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Baker County Library

Baker County Library: Focusing Community Outreach and Collaboration Goals

“Edge allowed us to compare where we’re at with data from our peers, which we don’t often get the opportunity to do. We compiled a list of our strengths and weaknesses, then took a look at where we were lacking and prioritized what we could do readily, in the short term and in the long term. Once we got prioritized and focused, it broke a big problem into more manageable pieces, which makes our work much easier.”

James White, IT Manager

Serving a rural area with a small population in northeastern Oregon, Baker County Library District (BCLD) is a critical information hub for its communities. District operations are lean with six BCLD branches and a bookmobile running on a total budget of just under one million dollars. Keeping up with daily demands generally leaves little time for strategic planning or expansion of services, says Library Director Perry Stokes. However, BCLD is finding it easier to apply their Edge assessment data, along with other recommendations and resources from the toolkit, to developing an action plan for improving library operations and expanding community services.

IT Manager James White was wary of Edge when the Library was first introduced to Edge in 2014, but was quickly surprised by the comprehensiveness of the Edge Toolkit and the support it provides to libraries for making important improvements. Through Edge, BCLD was able to prioritize strengths and weaknesses into a cohesive technology action plan comprised of immediate, short and long term goals. Edge enabled the Library to efficiently identify services adopted by peer libraries and match them to Baker County’s needs with a level of focus it had never experienced before.

As part of the short term objectives, the staff first improved internal operations to improve maintenance and documentation procedures. They obtained new technology management software to better track hardware and developed replacement schedules, moving away from paper forms to a digital assets and issues tracking system. BCLD also started conducting monthly staff trainings to increase staff knowledge and expertise about library technology to better serve and assist patrons. During these trainings, the Library takes a ‘learn through teaching’ approach where one staff member takes the lead on presenting a specific piece of technology to the rest of the staff, ranging from an overview of a research database to providing software productivity tips.

This new, focused energy translated into greater outreach and collaboration with other libraries and community partners. According to White, the ability to compare BCLD results to their peers inspired them to look outside of their community. Networking with and learning from other libraries led them to reach out to local partners to implement these exciting new ideas.

“Edge made us aware of what’s going on around us,” said White. “Since we’re so rural, we don’t always have an idea of what’s cutting edge or what others are doing. Our library is a community center and they look to us for information on what’s happening outside of Baker City. We wanted to try and deliver those services to our patrons and be a role model for other small libraries in northeast Oregon.”

One of BCLD’s strongest outcomes is a growing partnership with the local school district. The Library began working with the principal of their local high school to institute a program for lending tablets and iPads to students both within and outside of the classroom.

BCLD also formed a makerspace committee, which identified middle-school aged children as an underserved age group in the community. BCLD’s success with the high school prompted the Library to reach out to a local middle school teacher who had begun directing maker activities at her school. They are now working with her to provide additional activities and workspace to enhance her curriculum in the fall of 2015.

In addition, BCLD developed a relationship with the high school’s Baker Technical Institute (BTI), a program designed to provide young people with valuable vocational and technical skills. Knowing that BTI has 3D printers and supports a number of active maker activities, the Library is working with the program leaders to mirror what they are doing with students and create their own makerspace in the library. Through this relationship they hope to not only offer this advanced technology to the community at large, but also employ BTI students as assistants, providing an opportunity for them to learn through teaching and fulfill volunteer service requirements for school.

For Baker County Library District, Edge opened a world of new possibilities where the sky is the only limit.

“The biggest benefit of Edge beyond the numbers is that prior to using Edge and reading about what others have done through Edge, we were just focused inward as a single entity,” said White. “Since using Edge I’ve been reaching out to other Edge libraries and organizations and we’re really big on partnerships. As the word gets out, we’re making more and more partnerships with people that are collaborating with us because we have the same goals. I’m really happy with the progress we’ve made.”