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Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library

Positioning the Library to Advance Community Aspirations

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Edge is helping EVPL situate its role alongside other community efforts and initiatives toward improving digital inclusion and digital equity.

Charles Sutton, Social Impact Research Manager; Kassidy Kinner, Engagement Manager

Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library serves the residents of Evansville and Vanderburgh County, Ind. Evansville is the state's third largest city, and the county has a population of more than 181,000 individuals, making it the largest metropolitan area within a 100-mile radius. EVPL serves as an essential partner to local government and other community leaders in advancing city and county goals for the economy, education, health and wellness, digital equity and more. The Edge team connected with EVPL Social Impact Research Manager Charles Sutton and Engagement Manager Kassidy Kinner to learn how Edge is helping the library advance its work and redefine its leadership role in the community. Read their responses below.

How would you describe your community’s culture and current challenges?

Our community is one rooted in deep historical tradition while also being attuned to the ever-changing world. One might consider Evansville a mid-sized city in the process of revitalization while reimagining its urban/rural identity and relationships. The community is built on a strong manufacturing foundation with a hands-on Midwest mentality. There’s a spirit of collaboration and understated innovation.

There are maker aspirations at the city government and urban planning level and efforts are underway to appeal to creatives and entrepreneurs to impact population and economic growth. A key strategy in addressing population and economic growth is developing an educated workforce.

Evansville’s challenges are not unlike many urban, small to mid-sized American cities impacted by shifts in the economy, declining and aging populations, inadequate housing stock, transportation infrastructure and income disparities. There are several efforts underway, including place-based strategies, collective impact approaches, business-led initiatives, resource allocation and neighborhood revitalization, aimed at reducing poverty, improving educational attainment, impacting family self-sufficiency and addressing mental health and overall well-being. Each of these focus areas are local challenges that have been prioritized by local leaders.

What key outcomes and milestones has your library achieved using Edge?

EVPL reached key outcomes and milestones in each of our identified focus areas, but it is our strides in staff digital knowledge and skills, as well as technology planning in which we have reached our greatest milestones.

After completing the Edge Assessment, we identified several areas in which our technology planning could and should be improved. We recognized the need for improved digital and physical accessibility to technology resources and services. We responded by seeking out experts and vendors to assist us in assessing our current technologies in library meeting rooms and on our website. We brought in multiple vendors to examine our existing technology and A/V resources in our meeting rooms with the intention of updating and creating a consistent and equitable experience for our meeting room users. We continue to update our website content to meet a variety of accessibility needs, including adding a new accessibility widget and setting a goal of including alt text and other reading assistive measures for images and headings.

In our pursuit for improved equitable access to technology, EVPL saw a parallel increase in the pursuit of increased staff digital knowledge. EVPL team members began to explore new software and hardware technologies to support our new EVPL Maker Central. Through experiential and virtual learning, team members developed the skills and competencies needed to utilize Adobe products, podcasting equipment, digital video making tools and more. Our staff learned recording and production skills in order to continue providing programming to our community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

How has the library used Edge to engage local government and community leaders?

Edge is helping EVPL situate its role alongside other community efforts and initiatives toward improving digital inclusion and digital equity. Edge has helped us identify a gap in assessing formal technology needs within our community. Having assessed community needs, making and entrepreneurship were identified as community aspirations. We are situating ourselves as leaders in supporting these aspirations while establishing connections with community and government leaders for advocacy and advancement of making, entrepreneurship and digital inclusion initiatives. We hired a business librarian and reestablished the EVPL Business Central as one of our initial steps in reaching our goal of becoming a leader in assessing community technology aspirations and goals. EVPL has also began the process of encouraging a culture of making and creativity by strategic alignment and creation of space(s).

EVPL strives to maintain consistent and positive relationships with our local government and community leaders on our digital inclusion and digital equity efforts, as well as our government-related resources and services. As previously mentioned, one of our Edge-identified focus areas related to e-government. With this in mind, we examined how we could best support individuals and groups. Two of the identified areas were information dissemination and digital and physical resource support for Census 2020, the 2020 election cycle and COVID-19.

While the Census completion is always important for a community, our local leadership recognized how crucial high participation in the Census was due to how much our community has changed over the last ten years. With drastically different economic situations and population increase and migration throughout our county, an accurate Census count is necessary for informed decision-making regarding our community’s development and resource allocation. EVPL and local leadership collaborated to communicate and disperse digital and physical information regarding Census participation. We hosted Census representatives at our location to share information and assist individuals in completing their Census questionnaire. We shared Census Briefs in digital and print formats to help illuminate how much Census data is used by different segments of the population to make decisions and/or understand an area.

The coronavirus pandemic was an unexpected health crisis that continues to impact our community and the world a year later. When the pandemic began, EVPL leadership recognized the need for clear, concise and trusted information sources related to the virus in our community. Partnering with local government and health care officials, EVPL quickly began sharing virus-related information with our community. Over the last year, we have shared information under the guidance of these officials, communicating important information with our library users and Vanderburgh County residents, including in harder to reach regions of our community. We have worked with state leaders to train our staff to assist in registering and scheduling individuals for the COVID-19 vaccine and actively promote this resource to our community.

The virus also impacted how our local government facilitated the election process. Though EVPL’s five larger locations have been hosts for early voting for several years, 2020 saw the temporary suspension of in-person services at EVPL. Library administration worked with our local election office and our location managers to ensure EVPL would still be able to host early voting in our meeting rooms. As a result, our library saw more than 23,000 voters visit our locations for early voting — a record turnout.

How has Edge helped your library strengthen its strategic planning and staff development?

With several focus areas including elements such as digital accessibility and skill development, EVPL administration and our Human Resources/Organizational Development team recognized a need for professional development opportunities specifically centered on digital expertise. We assessed what digital skills and expertise currently existed on our team and used this information to identify potential digital peer-to-peer educators, as well as expertise gaps where external educators would be beneficial.

During the planning process of our 2021-2023 Strategic Plan, we incorporated library staff, board and public surveys and a SWOT analysis to inform key components. Utilizing Edge, we were aware that there were certain areas that may be identified during this assessment process. The feedback and information provided during the planning process led to our four strategic goals — each of which included an objective related to fields identified through Edge. We plan on continuing to increase staff digital knowledge and establish partnerships, such as our EPA air quality monitor partnership, and to support the advancement of digital knowledge and improvement of quality of life in our community.

Edge provided us with a foundational knowledge of digital-related areas where we may improve. The assessment of our staff’s digital knowledge and expertise, including the process of information gathering itself, provided us with a strategic path for moving our skills and offerings forward.