Blackwell Public Library serves a small, economically challenged community in rural Oklahoma. The library plays a vital role as a digital inclusion hub for area residents, many of whom do not have home access to the internet or mobile devices. The Edge team connected with BPL Director Lisa Vargas to learn more about the unique digital inclusion needs of Blackwell, and how the library has used Edge to achieve year-over-year growth in its community tech leadership. Read her responses below.
How are the needs of Blackwell evolving in the digital age? How is your library adapting to meet those needs?
Blackwell is located in the north central part of the state. We are a rural community and our population has been dwindling. Blackwell is an economically disadvantaged community and many of our patrons do not have internet access in their homes. We are always looking for ways to meet the needs of our community. Our patron access computers are available in the library for casual use as well as school and employment purposes. We offer printing, faxing and scanning services as well.
Through E-rate, we are able to offer 24/7 internet access to our community and it is used extensively. For example, in July 2019, we had 395 clients log in for 5,405 sessions with a total duration of 208 days, 22 hours and 25 minutes.
We have established a small park area on our lawn that allows people to sit comfortably outside to access our internet when the library is closed or to enjoy the outdoors.
How has Edge contributed to the planning and success of the library’s efforts to grow its digital leadership role in your community?
Edge has been invaluable to me as a library director. When I arrived two years ago, there was a limited technology plan and some of the objectives did not seem to match the community's needs. I was able to complete the Edge Assessment and choose objectives from each of the areas to get started in developing a more comprehensive plan.
The library was able to start its website at about the same time, and one of our goals was to have a great collection of online resources that were available to anyone with internet access. We realized that sometimes people need information in the middle of the night, and online resources was one easy option to provide those resources when we were closed and unavailable to help our patrons. We curate this information on a regular basis and try to provide information that we know our community wants and/or needs. Using Edge definitely helped us focus our attention on important areas to include.
The library recently received an Edge Technology Grant from the state. How has the library grown or introduced new digital inclusion services with the support of that grant?
The Edge Technology Grant from the state was used to purchase tablets for patrons of all ages to enjoy. Playaway Launchpads and an AWE computer are available to children and families in the library. Samsung Galaxy Tablets provide us with opportunities to instruct patrons on technology use, provide another type of technology for our patrons to use, offer learning apps for our young patrons and families to use and offer a way for patrons to access newspapers that are in a digital-only format.
The majority of the grant was spent to enhance our technology for our youth area because it supports the early literacy concepts and introduces our kids to technology that they might not be able to access at home. After our children become used to the idea of technology at the library, we will begin to expand our technology programming to focus on older students and build that audience as they age and their technological needs evolve.
In addition to the support from the state, how has your library used Edge to strengthen its relationships with key stakeholders?
Our library was able to become part of an initiative through the Oklahoma State University Extension program and we have begun to offer mobile internet hotspots for checkout – which support a gap in service we identified through Edge. We received seven hotspots for patrons to use who do not have access to internet at home. The hotspots were provided to us with unlimited data for the first year and we hope to obtain corporate sponsorship to continue the program next year. This has become a great resource for our community to obtain internet for personal as well as business use.
We use Edge data to communicate to our board and city leaders. Our library board is very supportive of our efforts to continue to provide the latest technology to the community as budgets permit, and are very vocal in the community about the role that we serve. Our city leaders are also shareholders in what the library can provide to Blackwell and are always interested in our newest endeavors.
Blackwell Public Library has completed several Edge Assessments, including in 2014, 2016, 2018 and 2019 – the last of which was completed through the new Edge 2.0 platform. How has Edge empowered your library’s long-term planning for digital leadership?
Edge continues to provide us with a roadmap of sorts. We are looking to where we began, where we are and where we want to be. Digital literacy is definitely important in today's world and the library tries to provide the best it can in technology. Edge keeps us focused and working on measurable goals and objectives in order to serve as one of the town's leaders in promoting digital literacy.
Edge 2.0 is providing a way for us to design our technology plan as part of our long-range plan, and is keeping us focused in having goals that are tailor-made to our community. As a library director, I have been so excited to participate in using Edge to solidify the library's plans for technology and present those plans in such a succinct way.