Samantha is the project manager for two new tools developed at the University of Washington (UW) Information School to help public libraries evaluate their public access services and get the information they need to improve them.
The Edge Initiative
Edge is a benchmark framework, to help public libraries assess public access technologies and how they are used, and identify ways to strengthen or enhance public access technology, and engage with key leaders on the role of the public library in communities.. The Edge toolkit has 5 modules:
Pilot libraries that have been affiliated with the project from the beginning conducted trials of Edge:
- Miami, OK: The city manager wanted to know the needs of the library. They found that the staff did not have the required technology skills and implemented new training for staff.
- New Braunfels, TX: The librarian realized nothing was being done to make the library accessible to people with disabilities. An assessment helped to develop strategic areas to improve services and make a difference in the community.
- El Paso, TX: The library was not supporting creation of digital content by teenage users. It learned about teen use and opened teen maker space.
- Sacramento, CA: The staff was the most impacted by the assessment. Needs were identified and planned with everyone included. A system to discover staff needing more support was created. It supported the use of technology for health and wellness information and helped users with their own devices.
Edge is helpful internally and externally. It looks internally at operations and externally at relationships in the community and how to manage them. The official launch will be on January 20, 2014 when the tool will be available to all public libraries. It will be possible to open accounts and create a dashboard for the library, then take the assessment and view a report of the result. Libraries can find out where they excel and where improvement is needed. Edge also provides avenues to look at community and get to goals.
After assessment, librarians can take training on how to get out into the community. The system also has information on technology management, advocacy and outreach, library leadership, and how to engage with city managers and councils.
The tool allows creation of an action plan of initiatives to be undertaken over the next year–what you intend to work on and why.
The Impact Survey measures the impact of services provided by the library by going directly to users.
It is designed as a web survey tool (same survey as administered by phone to reach people who typically won’t take phone surveys). In 10 weeks with 400 libraries, over 50,000 surveys were collected by the system. The developers then devised a way for libraries to develop a survey themselves, helped them use it in their communities. The system was launched October 10, 2013 in beta mode.
The tool gathers information on how technology is used and suggests surveys a library might want to offer. It is easy for libraries of all types to use and only takes 10-15 minutes to include a link to a survey on a library’s web page, creating a link to UW’s survey. It does not collect any personal information, only the library’s ID number.
After a library has run the survey for 2-4 weeks, PDF results can be downloaded the next day after it is finished and color reports for presentations. A library can customize its report with a logo and/or photo. Technicians are available to help libraries solve problems with the survey. Libraries with multiple branches have a selector map automatically generated for users to indicate what branch they are using.
Results: Using data about library technology in advocacy efforts gets results. One library was able to get money from a budget cut restored as a result of the survey data; relying on anecdotal evidence is not sufficient today. City managers want data to prove the library’s point.
Edge and the Impact survey work together. Edge gathers information about technology resources; Impact Survey measures results and creates reports. Impact survey can help with community needs assessment.
Impact Survey is open now; Edge will launch in January 2014. Both are in beta mode and are currently working. A PDF version of the Edge assessment is available now. Libraries are encouraged to get a head start on using the systems and give feedback to the developers. Both are free now, but Impact Survey will likely charge a small fee starting next year (a sliding scale based on size of library).