Serving a large population of both urban and rural community members, Jackson County Library Services is always looking for new opportunities to expand the reach and impact of its digital inclusion efforts. For several years, the library has used Edge to assess its current digital programs and offerings, and to help guide its strategic technology planning. The Edge Team connected with JCLS director Kari May to learn more about how the system is breaking the mold of traditional library services to provide robust opportunities for tech education and access to tools. Read her responses below.
What are the current digital inclusion challenges facing Jackson County?
Jackson County Library Services serves the entire county, population 219,000, spread out over a diverse geographical area with 15 branches. The communities range from the more urban Medford city, to Ashland (home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Southern Oregon University), to the small town of Prospect (gateway to Crater Lake), and other rural communities nestled in the valley. We constantly have to balance the unique needs of the more urban city centers and the more remote areas, who face access barriers to basic internet services.
How is the library adapting to meet those needs?
One of the unique services we provide is one-on-one instruction through our Digital Services Team. We recognized a digital literacy gap in our community and hypothesized that individuals might learn well with dedicated appointments to talk about their specific technology questions. We started about two years ago with a team of two digital associates, and after a year we had to add two more in order to keep up with the demand for the service. This fall we will be expanding our technology education program to include basic computer classes in two of our locations, as well as some classes on coding. We will also offer special “get mathy” tutoring sessions.
Additionally, we have added MiFi hotspots to our circulating collection and have recently started adding more technology to our growing Library of Things, including Kindles and Chromebooks.
Your library has been a longtime Edge subscriber and recently completed its fourth Edge Assessment. What key milestones has your library achieved using Edge? What lessons has your team learned in making the most of Edge?
The Jackson County Library District Board is committed to being among the leaders in Oregon library systems in delivering technology solutions and training to our patrons and staff. We use the Edge Assessment as a tool to benchmark where we are and to identify our priorities for where to go next.
Last September, your library opened Spark Space, a new STEM-learning center for kids and teens featuring opportunities to learn about robotics, coding and more. How does Spark Space advance your community digital inclusion outcomes?
Edge led us to identify the strong potential for a makerspace to meet our community's needs. As we started planning for our Spark Space in Central Point, we recognized that students already had access to some of the common makerspace tools such as 3-D printers and coding software, and so we wanted our facility to complement technologies they could find in other makerspaces. We also wanted to create a space where technology is easily accessible and remove barriers to exploration. Adding a makerspace was part of our technology plan, and it evolved into the Spark Space as we got deeper into planning the project.
What lessons have you learned from this new library space? How does your library plan to expand on digital inclusion experiences and learning opportunities for area youth?
In June 2019, we launched our second Spark Space at the White City Library. In both spaces, we are seeing a bit of a younger audience than we anticipated, with a majority of the students around grades 3-6. That’s great – we want to fill a need in our community, and if that is younger than we thought, we are adjusting our programs accordingly.
In addition to the physical Spark Spaces, we are developing a mobile Spark Space. We have items that we are adding to our Library of Things, and then also technology that we will bundle together in kits and rotate between the branches. One of the things we learned already in the first year of the spaces is that keeping the technologies fresh helps to keep drawing people back.
Your library allows patrons to borrow mobile hot spots through its JCLS connect program. As you mentioned, the library also allows patrons to borrow laptops and even request one-on-one tech consulting. In what other ways is the library engaging adult patrons in building digital skills?
Using the Edge Assessment, our library has identified key practices we want to implement or expand in order to better serve our community. For example, guided by Edge data, the library is adding content creation tools to our Library of Things and mobile makerspace. Further, our team is researching current ADA compliance tools for the community to provide in-house or check out for home use.
“Leveraging partnerships to develop and promote job growth and business success” is a key a growth area identified in the libraries 2016-2021 strategic plan. How does the library's digital inclusion leadership factor into achieving that goal?
This past spring, we added a Business Outreach Librarian to our team. She quickly became engaged with the business community. Jackson County has six Chambers of Commerce that serve businesses throughout the valley, and we also have a Small Business Development Center, as well as educational opportunities through Southern Oregon University. Our Business Librarian has become a part of the network of information that is available to support emerging and growing businesses. She offers classes and one-on-one appointments with clients to help them learn more about online business resources through our database collection.
Based on our Edge Assessment and related data, we are constantly identifying new ways to bring technologies to our communities. JCLS has applied to be a Foundation Center partner, and we will add this resource and accompanying training to our services in early 2020. We have also started some creative outreach in the community. One of our first efforts to take our mobile makerspace out into the community was a “Beer and Bots” program at two local pubs. We brought in some robotics and virtual reality equipment and encouraged attendees to sign up for a library card if they didn’t already have one. It is always fun to engage our communities in unexpected ways and break the mold of traditional library services.
In what other ways has Edge helped strengthen the library’s technology and strategic planning?
Edge has helped us prioritize technology in our budget. The Spark Spaces both received generous donations from individuals and organizations within our communities.
Continually completing Edge Assessments has helped keep technology on the forefront of our minds as we plan for the future of our library's services. Each time we complete an Edge Assessment, we identify areas for growth and then prioritize our upcoming technology initiatives around those opportunities that represent the best overlap between our technology needs and our strategic direction.