The San Antonio Public Library (SAPL) serves 1.8 million people in one of the fastest growing urban regions in the United States. The library has 28 locations, over 500 employees, and over 600 technology devices — desktop computers, laptops, and tablets — to meet the technology needs of its growing population. And Edge has proven to be a vital tool for developing the library’s digital strategy which led to an increase in city funding to enhance the library’s technology infrastructure.
“The Edge assessment tool enabled us to put together our technology road map for the future,” said San Antonio City Manager Sheryl Sculley. “I’m certainly not a technology expert, but I am a futurist. I want to look three-to-five years down the road to assess where we want to be and what we need to do to get there. Edge helped us take that long view.” With a population that is below the state average in median income, Sculley said there is a very high need for access to computers and the Internet.
Library Director Ramiro Salazar said he was immediately interested in being part of the Edge Initiative because it created an opportunity to launch a more strategic approach to service delivery and better align library services with community needs. Despite already robust public access technology resources, Salazar said the Edge assessment process and peer comparison report helped the library sharpen its focus, think differently about how to approach service needs, and gauge the library’s effectiveness and relevance.
Outcomes from SAPL’s Edge assessment to date include:
- Increased city funds for library technology services and resources
- Expanded staff training
- Improved communication between the library technology staff and the city IT department
- Sustained library commitment to assessing progress using the Edge benchmarks
1 Million Vote of Confidence
Using information from the Edge assessment, the library presented its digital strategy to the city council. That presentation led to $1 million in additional funds for technology infrastructure and services to support implementation of the library’s long-term digital strategy. While the library has been able to document growing technology needs, particularly dramatic growth in Wifi usage, Edge strengthened the case for increased investment by providing comparison data from a peer group of libraries that are facing similar challenges.
“The council action to increase funding for technology infrastructure and services was a vote of confidence in the library’s role in public computing,” Salazar added.
SAPL used the results of its Edge assessment and the additional resources to:
- Expand Wifi capacity to meet rapidly growing demand for connectivity – in FY 2015, patrons have logged more than 2.3 million hours of computer and Wifi use, an increase of 8 percent over the previous year.
- Create collaborative meeting spaces in a new branch to test interest and need.
- Explore the use of Chromebooks and Chromeboxes as more economical and more easily managed devices to meet per-capita-use targets.
- Install kiosks at the San Antonio International Airport to give travelers access to the library’s e-books and audiobooks.
SAPL stepped up its staff training to meet Benchmark 8 – libraries have sufficient staff with technology expertise to help patrons achieve their goals. The library uses a self-paced learning program, called 11.5 COSAs (Spanish for “things”) that cover technology apps, websites, digital resources, and questions staff encounter while working in the library. Developed by library staff based on their experience answering patron technology questions, 11.5 COSAs is open to and strongly recommended for all SAPL employees and required for all library professionals and library assistants.
Staff document their progress by setting up and maintaining individual blogs throughout the learning experience. While working on 11.5 COSAs, staff earn digital badges – Novice 11.5, Tech Ninja, Tech Savvy, and Tech Apprentice - which are posted on the staff web site and on personal learning blogs.
The purpose of the 11.5 COSAs is to ensure that 100 percent of public services staff can answer all basic patron technology questions. As of October 2015, 122 employees had completed the program and another 44 were on track to complete it.
Improved Technology Communication
Another significant outcome of Edge for SAPL has been improved communication between library staff and the city IT department, which supports library technology services. The Edge benchmarks and assessment results provided both a common language and better data to help the library explain its needs and explore solutions with the IT staff. “The Edge assessment helped me know how to talk to IT about longer-term needs and how to develop more economical, scalable, and manageable approaches to building and sustaining our IT resources,” said Ignacio Albarracin, Library Digital Services Coordinator.
For the San Antonio Public Library, both the process of completing the Edge assessment and the data it delivered have provided significant value as the library continually reviews and upgrades its public technology services. Strengthening public technology services is a “work in progress,” said David Cooksey, SAPL Performance and Innovation Manager, “Edge helps us ask the right questions and gives us the opportunity to try out new things.” Cooksey pointed to Benchmark 11 – libraries ensure participation in digital technology for people with disabilities – as an example of asking the right questions. “That benchmark helps you remember the importance of considering users with disabilities when making technology investments,” Cooksey said.
SAPL staff look forward to going through the Edge assessment again to measure progress, revisit indicators, and identify new targets of opportunity.