Located 35 miles west of San Antonio and serving as the seat of Texas’ Medina County, Hondo is a small agricultural community boasting a few big employers and a population that tops out at around 9,500. As a quarter of Hondo’s population lacks home broadband access and many struggle economically because of underemployment and low paying jobs, Hondo Public Library serves as a vital hub for helping residents to level up their digital skills for personal and professional growth.
“The library plays a broad role in the community by providing early literacy and computer training in an effort to teach people the technical skills they need to move forward,” said Library Director Elsie Purcell.
Across all of the library’s work as a digital inclusion leader, the Edge program has been a valuable guide for several years. The library has been an Edge participant since 2015, and it completed its most recent Edge 2.0 Assessment in August 2019.
However, when Purcell first took the reins of Hondo Public Library in 2017, she had never heard of Edge before. She learned about the program by reviewing files from previous directors, and immediately took the initiative to complete a new Edge Assessment to gauge what progress had been made and what challenges remained ahead.
“You have to have a base in order to move forward,” said Purcell. “And that’s what the Edge program gives you. It says, ‘Here’s where I am and then you can look at where you would like to improve.’ I found it very helpful.”
Edge helped Hondo Public Library achieve a key milestone when the library was chosen as one of six systems (serving populations less than 25,000) to participate in Library Technology Academy, a pilot grant program by the Texas State Libraries and Archives Commission. Purcell and her team used their Edge Assessment results to guide their application of the grant funding, resulting in a new mobile computer lab for the library. This computer lab addressed the space limitations of the enclosed area where the library was previously offering computer classes.
“When you’re limited to five people, you’re not giving your community the best,” said Purcell. “We decided we needed to put in a mobile lab with eight laptops and a charging station to allow us to serve more people.”
Hondo Public Library Staff Team Members
As the COVID-19 pandemic spread throughout the area over the past few months, it has caused the library to shift its focus from robust in-person programming to modified services, limiting all activities to no more than 10 people. Because of the health crisis and the loss of jobs, there is a major need for workforce development programming at the library. Edge helps the library plan strategically for supporting a stronger digital-ready workforce.
“This is a community where we have a lot of people who have never touched a computer,” said Purcell. “We offer everything from basic computer classes to exploring Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Excel, which is a program we offer in partnership with our Chamber of Commerce.”
One priority area for the library’s workforce skills development is helping residents navigate careers in the cybersecurity industry. San Antonio is home to the second-largest and fastest-growing concentration of cybersecurity professionals in the country, rightfully earning the title of "Cyber City, U.S.A.” The city is soon to be home to a brand new 20,000-square-foot central cybersecurity hub. Purcell points out that preparing residents for these highly skilled jobs is just one way the library aims to do “everything we can to support our community.”
In addition to digital skills classes and workforce support, another major focus for the library during COVID-19 has been supporting the continuous learning needs of residents – especially students and the city’s large senior population. This past summer, the library offered a full virtual Summer Reading program every day to try to make things as normal as possible.
In partnership with the city, they also came up with a contactless way for patrons to reserve books and pick them up curbside. The library also partnered with three school districts on a project with OverDrive as it looked to expand digital access across the county.
“Students are doing more learning at home with less access to the materials their school libraries offer,” said Purcell. “With school libraries lacking the budget to offer many electronic resources, the library stepped in to offer access to our resources. That led to us presenting to our city commission to advocate the opening up of library services to the entire county.”
Now, the library is working on grants for more laptops and Wi-Fi hotspots to provide to the community. To ensure success, the library is harnessing Edge data in their grant applications and in communications with government stakeholders and community partners like school districts, local cooperatives and medical facilities.
“I can look at where our benchmarks are in Edge and where comparable communities and libraries are,” said Purcell. “I can then say, ‘This is a need.’ I can go to stakeholders and say we need to move forward and here’s what we need from you in order to do that. You can develop all the programs in the world, but you need to be able share them with partners. Edge is helpful in that way.”
Once the library adds more laptops to the mobile lab, it intends to increase programming class sizes and add children’s computers. By starting digital literacy at an early age, Purcell anticipates that children “won’t end up being left behind.”
“The library should never remain stagnant — it should always be growing and moving forward,” notes Purcell.