Following the economic recession that hit the U.S. in the 2000’s, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library faced reduced budgets, employee layoffs, reduced hours and services, and even the closure of four library branches.
The recession challenged library leaders to seek out partnerships and opportunities for collaboration. Despite the cuts and reductions the library faced, demands for library services continued to grow and reach all-time highs.
Fast forward to the present. David Singleton, Director of Libraries for Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, is still focused on partnerships, using Edge as an additional resource to help with the task.
“Edge helped the library evaluate current partnerships. It positioned us very well for significant community partnerships over the past few years,” said Singleton.
Partnering with the Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN) and Google Fiber during 2015 and 2016, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library was selected as a host for a Digital Inclusion Fellowship. This collaboration was part of a larger national program that invested in local communities and nonprofit organizations to bridge the digital divide.
“The library worked in partnership to develop a digital inclusion curriculum for the public and implement the program in the libraries and in the community,” said Seth Ervin, Director of Technology and Innovation.
In FY16, the library successfully led a 12 hour digital inclusion curriculum for 150 people that did not have home internet access, providing real-world technology instruction and assistance.
Working with local schools, the library introduced a new staff position in order to strengthen their existing partnerships and also create new partnerships. The Educational Partnerships Manager works intensively with school media specialists and curriculum coordinators, helping them to understand digital resources at the library and how to incorporate them into classes. The position also forges new relationships with area colleges and universities.
“We can do so much, but to be effective we need partners in our community,” said Singleton. “Edge allowed the library to develop more channels to support increased collaboration with library services.”
Building on the success of a partnership that resulted in the creation of ImaginOn: The Joe and Joan Martin Center, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library expanded makerspace opportunities. With the support of grant funds from the Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the federal Library Services and Technology Act as administered by the State Library of North Carolina, the library introduced Satellite Studios.
“We realized not everyone is able to visit ImaginOn,” said Singleton. “So we implemented mobile studios that rotate among the branches, bringing the experience of creating music and video to different neighborhoods.”
Charlotte Mecklenburg Library has completed the Edge Assessment twice. As a result, Edge helped shape the guiding principles around the library’s digital strategy.
“We have a working group of about 70 staff and community partners to think about the future of our digital strategy in several focus areas including staff development, digital content curation and creation, fostering digital communities, and creating a unified and sustainable platform. All of these focus areas centered on creating the best customer experience for our community,” said Ervin.
To provide better customer experiences, the library created comprehensive digital competencies training for all staff, requiring the library to develop training to create a baseline for staff knowledge. By creating this training, the library aims to achieve the goal of having 100% of staff answer 90% of customers’ technical questions.
The county government has been extremely supportive of the work the library has been doing.
“The County Manager and budget personnel are aware of Edge. They talk about Edge as a framework – they understand that the library works towards national benchmarks with Edge,” said Singleton.
The county also supported and funded major pieces of the library’s Digital Strategy such as a new mobile friendly website for the library and an app for mobile devices, supporting more than 30% of the library’s website traffic which comes from mobile devices.
Another noteworthy result of the library’s participation in Edge was the realization of the gap in assistive technology offerings and the corresponding training for both staff and patrons. This resulted in additional support from the county, pushing the library to continue working towards reaching Edge Benchmark 11 which addresses technology inclusiveness.
Despite providing resources to patrons with disabilities at the Main branch, the Edge Assessment revealed that the other branches had limited offerings. As Chromebook adaptation grows, the library sees it as an opportunity to expand assistive technology offerings.
The library capitalized on the built-in assistive technology features such as high contrast mode, a screen reader, and a screen magnifier to name a few. Chromebooks with the assistive technology features are now available at each of the 20 branches.
“Edge served as a pressure point, allowing us to talk to county officials about technology,” said Ervin.
Both county officials and customers have benefitted from Charlotte Mecklenburg Library’s forward thinking and embracement of technology. From July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016, active library users were up by 47.8%, digital downloads increased by 87.7%, and usage of library Wifi increased by 43.5%.
“Edge helps us to think more broadly. To be effective, you must partner with your community, and Edge provides an effective framework to do so,” said Singleton. “Edge is a good way to gauge where you are and to ask the questions that you may not have thought about.”