How Edge Evolved from a "Promising Opportunity" to an Essential Tool for Texas
As one of Edge’s founding coalition partners, the Texas State Library and Archives Commission has been – and continues to be – instrumental in helping grow Edge’s impact in Texas and across the library field. In 2014, Texas was one of seven "soft launch" states to roll out Edge statewide.
At that time, TSLAC was eager to find new and innovative ways to serve the technology needs of the state's library systems, and Texas State Librarian Mark Smith knew that Edge had come along at the right moment. “We saw Edge as a promising opportunity to get on-the-ground information to find out how libraries were responding to evolving technologies,” said Smith.
Since that time, TSLAC has provided free access to Edge for every public library in the state, and more than half of Texas’ libraries have completed an Edge Assessment. The aggregated data from these Edge Assessments helps the state library track year-over-year progress and the technology needs and opportunities of Texas libraries.
For example, TSLAC has used this data to identify eight areas in which it can leverage statewide resources to assist libraries with their technology, including in continuing education and training opportunities to help libraries meet the technology needs of persons with disabilities.
“From a broader perspective as a state library, Edge helps us start to see trends and make the leap in helping libraries,” said TSLAC Library Technology Academy Program Manager & Digital Inclusion Consultant Cindy Fisher. The state library is especially interested in the Edge data that tracks how libraries connect with their communities. Fisher adds, “This data tells us what we need to do on specific topics, highlighting gaps in our digital inclusion strategy.”
To this day, ensuring free and open access to digital information continues to be a critical strategic focus for TSLAC and its use of Edge. According to the agency’s 2019-2023 strategic plan, only “about 6% of Texas public libraries meet the FCC standard for library connectivity (100 MBs for libraries serving less than 50,000 persons and 1 GB for libraries serving more than 50,000).”
Connectivity issues are especially severe in the state's rural areas, where many households still don’t have access to high-speed internet and 64% of libraries serve fewer than 15,000 people. While the situation is better in urban centers, gaps still remain in those areas as well — with Brownsville and Pharr topping the list of the nation's worst-connected cities.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Texas in early 2020, the impact of this digital divide intensified almost overnight. As library buildings temporarily limited access, and as libraries everywhere pivoted to offer most of their programs and services online, TSLAC's work to empower Texas libraries as digital equity leaders became more critical and urgent than ever.