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Mascoutah Public Library

Mascoutah Public Library: Edge Helps Library Strengthen Community Engagement

“It isn’t just the technology; it’s about helping people with disabilities become integrated into the community. Technology is like the hook. I think a library really needs to be connected. You can’t just sit in your world or you’ll become obsolete. If there are budget issues, how can people support you if you never reach out to them for anything?”

Marian Albers, Library Director

Located in a small community near Scott Air Force Base in southern Illinois, Mascoutah Public Library provides services to a diverse population of people from all backgrounds and walks of life. Participating in Edge served as a catalyst for the library to shake up the status quo of available programs and services and diversify their resources and offerings to better serve the community. The process of completing the Edge assessment made director Marian Albers realize that the library could better engage the community, bolster technology services and establish relationships with new partners and community groups.

As a single outlet library with a limited budget, the challenge then became how to expand and improve services to serve multiple audiences and community interests. The recommendations based on the Edge Assessment helped Albers prioritize the library’s most pressing needs and inspired library staff to “think outside the box” to find creative ways to work around existing barriers and challenges.

The first recommendation they tackled was to update the library website and replace outdated equipment with new laptops and an Apple iMac, which have resulted in increased patron use. The new purchases also equipped each of the five staff workstations with its own laptop, eliminating the previous need for staff to share devices and resulting in greater efficiency and productivity.

According to Albers, Edge helped her realize the importance of employing individuals from a broad range of ages, backgrounds and expertise. When the Library needed to build an updated website on a limited budget, two younger staff members took the lead on creating the new site through WordPress, a free content management system and digital publishing platform. The Library also hired two local high school seniors to work in the library part-time to earn school credit through a special co-op program. This diversity among staff members allows the Library to incorporate fresh insights and expand their collective digital knowledge to strengthen library services.

In addition to diversifying staff, the Library recognized the need to enhance and diversify digital literacy offerings, addressing Edge Benchmark 1.1. Prior to Edge, only beginner and intermediate classes on general computer use were offered. To provide patrons with more comprehensive digital literacy training, the Library began offering classes on a variety of topics and specific skills, such as photography and spreadsheet software. They also engaged community members, such as a local photographer and other professionals in the area, to serve as instructors, and by doing so were able to save on costs and promote local businesses.

With a renewed emphasis on supporting community needs, Mascoutah Public Library implemented their Edge recommendations to expand technology resources and general library services to support two specific populations: an ethnically diverse military population and community members with disabilities.

Due to its proximity to a military base, over half of the Mascoutah community are active or retired military service members, many with spouses and families from a variety of cultural backgrounds. To better serve these families, the Library focused on building its digital multilingual resources by adding more language-learning CDs and downloadable e-books in different languages.

Mascoutah Public Library also began conducting more outreach to community members with special needs. They started by coordinating library trips with Trinity Services Inc., a local non-profit that provides educational, vocational and housing services to persons with disabilities. The Library also brought in local community college students to teach the staff sign language, building staff members’ communication skills so that they can better interact with members of this group. The sign language instructors also joined the Library’s pre-K storytime sessions, signing along as library staff read to the children. Additionally, the Library increased the number of resources in their collections for learning basic sign language.

This outreach has gone a long way in helping acclimate special needs individuals from Trinity Services to the community and people outside of their care centers. They have employed members of the Trinity group within the library and, as a result of their Edge recommendations, are researching assistive technology, such as special computer keyboards, mice and monitors to integrate into their next technology plan.

Albers believes that one of the biggest benefits of participating in Edge has been how it inspired her to create stronger community connections and relationships. This is particularly evident in how the Library works to break down barriers for and negative perceptions of persons with disabilities through their outreach, she says.

“It isn’t just the technology; it’s helping people with disabilities become integrated into the community,” she said. “Technology is like the hook. I think a library really needs to be connected. You can’t just sit in your world or you’ll become obsolete. If there are budget issues, how can people support you if you never reach out to them for anything?”