Steger-South Chicago Heights Library is a community linchpin for two villages located 30 minutes south of Chicago. Serving more than 13,000 people, the library is constantly working to ensure patrons have access to the technology to pursue lifelong learning, but issues of space, budget and available resources have challenged the library in meeting that need. The library turned to Edge for guidance in overcoming those problem areas.
“When we first were looking at doing the Edge Assessment, we knew that there was a need but we had a hesitation,” said Jaime Paicely, director of Steger-South Chicago Heights Library. There were three critical areas of concern for them: space issues, budget issues and the number of available computers. The library realized it needed to expand the number of available computers it offered and the amount of space dedicated to digital access, but was concerned that they could not afford the changes. However, taking the Edge Assessment helped them identify some areas of improvement that did not require breaking the bank.
Under Paicely’s direction, the library completed the Edge Assessment twice — once in 2014 as part of an Illinois State Library per capita grant program and again in 2017 as part of the Edge Small and Rural Libraries Cohort. Paicely engaged her library staff from the beginning of the process, inviting them to help decide the action items on which to focus in the library’s Edge Action Plan.
“We had the numbers to compare and see where we had improved and where we still needed to make better strides,” said Paicely.
Using the comparison between the two assessments, the library identified three key benchmarks that they could realistically improve on:
- Benchmark 1: Digital Literacy
- Benchmark 3: Meeting Key Community Needs
- Benchmark 4: Strategy and Evaluation
Providing Educational Resources
In taking the Edge Assessment, the library discovered that by not proctoring tests at the library they were missing a key opportunity to support local students. This discovery inspired Steger-South Chicago Heights Library to become the first library in the area to offer test proctoring services free of charge. Eight people have used the service so far and it continues to be requested by online learners.
Additionaly, the library forged a key partnership with the local high school and created a scholarship class. This class provided parents with resources and guidance to help guide them in finding funding support for their high schooler’s journey to college. The class was attended by 125 parents over two sessions. “For our library, that’s a number we’re excited about. That’s a number we are proud of,” said Paicely.
Surveying Community Needs
To improve its strategic decision making process around community digital inclusion and innovation issues, the library needed to assess community needs comprehensively, surveying both library patrons and the larger community.
“We know not all 13,000 of our residents set foot in the library … so we knew we needed to get outside of the library to reach those people who weren’t coming in,” said Paicely.
The library’s staff developed new methods to survey the community at large, including a survey link in their monthly newsletter and allowing residents to pick up and drop off paper surveys not just at the library but also at the village hall. The staff went the extra mile in connecting with town residents, going to senior centers, kindergarten registration, the town’s Fourth of July parade and even Jewel Osco, the local grocery chain.
As a result, the library gained a comprehensive understanding of what the community needed and could better strategize for how they were going to address it.
Improving Community Digital Literacy
Armed with comprehensive survey data, Steger-South Chicago Heights realized that there was a critical gap in digital literacy services and technology access for local seniors. The library updated its services to address that need and began offering one-on-one computer appointments to seniors. This program allowed seniors to come in with specific technology questions and learn at their own pace. Previously, the library had offered classes, but as Paicely said, “When you have four seniors in the room you’re on four different starting blocks, it’s very hard to answer everyone’s questions.”
The library also offered three one-time classes: Parts of the Computer, Facebook 101 and Excel 101, providing hands-on instruction for computer skills. According to Paicely, these classes were chosen to give seniors an environment where they could be unafraid to work on their practical skills.
Spreading the Word
The library was proud of the progress it achieved with Edge’s help, but they felt that it was critical for the larger community to recognize the library’s advances in order to make the greatest impact possible.
“People don’t know that you’re trying to keep up with technology so you need to let them know,” said Paicely. Steger-South Chicago Heights began sharing data about its recent development with local media sources. The library received major media attention for participating in the Edge Small and Rural Library Cohort. Additionally, after the Edge team sent out a press release, the library made it into the folds of the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun Times, and was included in a front page feature in The Citizen, a local newspaper, highlighting the library’s innovative work.
“Our tiny library – just going through and making sure we were doing what we needed – was now on the front page of a newspaper,” said Paicely.