Christian County Library
Edge Equips Christian County Library to Navigate Rapid Community Growth
Missouri’s Christian County serves as a “bedroom community” for the nearby city of Springfield, in which 70% of the county’s population works. Yet, for decades, this bedroom community’s population growth has been far from sleepy; Christian County was the fastest-expanding county in Missouri between 2000-2010 and it continues to grow at a steady rate. Still, until just two years ago, the city of Ozark was home to the county’s only library branch. A major turning point occurred in 2017, when voters passed a levy that greatly increased the library’s tax support, enabling CCL to develop a new central branch in the city of Nixa, and integrate a branch in the city of Clever into the CCL system.
In addition to new facilities, the library introduced cutting-edge technology, including a 3-D printer, extensive online learning resources and individualized tech mentorship. To support CCL’s growth, the library applied for an Edge Action Plan Grant from the Missouri State Library in early 2019 to fund new tech-based services and replace outdated technology. The process of applying for that grant introduced the library to Edge, which has quickly proven to be an invaluable resource for the CCL team’s short-term goals and long-term vision.
“We are poised to be in a new boom of growth over the next two to five years, depending on how long it takes us to raise the funds to launch new programs and build new buildings. It's a great time for us to have Edge to help us think and work more strategically,” said CCL Planning and Analysis Coordinator Tory Pegram.
The library worked through its first Edge Assessment and action plans at the same time as it was developing a new strategic plan. For the CCL team, Edge greatly enhanced the development of that strategic plan by providing context and reliable benchmarks for rethinking the library’s strategic goals and measures for progress.
“We have found the Edge process to be an indispensable way to evaluate what we do within the broader context of our library peers,” said Pegram. “As a small but rapidly growing district, we were strategically committed to community-driven and customized services before using Edge, but the framework of Edge has given us a platform to evaluate whether our ideals are actually aligning with our action plans. It allows us to pause and rethink even basic technology upgrade schedules so that we can do them in a way that is more strategically infused with community input and is driven by data.”
Edge allows us to un-silo the whole process of being a library in order to match community needs.
Gathering accurate and representative feedback from the county’s diverse community members is a primary focus for the library as it continues to grow. In the process of gathering feedback and support for the 2017 tax levy increase, the library discovered a widespread interest in community-based library branches and services, instead of a single, larger library center. Having recently published its 2019-2022 Strategic Plan, the library is now in the process of implementing surveys to guide CCL in serving the needs of the county’s unique communities.
In designing those community surveys, the library referred to their initial Edge Assessment data to identify critical question areas. “We didn't have any questions about accessibility in the original survey draft. That was something we added because Edge brought it to our attention,” said CCL Deputy Director Katy Pattison. The library credits Edge with opening its eyes to a greater need for highly focused, community-specific data. To that end, the finalized versions of the library’s community surveys include sets of questions customized for individuals who are living in different ZIP codes.
CCL emphasizes the role of strategic partnerships in its planning for how the library can deliver community-specific services with limited staff and resources. The library works with local schools, businesses, county chambers of commerce and nonprofits to get the word out about library resources and expand the reach of library services. Library partnerships facilitate a variety of pick-up locations for library resources across the county, including a burger/ice cream shop, community center and supermarket. These partnerships also allow the library to offer programming at community sites, such as a storytime series currently being held at a fire station in the city of Sparta.
Across its partnership-building efforts, the library sees Edge as a valuable tool for communicating with current partners and establishing new relationships. “Edge allows us to un-silo the whole process of being a library in order to match community needs,” said Pegram. Edge data also positions the library to connect to current and potential fundraising partners. “We have so much more to grow and every dollar really does count. Edge is a perfect guide to run a really targeted and meaningful fundraising campaign.”
One significant area for service and partnership expansion has been in providing career services and small business resources for patrons. There is currently no career center in Christian County, so the library has stepped in to address that gap with classes, online career-building tools and resource-sharing partnerships. The library works with the Missouri Job Center to have MJC representatives visit branches to teach workshops and connect with patrons. Additionally, CCL will partner with the Springfield-Greene County Library District to host a conference sponsored by SCORE that will focus on women in business.
By taking the Edge Assessment together as a team, we are able to really see what we are doing well already and what maybe we are missing, what we haven't thought of.
As the library charts new territory, such as its business services and 3-D printing, library staff have had to remain agile in taking on new responsibilities and mastering new skill sets in order to better serve community members. The CCL team has found Edge to be a powerful platform for breaking down internal barriers among library departments and helping staff members of all levels take on greater leadership roles. Increased staff collaboration and communication is especially vital since the library’s team has more than doubled in the last year — from about 20 staff members to about 50 — and will continue to grow as branch expansions continue.
“Working on the Edge Assessment, you need information from so many different parts of the library … it really opens up lines of communication between the departments,” said CCL IT Manager Joseph Morgan.
“By taking the Edge Assessment together as a team, we are able to really see what we are doing well already and what maybe we are missing, what we haven't thought of,” said Pattison. “It helps us brainstorm on some different ways we can do what we haven’t done before.”
One fresh idea generated from CCL’s use of Edge was the potential impact of a hot spot lending program for the widespread county. In some of the more rural areas of the county, there is virtually no broadband or satellite coverage. Using Edge inspired the library to address that service gap by piloting a new Wi-Fi hot spot lending program, beginning with 15 devices currently in circulation at all three branches. Another technology area on the rise for the library is gaming computers, which CCL uses to engage the local teen population.
The CCL team has ambitious plans for the future of its digital leadership. Public feedback has shown that – even in rural neighborhoods – Christian County residents don’t just want cookie-cutter library services, they want to engage with innovative technology and library services that are specially tailored to the county’s unique cities, suburbs and rural pockets. Edge equips CCL with the data and tools to meet that call for top-tier and community-centered digital inclusion, and the library’s team sees a central place for Edge in the future of its tech planning and activities.
“If we report back two or three years from now, I fully expect that the Edge will be integral to the way that we think about updating and introducing technology in the branches,” said Pegram. “It's just an endlessly useful tool to be able to reference how we're doing, both the pros and the cons, what we're good at and what we need to be better at.”