A tablet-based toolkit for collecting, managing, and analyzing data about the usage of physical spaces.


Suma is an open-source mobile web-based assessment toolkit for collecting and analyzing observational data about the usage of physical spaces and services. Suma’s goals include streamlining existing data collection, enabling fast, hassle-free mobile data collection, providing sophisticated data analysis and visualization capabilities for non-technical users, and promoting observational data analysis as an integral part of service and space design and day-to-day planning. Conceptually, Suma attempts to apply the longstanding user research benefits of web analytics to physical spaces and services.

Suma has proven to be far more efficient for staff than previous methods for data collection. The Suma team has found that a standardized data structure is invaluable to our ability to build analysis tools for non-technical users that can be used across the board for a wide variety of data collection initiatives. Suma is also used extensively to assess the usage of our large, new James B. Hunt, Jr. library in order to conduct a post-occupancy assessment of new services and spaces, with a particular emphasis on newer service models such as roaming reference. Suma is used by dozens of staff at our organization, and there are over 100 implementations at other academic libraries.

Examples of the current uses for this toolkit include the collection and analysis of data relating to:

    • Building headcounts
    • Service desk transactions
    • Roaming reference services
    • Experimental technology usage
    • Media production activities
    • Experimental space usage
    How We Did It

    The Suma application stack comprises three major components: data collection tools, a data management server, and a data reporting and analysis framework. The mobile data collection application -- as well as the data management server -- have been shown to be highly stable and the reporting and analysis framework includes a rapidly expanding set of sophisticated and highly interactive reporting and visualization tools. These include an interactive dashboard (utilizing D3.js) that presents multiple dimensions of the data using zoomable time series charts, activity and location bar charts, data tables, as well as image and CSV (Excel) exports. Comparative and experimental charts are currently under development, including a calendar heat map and charts for comparing data across multiple collection initiatives. The Suma server provides a powerful API that enables the development of a huge range of custom data analysis tools.



    Publications and Presentations

    Chapman, J. (2015). North Carolina Library Association, Reference and Adult Services section. "Current Trends in Reference" virtual conference. Session title "Using Suma to track desk transactions." March 24, 2015.

    Davidson, B. & Casden, J. (2014). "Suma: Utilizing emerging browser technology to develop an open-source space and service analytics system.", DLF Annual Forum, Atlanta, GA, October 28, 2014. 

    Casden, J. and Davidson, B. (2014). "Better living with observational data: Using Suma to inform space and service planning", TRLN Annual Meeting, Chapel Hill, NC, July 23, 2014. 

    Chapman, J. (2014). CUNY Assessment Conference. "The Suma project: Integrating observational data assessment into space and service design." June 6 2014. New York City, NY.

    Caya, P., & Nielsen, J. (2013). ""Suma" (North Carolina State University Libraries)". In Enterprise mobile showcase: Mobile approaches to enterprise content (pp. 139-164). Fremont, CA: Nielsen Norman Group. Retrieved from

    Casden, J. and Davidson, B. (2013). "The Suma Project: Integrating Observational Data Assessment into Space and Service Design", ACRL 2013 Cyber Zed Shed track, Indianapolis, IN, April 11, 2013.

    Chapman, J., Casden, J., & Duckett, K. (2012). "The Suma project: an open-source, mobile tool enabling observational data collection and analysis"Library Assessment Conference 2012, Charlottesville, VA, October 29, 2012.

    Chapman, J. (2011). "Introducing Suma: an Open Source iPad Application for Analyzing Library Reference Services"American Library Association 2011 Annual Conference. RUSA MARS Hot Topics in Electronic Reference Panel, "How are we measuring up? Using new technologies to schedule, standardize, and assess reference services", New Orleans, LA, June 25, 2011.

    Casden, J. (2011). "Mobile Sensors: Building an Open Source Staff-Facing Tablet App for Library Assessment"NISO Forum: Mobile Technologies in Libraries, Philadelphia, PA, May 20, 2011.

    Casden, J. and Chapman, J. (2011). "Building a staff-facing tablet application for library assessment",Code4Lib 2011, Bloomington, IN, February 10, 2011. Video of presentation (from 26:25-44:30).