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Deschutes Public Library

Deschutes Public Library Uses Edge to Advance Digital Equity for Its Widespread and Rapidly Growing Community

“Edge is a truly valuable communications tool. It allows libraries to say to the powers that be – ‘Here are standards and here’s where we measure up. If we expect to be a great library, we’re not there.’”

Todd Dunkelberg, Library Director

Deschutes Public Library’s 100th birthday is just around the corner, and the system is expanding and evolving at a greater rate than ever before. Located in Central Oregon’s high desert, Deschutes County has seen a massive growth in population over the last 20 years, as the area’s small, logging-based towns have transformed into urban centers. Many county newcomers — including a large population of telecommuters – are arriving with advanced expectations for available technology resources and services. To address this rapid growth, and the changing culture of Deschutes, the library is in the middle of a process to significantly expand its services, including doubling the size of one of its main libraries and adding an entirely new central library.

As the population boom continues, a top concern for the library is maintaining its technology leadership and providing relevant and equitable digital services to an increasingly diverse customer base. According to Deschutes Public Library Director Todd Dunkelberg, Edge has played an important role in helping the library set goals for the growth of its digital leadership, compare itself to other libraries and communicate successes with key stakeholders.

“We were early adopters of Edge,” said Dunkelberg. “The most exciting part of Edge for me is to take a strong look at how the library can best leverage its current resources to become more effective with its computer classes, events and additional support of the community’s digital needs. Edge also helps drive the staff to brainstorm new ideas and implement innovative programs.”

Edge has been a key driver of the library’s aspirational goals for its growth as a community tech hub. Recently, the library launched a groundbreaking new program to provide free access to electronic state court records, made possible through a partnership with the Oregon Judicial Department. Before the library began piloting this new service, access to the court’s online database was only available to individuals who physically visited the courthouse during certain hours. That requirement presents a major barrier to equitable information access for individuals who live far from the courthouse or face challenges to their mobility.

“We have people who may be going through a lawsuit or a criminal trial where they want access to information and they’re going to have to travel 60 miles to get the information they need,” said Dunkelberg. “If people aren’t informed about what’s happening, it could affect their lives for years to come. The program is vital as it covers civil cases, small claims court, even criminal cases.”

The library began piloting the program at the Redmond Library branch in March 2019, which is located 17 miles away from the county courthouse. More recently, the program has expanded to two additional branches. Public feedback has been overwhelmingly positive for this new service so far, and the library hopes that the program will inspire similar partnerships between libraries and court systems across the state.

In addition to the Oregon Judicial Department, the library currently partners with a diverse range of local organizations in order to maximize the value it provides to community members. The library partners with WorkSource Oregon – a collaborative network of organizations dedicated to advancing the state’s workforce – to offer classes and programs for job seekers. Through a partnership with Thrive Central Oregon, the library connects patrons to social services. Working with the Foundation Information Network, the library helps professionals from local nonprofits better understand what funders look for in grant applications, and helps to establish connections between nonprofits and potential funders.

Edge data has been a powerful tool for the library as it continues to strengthen its ties to community leaders and key stakeholders. Equipped with multiple years of Edge Assessment data, the library is able to clearly demonstrate its strengths in driving 21st-century community outcomes, and to make the case for additional support when needed.

“It is very helpful for the library board,” said Dunkelberg. “Our library board is elected citizens who may or may not have any background in technology. It is very important to be able to take the reports that we have and give them a good sense of where we stand. The fact that we score well helps us, but it also helps us make the case that we need to make more. It encourages them to keep up with our commitment to our funding of technology.”

As the library looks ahead to its bold plans for expansion, it sees Edge as essential for showing the public how the library has invested their financial support and how it is delivering on its mission to continue leading Deschutes County forward. The library went to great lengths to ensure that they were capturing the voices of the entire community while planning for their facilities expansions; it gathered feedback from over 1,600 people through surveys, townhall meetings, focus groups and targeted outreach. Across the county, the library found that customers were especially interested in having the library provide more flexible gathering spaces for people to come together and use library resources. The library will rely on Edge to show – with reliable data – that the new facilities are responding directly to those needs, and that the new branches will be on par with top libraries across North America.

“Edge is a truly valuable communications tool,” said Dunkelberg. “It allows libraries to say to the powers that be – ‘Here are standards and here’s where we measure up. If we expect to be a great library, we’re not there.’”

Beyond the ongoing facilities expansions, Deschutes Public Library has an ambitious vision for taking a greater leadership role in strengthening its community and advancing outcomes.

“I just read the Palaces for the People talking about the importance of social infrastructure. That fits in exactly with where we want to be,” said Dunkelberg. “We have an important role in being the social infrastructure of our community and we aspire to broaden that so that we really affect how our community functions. How it gathers. How it thrives going forward.”

Dunkelberg sees two primary hurdles facing the library in achieving that vision – one is ensuring the library has the resources it needs, and the other is adapting to meet the needs of county newcomers while still serving long-time residents. In facing both of those challenges, Dunkelberg sees Edge as an essential guide for continuous improvement – particularly with the new dynamic peer comparison features available in Edge 2.0.

"The first few times we completed Edge Assessment cycles, we were really just exploring and trying something new,” said Dunkelberg. “We are excited for how dynamic Edge is becoming, where we can dig deeper into comparisons and really integrate that information centrally in our planning process as we continue to complete Assessments.”

Edge is available to all Oregon public library systems through the State Library of Oregon's current subscription. Oregon libraries can visit platform.libraryedge.org to set up their profiles on the Edge 2.0 platform.