Edge Leads to Improved Connectivity and Digital Services for Calaveras County Library

Calaveras County Library 
San Andreas, CA
Population: 44,840
Director: Nancy Giddens

"Edge has been the catalyst for saying 'look these things are possible - if we can get this, then we can do this.' It has provided the library with the starting point for discussions that focus on making improvements on behlf of the entire community."

- Nancy Giddens, County Librarian, Calaveras County Library 

The communities served by Calaveras County Library have a rich history, including deep ties to the California Gold Rush and the setting for “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”, Mark Twain’s first successful short story. In fact, the notoriety of the short story is still celebrated each year with a county-wide frog jump at the county fair.

Now serving seven communities and San Andreas, the county seat of Calaveras County, the library celebrates its past but continues improving to better serve its community. As its mission states, “Calaveras Libraries are committed to providing the access of information to our residents. Through information comes education”. 

How does a library provide access to information that results in education? If you ask Nancy Giddens, County Librarian for Calaveras County Library, she would tell you it begins with Edge.

Giddens was introduced to Edge by the California State Library, which provided Edge subscriptions to each public library in the state through the purchase of a statewide subscription. She learned more about Edge while attending the Association of Rural and Small Libraries (ARSL) Conference.  

“During the Edge session at ARSL, I heard about many changes and improvements I wanted to do at the library,” said Giddens. “The Edge Benchmarks brought things to my attention about the library that I did not initially think about, giving me ideas of what we can do and where can go using the benchmarks as parameters.” 

As a relatively new public library director, Giddens’ position allowed her to build on the library’s traditional role in the community, but also work towards providing services and programs that go beyond books. Giddens used Edge to seek out improvements for the library that would empower it to better serve the community.

“Edge has been the catalyst for saying ‘look these things are possible – if we can get this, then we can do this.’ It has provided the library with the starting point for discussions that focus on making improvements on behalf of the entire community,” she said.

After completing the Edge Assessment, the library began to look through the Edge Recommendations. It realized the network connection was slow, preventing it from making improvements including new links. 

Around the same time, Giddens received a call from the California State Library that led to an opportunity to drastically improve the existing programs and services the library was able to offer to the community. Califa, a nonprofit library membership consortium that represents 220 libraries in California, was offering a $90,000 grant that would allow the library to purchase new hardware, including wireless cards and wireless access points. It also covers the installation of broadband at five branches. 

The library used Edge to plan the upcoming improvements made possible by the grant from Califa, but it also used Edge as a springboard for conversations around additional funding and building partnerships. 

“When requesting additional money from our board, I used the Edge Assessment to say these are the things we want to do and these are the things we currently cannot do. I was able to show them the improvements the library could make for specific groups like seniors and veterans, but it was also important to show ways the library could better support students and everyone else,” she said. “I presented at several board meetings to show our progress and our work based on the Edge Benchmarks.”

According to Giddens, the excitement about the improvements have spread throughout the county administration.

“It has been important for us to have the board of supervisors and county departments be part of the Edge process. With improved technology and access, we are better equipped to help other county departments, enabling them to improve their community partnerships and services,” she said. 

For example, Calaveras County Library built a stronger partnership with the county IT department and in turn it has supported the library’s work with Edge. Working with the county IT department enabled the library to understand what it can accomplish with better connectivity.

“The county IT department is excited about the broadband funding and our work with Edge,” said Giddens. “I’ve also been sharing with the county administration what the library will be able to offer with the improved broadband as part of our goals from using Edge.”

While it works with the county IT department and the county administration to determine what will be available through its upgraded website, there is a focus on improvements and its usefulness for the community regarding information and links as outlined by Edge. 

“Edge has given the library ideas and resources to better serve patrons by having us think about the Edge Benchmarks and focus on improving the digital services for the community,” she said. “We are working with the Social Security Administration and the California State Library to help advise on links to content that will be useful to the community. We will also add helpful links to our website regarding online job searches and job skills.”

In addition to these improvements, the library will provide links that will allow the community to participate in free computer literacy training, a result of her attendance at the ARSL 2016 Conference. Giddens presented what the library will be able to achieve with the improved broadband and additional funding based on its Edge Action Plan to local schools and senior groups, but also included business associates and the Rotary Club as possible partners.

“We have high school students that help us with technology tutoring and mentoring. Plus our adult mentoring classes do a lot of work with digital literacy,” she said.

As it embarks on its path forward, the library is keen to continue using the Edge Resources, a curated set of more than 500 free or low cost ways to implement improvements.

“Edge is a tool that helps libraries assess the state of digital progress and allows the libraries to set goals with solutions provided in the Edge Resources,” she said. “The Edge Resources are absolutely fabulous.”

As a rural library, Calaveras County Library used the Edge Peer Comparison Report to see how its Edge Assessment Results ranked among libraries of similar sizes serving similarly sized communities.

“With the Peer Comparison Report, Edge shows your results compared to your peer group which is encouraging. It shows where you need to improve and where you are currently doing well,” she said. “Edge shows that you don’t have to compare apples to oranges, because you are not an orange. But it still lets you see how the oranges are doing in addition to your fellow apples.”

With improved broadband and Edge as a guide to make improvements to its digital services for the community, Calaveras County Library shows how libraries can evolve to better meet the needs of the people served.

“Edge has given me a platform as I move forward to ask for help from the county and other potential partners,” said Giddens. “For example, the genealogy group is waiting for us to improve our bandwidth so that we can partner with them for programs and services for the patron. Edge has given us a broader look at who can benefit from digital library services.”