The Edge Initiative released earlier this month the initial version of the benchmarks that it hopes libraries across the country will use to evaluate and measure their public access technology services. The group’s efforts were the subject of a panel at the ALA Midwinter meeting in Seattle on Saturday.
The Edge Benchmarks Version 1,0 , which is an online assessment that allows libraries to access scores and tools, resulted after 130 beta testers provided feedback to the Edge coalition, which comprises 13 organizations (including the Public Library Association and the Urban Libraries Council) and is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Further iterations of the benchmarks are scheduled to be released this year.
“We think this is going to be a strong tool for helping public libraries strengthen their technology services as well as help demonstrate how that public access technology is helping to transform the communities that they serve,” said Jake Cowan, the senior program manager for the Edge Initiative at the Urban Libraries Council who moderated the panel at Midwinter.
A goal of the benchmarks is to help a library figure out where it stands in the field.
“I think these benchmarks, like in any other trade or profession, are going to give you a snapshot of where your library sits in relation to the provision of services that are driven by technology or use technology,” said Bob Bocher, a fellow with ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy.
Bocher said the benchmarks should allow a library to determine its strengths and its deficiencies, from which it can develop a plan.
“I view these as a very close tool to work with in relationship to your evolving plan of services, your technology plan, and bring them in sync and ultimately address those areas that need some help,” Bocher said.
According to the group’s website, the Edge benchmarks are divided into three categories:
- Community Value (Benchmarks 1-3): External practices that connect the library to the community.
- Engaging the Community & Decision Makers (Benchmarks 4-6): Specific programs, services and supports that enable people to get value from their use of technology.
- Organizational Management (Benchmarks 7-11): Internal management and infrastructure.
John Bertot, a professor and co-director of the Information Policy & Access Center in the University of Maryland Collge Park iSchool, said the coalition learned after the beta testing that the benchmarks did a good job capturing what was going on inside the library but they needed to be adjusted to be more meaningful to outside stakeholders.
“Are these measures really meaningful, are they really letting us tell a story that resonates not only with the library community but with all these other communities as well? Bertot said, summarizing the feedback.
The benchmarks were whittled down from about 14 to 11 assessments that were considered useful but not too burdensome for librarians to engage with.
The group also discovered that things they initially thought of as aspirational, such as the provision of databases, were actually just a baseline.
“That’s one example of dozens that we sifted and went through through and discussed with beta testers to try to really work on these different levels of achievements to ensure that at the highest level it is something you can aspire to and not just a basic level of library service that everyone should be providing,” Bocher said.
Marcia Johnson, the director of the Miami Public Library in Miami, OK, used the benchmarks and has already found that they paid benefits with external stakeholders.
“Sometimes we make assumptions that everyone knows what you know, and I think one of the things that my stakeholders, at least some of them, didn’t realize was how much libraries help people who were looking for employment. That was something that really stood out to them,” Johnson said.
This type of result is driving the thinking behind the initiative.
“The benchmarks really do help position the library in terms of the digital inclusion, digital literacy, and related issues inside your community,” said Bertot.