Lauded as one of the 10 friendliest towns in Iowa, Eldora is the seat of Iowa's Hardin County, a small and rural community best known as a key filming location for the 1995 film "Twister." Eldora Public Library serves as a central hub for the city's 2,700 residents, offering robust programming, safe meeting spaces and an array of digital resources. Recently, the library secured a technology grant from the state library by utilizing data from its first-ever Edge Assessment. The Edge team connected with Library Director Joan Grothoff to learn more about library's efforts to advance local digital inclusion outcomes and how Edge helps support the library in that work. Read her responses below.
Can you share a bit about the unique needs of Eldora's community, and how those needs are evolving in the digital age? How is your library positioning its services to meet those needs?
With many downtown buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places and Pine Lake State Park within city limits, the picturesque town of Eldora is a wonderful place to call home. However, our town has a higher rate of low-income individuals, with our free and reduced lunch rate equaling 57.2% — higher than the state average of 42%. Many patrons cannot afford their own computers, so they come to the library to use ours. Our public school has provided computers for every student for the past 12 years, but unfortunately many households do not have Wi-Fi. Many students bring their school laptops to the library to complete their homework after school. Access to the internet is essential for students to complete several tasks, including school registrations.
In 2018, your library completed its first Edge Assessment. Using Edge data, Eldora Public Library was awarded a $10,000 technology grant by the state library. Congratulations! How does the library plan to apply that funding? How has Edge helped guide the planned updates?
With our guidance from the Edge Assessment, we recently bought new computers! We now have a mix of desktop and laptop computers available for patrons. We used Edge to assess our community needs, and focused our purchasing decisions on that. We have one computer that we will set up for visually impaired individuals, who will be able to adjust the font size and increase the volume level on speakers as needed. We also purchased portable DVD players for patrons to watch movies, which is a nice feature for those patrons who don’t have a DVD player.
Data is invaluable for communicating needs with key stakeholders, like the State Library, as well as your library's board, staff and customers. Does your library use Edge data, or other performance metrics, to tell its story to stakeholders? What role does community data play in the library's strategic planning?
We like to think of ourselves as the community hub. Therefore, we base our ideas on community needs. We offer programs and buy books based on what our community needs. We also provide quiet places free of charge for social services providers to meet with their clients.
The Library's Long Range Plan, available on its website, includes numerous planned technology updates to ensure the library is providing "prompt, efficient and friendly services." Did completing the Edge Assessment help your team rethink or identify new tactics for meeting that goal? What other data sources or community feedback platforms does the library utilize in its planning process?
We distribute an anonymous survey annually for patrons to let us know exactly what they like/dislike about the library. Throughout the year, patrons can also share comments through our suggestion form. Because many of our patrons are low-income, we do our best to offer services that help citizens with basic needs. We stay up-to-date on computer knowledge so we can help patrons file for unemployment benefits, apply for jobs or fill out any other forms as needed. We knew we needed faster computers, as patrons would often get frustrated with our slower machines. Now we have top-notch computers that are easy to navigate, thanks to our Technology Grant.
The Long Range Plan also mentions ongoing work with teachers in local public schools. Do you see opportunities for growing the library's current partnership with local schools? In what other ways does the library partner with community organizations in order to meet the needs of city residents? Has your Edge data helped in building those relationships?
We invite classroom teachers to bring students to the library whenever they want! Recently, we had local third graders come check out books for a research project. Our team printed up resources and showed students where to find the books they needed to complete their projects. We also showed students how to type keywords into our catalog search and how to locate the book once the search was completed. Our team regularly reaches out to local daycares and we offer storytime and book deliveries as needed. We also deliver books to individuals who are unable to physically come to the library as well as nursing homes.
Looking ahead, how do you see your team incorporating Edge data in your planning and outcomes reporting?
Edge helps us narrow down the specific needs of our community. We want to be available to help anyone and everyone.