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Texas State Library and Archives Commission

“Edge touches on so many aspects of our programming, like web accessibility and whether libraries subscribe to e-resources. These questions allow us to connect what the state library is already doing to how a library can succeed by using our resources.”

Cindy Fisher, Library Technology Academy Program Manager & Digital Inclusion Consultant, TSLAC

How Edge Evolved from a "Promising Opportunity" to an Essential Tool for Texas

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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.

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Empowering Texas Libraries as Essential COVID-19 Responders

“[During COVID-19,] libraries across the state have once again proven to be one of the most important resources for communities in times of crisis. The remote resources provided by libraries have been extremely helpful including access to online resources, but also online programs as many libraries have pivoted to virtual summer reading programs and other online services,” said Smith.

When the pandemic hit, TSLAC’s operations went nearly all-virtual with in-person workshops and training suspended. Early on, the team published a guide on “COVID-19 Information and Resources for Library Workers” to help libraries with various aspects of building closures, including a sample communications plan to help them craft messaging for their communities. Because of TSLAC's Edge subscription, Texas libraries at the beginning of the pandemic also received support during intial closures through information provided directly by the Edge Team via email digests, as well as regular updates on Edge's Coronavirus Resources web page.

TSLAC helped to distribute over $1 million in CARES Act funding to directly support 38 Texas libraries with projects aimed at COVID-19 response and digital inclusion during the pandemic. In late 2020, TSLAC launched the Library Status Project, a dynamic new tool that uses real-time data collection and mapping to show what services public and academic libraries are offering as they reopen their buildings.

TSLAC also launched a Texas Free Wi-Fi Map to help underconnected individuals locate and access free internet. The interactive online map indicates up-to-date locations where the public can access Wi-Fi hotspots provided by Texas libraries, schools and nonprofit organizations.

In early 2021, input from TSLAC and Texas libraries helped to inform the launch of two new Edge resources — the COVID-19 Recovery toolkit and Edge Progress Snapshot reporting tool (both available to subscribers on the Edge 2.0 platform) — designed to support libraries in addressing top needs for moving forward from the pandemic. While the COVID-19 Recovery toolkit focuses on urgent priorities for the short-term, the Edge Progress Snapshot tool is designed to help libraries clearly communicate with stakeholders and demonstrate their value as digital equity leaders, which will be key issues facing all libraries in the years to come.

“Libraries are going to be facing budget battles that are unprecedented in recent years, and Edge will be an extremely valuable tool for building a case that libraries can most effectively serve their communities as technology hubs and access points to digital information,” said Smith. “The pandemic has demonstrated a need to move toward an information-based economy with people working remotely over robust broadband networks. Libraries can and should be catalysts to this new economy, but that will require being technologically current and capable and Edge can be a path to reaching that capacity.”

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Moving Forward

TSLAC has set a goal to ensure 100% of the state's libraries are actively benefitting from Edge within the next two years. As of early 2021, TSLAC is about halfway to their goal, as 50% of Texas libraries have completed an Edge Assessment, including all 12 systems serving populations of 300,000+. These 12 libraries represent a combined service population of 11.8 million, which is 42% of the state’s total population. For TSLAC, the updated Assessment and platform of Edge 2.0, launched in 2019, are critical for reaching their goal of 100% engagement across the state.

“The tool has really come a long way and it is very helpful on a state level,” added Fisher. “We love the ability to pull more detailed reports and appreciate the quarterly and annual report information sent to us by the ULC team. The increased efficiency allows us to track trends and more easily report out key information to stakeholders.”

TSLAC has several strategies planned to continue equipping every library in the state with Edge. In particular, both Fisher and Smith tout the value of partnerships for getting libraries started with Edge. For example, the state library agency partnered with Connecting Texas Libraries Statewide to help libraries across Texas complete Edge Assessments.

TSLAC also looks to integrate Edge into as many training opportunities as possible. The agency developed the Library Technology Academy and You Can Do I.T., headed by Fisher, both geared towards small rural libraries in communities that have a population of 30,000 or less.

In addition to timely workshops that support public libraries, the Edge program also supports state libraries by providing key data and reports that they can leverage with state governments and other stakeholders. For example, in 2017, ULC prepared a broadband analysis for TSLAC to present to the Texas state legislature. Bandwidth availability in the state varied and lagged particularly among small and rural libraries. With ULC’s help, TSLAC was able to secure one million dollars as part of the Libraries Connecting Texas initiative to bring high-speed internet connections to Texas communities through their public libraries.

“The Edge ULC broadband analysis was key in helping us secure more funding for library programming,” said Smith. “We ended up working with 150 library locations for two years using that funding.”

TSLAC’s experience clearly demonstrates that Edge provides state libraries with powerful data to better understand the current public technology-related trends and needs in their public libraries. With this data, Texas is making informed decisions to develop and deliver programs that keep their public libraries at the forefront.

Fisher notes, “Edge touches on so many aspects of our programming, like web accessibility and whether libraries subscribe to e-resources. These questions allow us to connect what the state library is already doing to how a library can succeed by using our resources.”