Surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains and national forests, Madison County is referred to as “The Jewel of the Blue Ridge”. The county is home to numerous historic and nature trails, a vibrant music scene, and a library that is committed to adding quality to people’s lives through promoting literacy, supporting life-long learning, and connecting community.
Madison County Public Libraries (MCPL) embraces the natural beauty of its surroundings, and under the leadership of Library Director Melanie Morgan participates in ecoExplore. The library’s participation in this program is just one example of how MCPL finds unique opportunities outside of the library to improve digital literacy offerings based on the Edge national benchmarks.
The North Carolina Arboretum developed ecoExplore, a science enrichment program that combines science exploration with kid-friendly technology. The program fosters a fun learning environment for children, encourages them to explore the outdoors, and promotes becoming a ‘citizen scientist’.
“The hands-on science activities as part of ecoExplore allow students to use iPads that were awarded by an Edge grant,” said Morgan. “Not only do we use them as part of ecoExplore, but we also use these iPads in the schools.”
Developing strong ties with the Madison County Schools, MCPL engages educators through open dialogue to learn how the library can best support student’s learning experiences. In addition to programs like ecoExplore, the library has partnered with the high school to develop a Summer Reading Program utilizing QR scavenger hunts, digital storytelling platforms, and other technology tools to encourage the love of reading in students.
“Being in the schools is great because it shows the library is an asset,” she said. “We also help buy resources for our schools, including eBooks that they can use in their curriculum.”
Through their partnerships with local schools, the library has been able to provide eLibrary cards to students in 4ththrough 12th grade. This has allowed the students access to all of the library’s eResources, including NC Live. As part of NC Live, users have access to research classes, eBooks, language-learning tools, and much more.
However, schools are not the only ones that are benefitting from the library’s approach to digital literacy. Leaders from various county departments have also looked to the library as a resource within the community.
“The heads from several local government departments are now reaching out to us and asking us to come in and teach different skills,” said Morgan. “For example, a local town in our county transitioned to a new email system, causing a challenge for some of the staff. They requested the library provide hands-on instruction to help employees learn how to best utilize the new system. Another example involved the library helping the waste management staff learn new techniques in Excel to streamline their workflow. It’s just another way for us to serve the community.”
The library offers a variety of digital literacy classes based on the needs of county departments. Despite the initial reluctance from some of the departments, the county manager encouraged them to take advantage of what the library was offering.
“After the first department stepped up, we received calls continuously,” said Morgan. “We really want people to feel confident when they are done, even if they gain just one skill.”
The work MCPL achieved with the county manager, county departments, and other stakeholders contributed to the development of its most recent strategic plan. As libraries continue to change, MCPL plans to continue adapting to meet the priorities inside and outside of the library.
“We’re trying to hit all spectrums by reaching beyond our walls to help support our community,” said Morgan. “We don’t want the library to just be the library – we want to be out in the community and I think trying different things has been very effective.”
This new approach to digital literacy training shows that MCPL has a clear vision of the library offering the community improved technology assistance, programming, and training. The first step to achieve this was to hire a new staff member.
“One of the most important outcomes from using Edge as part of our strategic planning process was acquiring a Technology Instructor position for MCPL. We were able to use Edge data as leverage with our local government stakeholders, despite the new position being above and beyond our normal budget,” said Morgan. “By creating this position, the library has been able to offer a whole new array of programming for all ages and develop strong, new partnerships with members of the community.”
The Technology Instructor teaches everyone from beginners that are learning to move a mouse, to much more advanced users.
“We sat with a lady for two hours one day while she struggled with the concept of double clicking on things to open them,” said Morgan. “When she finally double clicked, the entire room cheered for her. She was 78 years old and trying to learn – which is one of the greatest things ever.”
Each of the library’s three branches now offers two technology training classes a month. The most requested technology training class focuses on how to use the library’s eBook resources.
“We have people that come in daily with eReaders – they hand their personal device to the staff and ask them to help set up our eBook service. This isn’t something that is going away,” said Morgan. “We walk through each of the steps – from installing the eReader app on the device to actually using the app.”
In addition to the more traditional digital literacy classes that focus on Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, Publisher, and PowerPoint), the library has begun diversifying their offerings to include digital storytelling, genealogy research workshops, resume building classes, and more.
“We also offer fun technology classes that the community may like but not have access to at home,” said Morgan. “We offer classes on Pinterest and various social media platforms,” she said.
Thanks to the generosity of the State Library of North Carolina, Madison County Public Libraries will continue using the Edge Action Plan and their strategic plan as active documents. This helps the library to identify what resources are needed to make the biggest impact on the community, using Edge to improve digital literacy offerings and opportunities throughout the county.
“Edge is a useful tool to strategically develop a technology plan with attainable goals and measure the library’s success in achieving those goals. It helps you focus on where you want to improve,” said Morgan. “We have reached beyond our doors and are now transporting the library to the community. Having access to Edge has been beneficial to develop and implement a technology plan that helps the MCPL continue to evolve in this technology driven world and meet our community’s needs.”