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Sullivan County Public Library

Sullivan County Public Library: Strengthening Library Tech Planning Through Benchmarks

"It may be intimidating at first, but likely you are already doing a lot of it. If there is a lot you aren’t doing, try to prioritize. It isn’t a requirement--it is just something to strive for."

Amy Lippo, Assistant Director

Tucked away in upper northeast Tennessee near the Appalachian Mountains, the Sullivan County Public Library is making major strides in technology thanks to the Edge Benchmarks. Amy Lippo served as the assistant director of the libraries and helped the library incorporate the benchmarks into its technology planning. Lippo had first learned about the Edge Initiative in a presentation by the Tennessee State Library. Because the Sullivan County Library's director, Theresa McMahan, is focused on staying ahead of current technology, the Edge benchmarks seemed like a perfect fit.

With about 15,000 registered patrons, Sullivan County Library offers a variety of materials, both in print and digital media, as well as free beginning computer classes and assistance with writing resumes. The library has a strong history of serving the county’s population with reading and reference material, as well as area historical and genealogical material. The library is solely funded by the County Commission.

With a small staff (each branch only has two staffers) and spread-out branches across the county, the library system simply did not have the capacity to come up with tech planning benchmarks on its own. The Edge Benchmarks provided a foundation for the library to come up with achievable steps to provide the citizens of Sullivan County with quality technology resources.

Why did you decide to incorporate the Edge Benchmarks into your planning?

According to Lippo, the benchmarks work because they serve as a framework for what the library "should" be doing. It helps them both look at what is expected, but also allows them to judge where they currently are in technology. They compared the benchmarks to what they already had in place and then looked to see where the gaps were.

Which benchmarks are you currently working on?

The Sullivan County Public Library is currently working on Edge Benchmark 10: Libraries manage their technology resources to maximize quality. This is an important benchmark for the library system as they're in a region where the state provides Internet to the main library which in turn provides connectivity to its branches. Applying this benchmark to their tech planning has allowed the library to collect data and information about their bandwidth and make informed decisions.

The library is also working on Benchmark 2: Libraries provide access to relevant digital content and enable community members to create their own digital content. Lippo said that the Sullivan County Library is getting new software for photo and video editing to make content creation possible. She said that the library is also looking into providing free online software as the community has been asking more and more for these resources.

How did the benchmarks help you identify ways to strengthen tech in your library?

Besides adding content creation support at the library, the benchmarks have helped the library extend beyond its walls to the greater Sullivan County community. The librarians reached out to community organizations with a technology focus and even looked into recruiting a board member with an IT background.

What did it take to succeed?

Lippo attributes the library's success to its director's leadership, who made technology a priority. Even when there wasn't big grant money coming into the Sullivan County Library, its director, Theresa McMahan, kept technology a focus in strategic planning. Lippo acknowledges how lucky the library was to have somebody like McMahan, who is skilled in many tech areas. She was able to provide in-house training to staff, saving the library the money on hiring a contractor or new employee.

What did you learn in the process?

Lippo says she learned that the Edge Benchmarks showed that the Sullivan Country Library was on the right track in terms of its technology offerings. But it did bring some clarity into where they could make their programs stronger, especially in areas like social media as well as privacy and security. "Those are things that we just kind of assumed people were kind of doing on their own," she noted. The staff realized that there was a need for actual training on these topics through the Benchmarks.

In doing trainings, Lippo said that the staff also learned that they have to be prepared for something to go wrong and be able to roll with it. For example, during the one of the trainings, the computers they were using to teach people weren't working. In another training, the library Internet went down. "[We learned] to be able to go with whatever happens and be able to be flexible with it."

What advice would you give to a colleague?

Lippo recommends adapting the Edge Benchmarks to your own library's situation. She recommends reading through them to see where you stand already. She remarked that some of the benchmarks seem like they're more suitable for larger libraries in more urban areas. She recommends taking them and adapting it as you can to your own library.

"It may be intimidating at first, but likely you are already doing a lot of it. If there is a lot you aren’t doing, try to prioritize. It isn’t a requirement--it is just something to strive for."