Modern Traffic Counting for Libraries

By Steve Hunt, Santa Monica College 

There are 457 people in my library right now.  I know this from the “Monitor Occupancy” web page that takes data from the new traffic monitor hardware that watches the doors in our library.

Our staff no longer have to crouch down every morning and transcribe numbers from the old electric eye counters that came built into our security gates.  The electric eye was never very accurate anyway, if two or three people walked in at the same time it counted them as one person. It couldn’t tell the difference between people arriving and people leaving.  We only recorded the data once a day, so we never knew how many people were in the library at any given time.

Our new people counters record data continuously.  They know the difference between people entering and people leaving.  They can track both occupancy and traffic for any time period we want. 

The counters are about the size of a paperback book and are mounted to the ceiling over our entrance. We have two, one over each door of our rather wide entrance. They have cameras with software built-in that analyzes the image and counts people going by underneath.  That data is passed to a cloud-based server maintained by our traffic counter service provider.

We can run reports that analyze the data different ways. We can have the reports automatically generated and emailed to us every day. I have included some sample graphs and charts. We can also have the system generate data in Excel format.  We had our IT folks run Ethernet cables to these devices, they use POE (power over Ethernet) so we didn’t need to run power.  There are wireless options too, but then the device needs a source for AC power.

This technology is heavily used in retail establishments.  The software may have a retail focus so that would be a good question to ask prospective vendors.  Because these devices are widely used, prices are low and there are many vendor and hardware choices.  A complete system can be put together for between $1500 and $4000. Cost depends on the number of counters you need and whether SMC Hourly Usage Reportsoftware is locally hosted or accessed over the internet on a vendor-run site.  We chose to subscribe to the cloud-based software to avoid more work for our campus IT staff.

We all need to be able to show how many people are using our library. This gives us hard data to help with funding requests for facilities and staffing.  Knowing when students use the library helps us plan for demand.  What hours are busiest and what days? Most library users don’t ask reference questions or use circulation desk services every time they’re in the library, but they are using the library nonetheless. People counters can help you show this. Your library needs a modern traffic counting system!


There are 539 people in my library right now. 

Some vendors of traffic counter hardware: