Mifflin County is a small and rural county in central Pennsylvania that has an aging population and ranks 66 out of 67 counties in per capita income. An already depressed community, the latest “Great Recession” had an even more significant impact on its economy and its population – 76% of all households in Mifflin County do not include anyone between the ages of 0 to 18.
A recent community needs assessment, conducted by the Mifflin County Office of Human Resources, found the need for “more, better, and different education” and affordable healthcare. Dr. Molly Kinney, Executive Director of the Mifflin County Library (MCL), knew the library was uniquely positioned to work closely on these priorities, particularly as a provider for healthcare information. However, the library’s financial resources were limited and she and her staff needed to focus on fundraising for the library before tackling these issues.
“When I started in January of 2013, the Mifflin County Library had a few financial problems,” said Dr. Kinney. “We had $36.11 in our bank account, and the month’s bills hadn’t been paid. As much as I wanted to jump in to address the findings from the needs assessment, I needed to make changes in the library with regards to technology. And, I needed more money in the budget.”
In January 2013, the library had an out-of-date technology plan, no broadband, a 14-year-old ILS (Integrated Library System) with a network that took 90 seconds to process a transaction, old computers and staff in need of training. The county’s IT staff spent 10 hours in the library analyzing the technology and making recommendations for the new technology services and upgrades. A technology consultant reconfigured the network and hired affordable internet providers.
Technology became the priority and Edge came at the right time. At the time this work was near completion, MCL was asked by the Office of Commonwealth Libraries (Pennsylvania State Library) to participate in the soft launch of Edge.
“Edge was one of the greatest things that happened to this library,” Kinney said. “We knew we needed new management software and a new website. Our old website had no interface with the PAC or with Overdrive. So, the site didn’t allow patrons to ‘do’ anything related to library service – checking out e-books, placing holds or ILL requests, for example. Edge really helped me justify the changes that were being made and provided a great tool to educate my board about technology. The Edge assessment tool really solidified for the board, stakeholders and staff where we were at the time and the direction we should be moving towards.”
Completing the Edge assessment, MCL scored 445 out of a possible 1,000 points. The assessment tool offered 134 recommendations for improving the library’s technology services. The tool categorized recommendations into three levels, allowing Kinney to prioritize level one recommendations in 2014, level two in 2015 and level three in 2016.
“I picked the area where I had the most Organizational Management recommendations,” she said. “One of the things I learned was that it’s not as bad as it seems. We selected 19 recommendations to focus on over the next year. My leadership team has the action plan in paper form and are tracking to make sure we are making progress. We don’t have a strategic plan for the library yet, so I’m using the action plan as the technology piece of a strategic plan.”
To implement some of the Edge recommendations, Kinney and her team had to be creative with soliciting funds. She used the executive tools to engage the County Commissioners, community organizations, and other stakeholders. In a matter of months, they raised $17,000 from community organizations including the Kiwanis Club, Rotary Club, Women’s Service Club, VFW, and the Owl’s Nest. In addition, the County Commissioners gave the library $16,000 of seed money.
Edge is more than an assessment and fundraising tool for the MCL team, and they have taken full advantage of its resources and tools. They used the toolkit for media coverage on the radio and in newspapers, which led to an ongoing partnership that updates progress with the Edge Initiative to the whole community. Dr. Kinney participated in all of the training sessions and staff attended sessions that related to their work.
“I used Edge to engage staff in understanding the broad scope of this Initiative and where it can take us as a library and as a team,” Kinney said. “I used it as a development tool, a teambuilding tool, a tool to help focus my staff on a project. Do not underestimate its value for staff development.”
Dr. Kinney says, thanks to Edge, MCL is on a ride and the goal is to have the community enjoy the trip!