- Transition from Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP)
- Integration with the City’s Office of Performance Improvement
- Inform Strategic and Technology Planning
When Louisville Free Public Library (KY) Director Craig Buthod heard about the Edge Initiative, he immediately recognized the potential of using this new leadership tool to inform the library’s strategic planning and performance improvement work. It was early 2013 - just a short time after the library began working with the Metro Louisville Office of Performance Improvement on a new initiative, LouieStat. In fact, every City department is now working with the Office of Performance Improvement and tracking performance in ways that they’ve never tracked before.
“This is important work, and because it was a new initiative of the City, we needed tools and resources to help us identify the areas and services where we should be focused,” Buthod said. “Edge could be that tool that helps us quantify the quality of the library’s technology services and inform the strategic planning process. The timing was right for Edge to be a part of the library’s work.”
Lee Burchfield, Director of Strategic Planning & Technology, leads the library’s engagement with the Edge Initiative. The library began working on the Edge Assessment in July 2013.
Burchfield is the library’s former Information Technology manager. After a decade of running the IT department, Edge is that national initiative Burchfield has been hoping for, he said.
“I finally have a source that was compiling conventional wisdom about best practices in a lot of areas where we were developing our own best practices over time,” Burchfield said. “We were often left feeling like we were standing on our own when trying to make a case for a certain level of bandwidth and computer availability. There really had not been a national standards organization in place to do those things.”
The Metro Louisville Office of Performance Improvement charged the library with two tasks: 1) LouieStat, which focuses on improving the quality and efficiency of everyday operational activities, and 2) strategic planning, which addresses how the library will strategically plan the future of the organization as opposed to how it’s performing where it is right now. In taking the charge, the Louisville Free Public Library is using and applying Edge to both realms of work. In addition, Edge has been incorporated in the library’s 2014 Technology Plan.
“The assessment has been a great tool for us. We bring it to the table when we go into meetings with the performance improvement department and talk about the kinds of things that we are doing in the library and how we measure the success of them. Edge outlines specific areas, shows us where we are at the moment, and tells us what we can do to improve in those areas,” Burchfield said. “It’s been a really helpful tool in the process of developing a performance improvement strategy, and our city leadership is really pleased with the tool thus far.”
In today’s digital age, identifying performance improvement measurements for libraries can be tough. Libraries have evolved tremendously in the last 20 years and the technology revolution in libraries has changed the way they do business. Twenty years ago, libraries tracked books checked out and renewals. Now, libraries are counting computer sessions counting hours spent on computers, and tracking e-books checked out.
“We see the Edge Initiative, with the bundling of different benchmarks together, as a tool that will help us objectively evaluate performance. There are a lot of possibilities for how we create a performance indicator that looks at the services that our library delivers through technology,” Burchfield said.
In thinking through the long-term vision for the library, several factors came into play that needed attention. First, the library’s three-year Broadband and Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) to expand public computing centers was about to expire, and the time had come to map out the next three to five years and refocus the library’s technology services.
Then, the ongoing challenge of staff capacity rose to the top of the priority list. Library staff were literally outnumbered. The 18-branch library system has 7.5 FTE IT staff with more than 1,100computers on the network and 24/7 services offered through the website and public computing initiatives. In recent years, there has been an explosion of mobile devices connecting to the wireless network and many of the library’s patrons walk through the doors with multiple devices. Most of the library’s staff (outside of the IT Department) have a diverse skillset and are very comfortable with technology, can we say “while others are far less confident”, Burchfield said.
“The Edge Initiative really gives us help in creating some standards for the level of technology training that our staff needs to have. There’s value in hearing from an external organization that says here’s what you need to do to be successful,” Burchfield said. “We’ve been talking about a standard, but having Edge publish a standard that largely coincides with what we’ve been saying really gives us credibility about what we need to do to be successful with our technology services.”
An example Burchfield cited was with bandwidth. He says people tend to compare bandwidth speeds that the library needs with their internet connection at home. One of the Edge Benchmarks, Benchmark 9, provides standards for measuring bandwidth at the desktop level.
“This gives technology departments the tools we’ve been wanting for a very long time. It’s the perfect path to be taken on, and at the end of a decade of expansion in libraries, is just in time,” he said. “IT departments all over the country are desperate for standards like these.”
The Results – Quantifying Quality
The Louisville Free Public Library continues its work to develop a strategic plan and performance metrics. They have created a spreadsheet to clearly outline each of the library’s goals, and ensure the goals align with Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer’s five city-wide objectives. Three of the library’s goals come directly from the Edge Initiative.
Edge has been positively received by local government officials. Burchfield said at the most recent LouieStat forum where the library reports its progress, the Edge Initiative was the main topic of discussion.
“Everywhere we’ve talked about it, the response has been abundantly positive. They recognize the importance of it. Sharing that ULC, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the International City/County Management Association are the three name attached to this gives a great deal of credibility,” said Burchfield. “We have shared Edge with our library advisory commission, mayoral appointees, and with our strategic planning committee. Everyone has developed a crush on the Edge Initiative. They are fond of the systematic way that it has of presenting a path for a library to follow to improve the quality of its technology services. They’re very enamored with it.”
The Louisville Free Public Library continues to work on its strategic plan, and will share support documents such as the Three Year Technology Plan as a resource of the Edge Initiative.
“The Edge Initiative will help us mark our progress, make more progress, and make our progress more systematic. We could hardly ask for more,” said Craig Buthod, Director of the Louisville Free Public Library.