According to a study conducted by the iSchool at the University of Washington, only 17% of libraries nationwide that completed the Edge Assessment provide basic assistive technology to patrons with visual, motor, or dexterity impairments. This impacts multiple user demographics, including both the disabled and the elderly. Almost half of Edge libraries report that they would like to change this, but do not have the resources to do so. Using Edge Recommendations and Resources, Plano Public Library System was able to address this important community priority.
After completing the Edge Assessment and reviewing the Edge Peer Comparison Reports, Library Manager, Brent Bloechle, noticed Plano’s results for assistive technology were low even compared to other libraries serving similar populations.
“This really opened up our outlook on a whole range of services and how we are addressing a range of community needs,” said Bloechle.
According to their website, the mission of the Plano Public Library System is to provide a “welcoming, supportive environment for engaging our community, enriching lives, and educating minds.” To deliver on this mission, the Plano Public Library System knew changes needed to be made.
Utilizing information and data from the Edge Assessment, the Library Director, Cathy Ziegler, prepared to share the information at the annual budget meeting with city leadership. She explained how important it is for the library to offer assistive technologies to better serve the entire community.
“We used our Edge results as an evaluation factor when discussing our performance in meeting the needs of the community,” said Bloechle. “We were able to look at a nationwide view of our progress related to assistive technology.”
After presenting the results of the Edge Assessment, both the City Manager and Assistant City Manager supported improving assistive technology and provided a $50,000 supplement to help the library’s efforts. The Plano Public Library System also received a $5,000 grant for this project from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission(TSLAC) for the purchase of software and computer peripherals.
Some of the outcomes from this additional support included keyboards with larger keys and high contrast lettering, oversized trackball mouse options, height adjusting tables, a magnification and screen reading program called ZoomText, and dedicated computers to house the new equipment and software.
While Edge was the catalyst for the library to improve assistive technology, it also surfaced the need for improved bandwidth and assistance to jobseekers with creating electronic resumes.
“It created conversation,” said Bloechle. “We looked at the score for a baseline, but our approach was ‘Are these the services we want to offer?’ It made us think about all public services related to technology and what worked.”
Edge is available to all public libraries in Texas through the purchase of a statewide subscription by TSLAC. Through the TSLAC subscription, Plano Public Library System took the Edge Assessment a second time and received comparative results between their first and second assessments.
“It helps us to gauge where we are and where we progressed. Our score increased,” said Bloechle. “It’s always something to look at as our community evolves and we decide what we should change to address the needs in the community. Edge is a valuable tool for assessment, enhancing conversations and discussions regarding services offered to the community”
In addition to improved assistive technology, Edge triggered other important outcomes including:
- Increased partnerships with local organizations, including a community college to help with workforce education
- Family Place Libraries – library-based programs to help parents prepare their pre-kindergarten children for school
- Connections within city departments on activities such as outreach and education
Thanks to Edge, Plano Public Library System continues to achieve its vision of “being a dynamic community partner relevant and vital to the diverse neighborhoods we serve. We are a destination that facilitates learning and offers cultural and recreational experiences to enhance the quality of life.”
“For the most part you have to evaluate where you place your resources and what works best for your community,” said Bloechle. “What you really want to know is what you can provide to your community and what your community needs.”