How Edge Began, and How Oklahoma Helped Lead the Way

On February 23, 2011 in Seattle, Washington, Representatives of ODL attended a meeting at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation along with other organizations to kick-off the creation of Public Access Technology “benchmarks” to help public libraries sustain and improve the information technology services they provide to their communities.

The impetus for this meeting was the Gates Foundation’s decision to end the U.S. Public Library Program, its first major philanthropic venture—a venture that had provided thousands of American public libraries with computers, software, and technology training opportunities. The Foundation would no longer be offering technology grants, and it wanted to provide a way for public libraries to keep marching forward with technology services.

What followed was almost three years of effort before the official national launch of the project, and Oklahoma played a pivotal role in the realization of the benchmarks and accompanying materials and training opportunities that would become known as Edge.

At the core of the initiative is the Edge Tookit, which includes:

  • An online assessment that allows libraries to see how they meet both foundational and aspirational benchmarks related to public access technology services;
  • An Action Plan feature that lets libraries see recommendations based on their assessment results, choose actions to improve performance in targeted benchmarks, and track accomplishments;
  • A Peer Comparison Report that allows libraries to see how they compare with similar-sized libraries in the nation;
  • Training Opportunities to help libraries use their Edge results for planning, advocacy, and outreach opportunities; and,
  • An Executive Tool that helps libraries communicate their results and needs to stakeholders with one-page leave-behinds and slideshow presentations.

ODL staff served on the Edge Roundtable for three years during the development phase, discussing Edge goals and benchmark development, contributing to revisions of benchmarks following the first pilot, and providing curriculum for the Edge training sessions.

Oklahoma libraries also stepped up to the plate. Miami Public Library and Tulsa City-County Library System were two of the eight libraries that piloted the beta benchmarks. Miami librarian Marcia Johnson became a spokesperson at Edge meetings and conferences, discussing the Edge process and how the library and City of Miami used Edge results for planning.

Below, Marcia discusses how Edge helped the library identify strategic goals:

Following the pilot process and benchmark revisions, an unofficial launch of Benchmarks Version 1.0 was conducted. During this phase, Oklahoma was one of seven states that was able to offer the assessment to its public libraries, and more than 70% of the libraries participated.

Oklahoma librarians were tapped by the national Edge Team at the Urban Libraries Council to share their experiences with Edge: Mary Haney, director at Hennessey Public Library, and Lee Ann Barnes, director of the Okeene Public Library led a webinar on the value of Edge to rural libraries.

Profiles on the Library Edge website highlight the impact of Edge in the Pioneer Library System, Guthrie Public Library, Tonkawa Public Library, and in Miami.

The leadership and support of Oklahoma’s public libraries has been instrumental in launching Edge.  Just as importantly, the willingness of our state’s librarians to share their experiences is helping get the word out about the benefits of Edge.

When Edge officially debuted nationwide, it was the second go-round for Oklahoma’s libraries. As of spring 2017, 108 of the state’s public libraries (90%) have completed one or more Edge assessments, and 87 libraries have created Action Plans to make improvements. Way to go, Oklahoma!

To see how ODL is contributing to the Edge effort, and to find out what we have learned so far, and how we have responded, visit our Edge in Oklahoma page on the ODL website.

You can also check out information on Edge Resources that ODL has developed, and visit the national Edge website.