility, and measure distances between other
service outlets and possible competitors in a
dynamic digital environment. All this data, analyzed
in combination, affects profit or service levels.
This same type of data also affects library use.
Library managers, too, must proactively develop
data that can estimate the extent of potential
customer markets served, profile the demographics
of the people who live there, and be readily
available to assess the impact of any closure
or merger. Old descriptive checklists will not
suffice. These checklists, while including important
considerations such as visibility, cost, proximity
to major roads, and adequate parking, fail to
show the interrelationships of these same criteria
to the population of users and potential users.
The checklist approach is also difficult (if
not impossible) to apply to multisite decisions.
It is understandable that library managers
of the past relied on trial and error, experience,
political persuasions, and citizen experts for
location decisions. At that time, location methodologies
had not been developed. But why aren't they better
prepared today? I argue that it is because other
location strategies are not widely known or available
Let us take a look at what is available
for managers and review some illustrative examples
of useful location strategies.
Five Popular Site Selection Strategies
There are five popular strategies for site
selection used by today's organizations: the
checklist method, analog approach, regression
models (do not be afraid!), location allocation,
and gravity models. Librarians who are cognizant
of these strategies can solicit the assistance
of outside consultants, local planning offices,
or university research centers. At the very least,
librarians can use the content or intent of
the models when thinking through siting and location
for their systems. I'll give a simple review
and examples of each approach in library lingo.
1. Checklist method. The checklist method
is used to evaluate the relative value of a site
by comparing it to the other possible locations
in a systematic way.
The checklist is highly dependent on the decision
maker's judgment and ability to place appropriate
value on each checklist item. In combination
with other methods, it can be useful. The checklists
that are most useful also include interactive
effects of traffic flow, population density,
income, competition, and other demographic information.
Site-specific criteria can include parking, ease
of access, and visibility.
While the checklist allows you to compare sites,
in more complex markets, intuition and expertise
with the other considerations are usually not
enough. Yet many public libraries continue to
rely on this methodin an even more simplified
Example: Many library building consultants
use the checklist approach, yet fail to use it
in conjunction with consideration of demographics
and population density (as described above).
The typical checklist takes a yes/no approach
in regard to the site's general physical conditions,
environmental aspects, size, and accessibility.
A more powerful use of the checklist would be
for a library to identify its geographic market
area (the real geographic extent of actual and
potential customers for each facility) and to
use the criteria as modifiers in siting
decisions, not as absolutes.
2. Analog approach. This method is more
sophisticated and rigorous. It is derived from
assumptions that the drawing power of a proposed
site is similar to that of stores operated by
a chain organization under equivalent market
conditions. For this method, you would identify
and select an existing store that is similar
to the one you're choosing a location for. The
power of the store to draw customers from various
distance zones is measured through on-site surveys.
The drawing power of the analog store is used
to estimate the market area and expected sales
at proposed alternate sites; the best site is
selected from those results.
Example: This type of method, even partially
implemented, can add valuable insight into library
site selection. Using standardized library data
that is currently available (federal data collectors
now collect square footage of facilities, and
demographic data is available through http://www.geolib.org/PLGDB.cfm),
managers can identify libraries of similar-sized
markets and demographics when considering sites.
3. Regression models. Regression statistical
models allow someone to consider market-area
factors as well as site-specific variables within
a single framework. The models also allow an
analyst to identify factors (the independent
variables) that can predict, with varying degrees
of success, different levels of revenue (the
dependent variable) at various sites. By measuring
the values of the independent variables at a
proposed location, an analyst can make predictions
for the dependent variable. Regression models
require the real population of the store's actual
market area, as opposed to general population
Example: The regression model I developed for
the library field uses demographic, geographic,
and quality or attractiveness variables. Let
us say that a library manager does not have the
experience or funds to hire a consultant to use
a statistical model. I would argue that even
descriptive knowledge of those population characteristics
that are most relevant to library use would be
helpful. In a regression model, I would consider
the following demographics as the independent
variables: age, race/ethnicity, education, income,
language spoken, mode of transportation, travel
time, and family life cycle. In my research,
I collapsed all the library-usage (dependent)
variables into an index. This is usually just
fine, as circulation dominates (so including
program attendance and reference statistics does
little to change the statistical counts). This
simple type of analysiseven short of fully
employing the modelrequires librarians
to really deliberate and identify their geographic
market area, which is the geographic variable.
They can do this by studying paper maps and looking
at topographical and cultural boundaries that
limit service geographically. Quality or attractiveness
variables include square footage, holdings, and
hours of access. Use these in combination and
you can predict (to a degree) the level of use
in a proposed location. That is the way Wal-Mart
and CVS/pharmacy do itwhy not us?
4. Location allocation models. These models
shift the focus from evaluating site-specific
factors to evaluating the impact of a new outlet
on any other outlet that's operated by the same
firm within the market area. These models are
advantageous in that they make possible a systematic
evaluation of a large number of locational configurations
in terms of market share or profit. Components
of the location allocation model include measures
of accessibility; demand zones (such as census
tracts and ZIP codes); feasible sites (zoning,
costs, etc.); distances; and the allocation rule,
a formula that indicates how consumers choose
among different outlets.
Example: Assign each potential user to a library
facility based on minimum travel distance. This
is an excellent way to see the vitality of a
more retail-like approach, in which you consider
the drawing power of a library based on the resources
offered (square footage and holdings), topographical
or cultural barriers, and other factors that
defy "going to the nearest library."
5. Gravity models. This model evaluates
sites for facilities based on the assumption
that the interaction between two population centers
is the function of the population size of each
center and the distance between them. The two
basic variables are population and distance.
Marketing researchers use what is known as Reilly's
Law by describing the market area or buying power
of alternative sites as a function of the population
of the geographical areas or shopping areas of
the sites. The original formula is modified to
include driving time instead of distance. Other
modifiers to the market area that are often used
include transportation network, lines of communication
such as newspapers and cable, population density,
proximity to other major centers, intervening
opportunities (similar and competing services),
topographical considerations, and leadership
of competitors in the area.
Example: Decision makers at a library system
could evaluate suitable sites for branches and
for the central library by at least determining
a primary estimate of the size of the population
that the branches or central facility would serve.
This lack of information regarding geographic
market determination continues to thwart the
majority of location strategies and models available
to the library field.
Location strategies offer public librarians
a logical framework for coordinating all that
is known about a facility and its environment
in order to make site decisions that meet the
library's mission, goals, and objectives. An
abundance of research and expertise is available
for a range of library location problems. We
can no longer afford to rely on simple descriptive
methods when we are responsible for million-dollar
budgets and the long-term impact of a poorly
New Library Location Strategy Tool Available
The U.S. Public Library Geographic Database
(PLGDB), initially developed from 2002 to 2004,
is the ongoing project of myself, researchers,
and key library communities. The PLGDB is designed
to be a decision-making tool for library planners,
researchers, and advocates. The database holds
all 16,000 U.S. public library "places," library
usage data, and relevant U.S. Census customer
data. It's available at http://www.geolib.org/PLGDB/cfm.
You can examine demographics such as age, race,
language spoken, income, and education level
within any reasonable geographic area. This tool
allows people to estimate geographic market areas
through radius or agglomeration of census geography
and to ask powerful what-if questions that are
key to effective location strategies. This database
is exemplary of customer research tools that
go well beyond simple descriptive approaches,
and it also bypasses the need to learn the intricacies
of GIS or statistics.
This and other more sophisticated tools and
strategies must be used at the local, state,
and federal level to better understand the impact
of a library's geographic location and its subsequent
impact on the people it is mandated to serve.
Library managers should take advantage of modern-day
information technologycomputerized maps
and databasesjust as they encourage their
users to do.
"Location, location, location," as some wise
retailer said, "is the most important decision
managers can make." The public library, as a
market-based service segment of the information
industry, must ascribe to the credo as well.
As for the virtual soothsayers who believe that
physical location is a concern of the past, I
say, "No way." Let us discuss digital versus
Implications of Digital Libraries on Physical
Today, with advances in computer technology
and tele-communications, the future existence
of physical libraries is being questioned. Research
grants are awarded for "libraries without walls." Some
predict that today's brick-and-mortar libraries
can and will be replaced by computer networks
that transfer vast amounts of up-to-date information
over an information highway to homes, offices,
If this futuristic view of society and libraries
comes to pass, what, if any, is the value of
geographic market profiling and locational analysis
from a library manager's perspective?
I would argue that the community's virtual
library is housed within the physical public
library facility. Currently, the libraries are
complementing one another. Library buildings
are increasing in physical size and changing
in configuration to accommodate information technology,
while the virtual libraries they house are augmenting
wider access to information to those who may
not have computers at home. Market profiling
and locational analysis are critical, as public
libraries get about 80 percent of their funding
from local monies. These public funds are derived
largely from potential or actual customers living
within the market area of each facility. Library
managers need this critical market data to anticipate
and ultimately to satisfy the community's information
wants and needs. The location of a facility is
an indisputable factor in achieving customer
Hear Ye, Hear Ye! The Fourth 'P' Is Proclaimed!
With the tools currently available, public
library managers can confidently resolve the
many and unique siting issues confronting them.
Armed with practiced and experienced location
strategies, they can make decisions that best
meet the needs of their community's own special "place," now
and in the future.
Hear Ye, Hear Ye! The Fourth P has been proclaimedPlace
Christie Koontz, Ph.D.,
is a research associate and director of the GeoLib
Program at Florida State University in Tallahassee
(http://www.geolib.org). Koontz also teaches
management and marketing at the College of Information
at Florida State University and conducts marketing
workshops for colleagues around the globe. She
is author of Library Facility Siting and Location
Handbook (Greenwood Press, 1997). Her e-mail
address is firstname.lastname@example.org.