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San Mateo County Libraries

Using Edge to Bridge the Digital Divide Strengthens Technology and Services at San Mateo County Libraries

San Mateo

Location: San Mateo, California

Peer Group: #6 - Pop. 175,001-300,000

Director: Anne-Marie Despain

Key Outcome Areas: Civic and Community Engagement, Education, Health and Safety

“Edge helps us tell the story of how San Mateo County Libraries is a leader, bringing the best in technology, programs and services to benefit all people in our communities. We definitely would recommend Edge for other libraries to help improve their services and share their stories with their stakeholders.”

Nicole Pasini, Deputy Director

Similar to many of its peers across North America, San Mateo County Libraries uses Edge to assess its technology, communicate its impact and plan for the future. As part of its mission to create an inclusive sense of place and environment for learning, the library relies on Edge as a resource to help bridge the digital divide that exists in its communities.

In addition to serving communities that have benefited from the prosperity of Silicon Valley, the library serves economically disadvantaged communities that struggle with the region’s high cost of living.

“San Mateo County Libraries serves some of the wealthiest communities in the country. While many high-income households have access to broadband, the picture changes when you look at residents residing in low-income communities,” said Nicole Pasini, deputy director of San Mateo County Libraries, noting that an estimated 44 percent of San Mateo County households earning less than $50,000 annually do not subscribe to broadband.

The library understands the value of continuously using Edge. After it first participated in 2013, it used the information and data it received to identify skill building and improving access to technology as ways to help it bridge the digital divide.

“Edge is a powerful benchmarking tool,” said Pasini. “The Edge Peer Comparison Report allows us to see how we compare to similar libraries, pushing us to reach a higher standard. It also helps us identify trends in library services.”

As part of its effort to bridge the digital divide, San Mateo County Libraries was the first library in California to loan Wi-Fi hotspots, which is now one of its most popular services. Prioritizing access to multimedia production software, online test prep and other high-value resources and reallocating funding to support these resources have been beneficial to its communities. In 2015, San Mateo County Libraries received an Innovator Award from ConnectSMC, an annual technology in government conference created by elected representatives in San Mateo County, in recognition of its work to bridge the digital divide.

“Our governing board is committed to meeting our communities’ needs, so there is an investment in improving and innovating the library’s technology,” said Pasini.

The library works with its governing board which is comprised of elected officials from each of the cities the library serves and a member of the County Board of Supervisors.

“The Board meets five times a year, so it is important for us to clearly convey what we are accomplishing and what the community needs at a high level and with a strong message. We brought the Edge Assessment to the Board to share some of these important details,” said Pasini.

One of the perks of participating in Edge year after year is the value of receiving side-by-side comparisons of the library’s results from the Edge Assessment.

The library was able to show the governing board that since 2013 it achieved a 27 percent overall improvement based on its results from the Edge Assessment. The library attributes this achievement to investments the board made in technology and the library’s focus on technology in its strategic plan.

“Comparing our 2013 results to our most recent results from the Edge Assessment allowed us to demonstrate to our governing board that San Mateo County Libraries is constantly working to improve technology, programs and services,” said Pasini.

Through the support of the California State Library, San Mateo County Libraries most recent participation in Edge allowed it to recognize several areas for improvement, including the expansion of the assistive technology it offers to the communities it serves.

In its subsequent budget, the library requested an increase in one-time funding to support and supplement new and ongoing technology initiatives, which included funding to improve offerings for people with disabilities.

“Edge helps us tell the story of how San Mateo County Libraries is a leader, bringing the best in technology, programs and services to benefit all people in our communities,” said Pasini. “We definitely would recommend Edge for other libraries to help improve their services and share their stories with their stakeholders.”