Toronto Public Library is one of the largest library systems in the world, and it has embraced the challenge of meeting the technology needs of every one of the city’s 2.8 million residents. That mission drives TPL to constantly innovate and seek partnerships to expand its technology offerings.
Edge provided TPL with a powerful tool for assessing its current capabilities and strategically planning for partnerships and initiatives to expand digital access. The use of Edge has been strongly supported by City Librarian Vickery Bowles because of its help in aligning and supporting the library’s focus, especially with evidence-based decision making. The library piloted the Edge toolkit in 2015 and then completed the Edge Assessment in 2017.
“Our use of Edge has done two things: it focused us on evidence-based decision making, and it has enabled us to take our benchmarks and embed them in city strategy in order to say ‘we know where we’re going, and these city strategies are going to help us move the needle on technology services in public libraries,’” said Elizabeth Glass, TPL’s director of planning, policy and performance management.
From the beginning, TPL has looked to Edge as a platform for aligning the library with local initiatives, including:
- Providing support for technology as a core competency for staff
- Developing local service standards for all technology services
- Guiding the library’s 2018 work plan by embedding digital literacy as a core public service
- Contributing to the library’s digital strategy
“Edge aligns and supports all of our focuses, especially evidence-based decision making, by measuring both the value and the impact of our technology services for residents and communities. This has allowed us to elevate technology services as one of our core service pillars,” said Glass.
Growing Technological Access
Through taking the Edge Assessment, TPL leadership discovered an opportunity to work on one of their six strategic priorities - expanding access to technology. To address that need, the library established four goals: meeting and exceeding public expectation, offering access to new and emerging technologies, developing new partnerships and increasing the opportunities for tech access. This directly aligns with Edge Benchmark 3, expanding access to technology and training.
According to Glass, “Through the framework that Edge provides, it really allows us to manage technology access as a service in the library.”
Their process to incorporate technology access was comprehensive. The library identified the problem, developed a service delivery model that they felt was viable and then embedded it into their strategic plan.
TPL zeroed in on technology access because of its value in driving economic development for everyone. The library felt that, due to its ability to reach across boundaries to nearly all Torontonians, it was perfectly positioned to provide that access.
Becoming Part of Larger City Strategy
In order to become a priority in the city’s decision making, TPL linked their technology access priority to key city initiatives including:
- Toronto Poverty Reduction Strategy
- City of Toronto Broadband Working Group
- Smart Cities Initiative
“We took benchmarks that aligned with where we wanted to go, linked those goals to specific city initiatives and then we were able to connect to specific initiatives that we felt would move the dial and achieve funding,” said Carmen Ho, a planning specialist on TPL’s policy, planning and performance management team.
Linking technology access to city priorities unlocked new resources for TPL, which allowed them to make concrete improvements such as expanding Sunday hours, expanding youth hubs to encourage access and increasing Wi-Fi hotspot lending in high need neighborhoods, championing the idea that libraries are the digital backbone that creates good digital citizens. All this served to strengthen TPL’s position as a key access point to technology.
“First, we took the vision that we described about Toronto and about tech services in public libraries and the value proposition that libraries are the best access points, and combined that with price of internet in Toronto. This went to a team looking at poverty reduction. That team said there are three things we could do to improve tech access: the first is to leverage our investment by expanding Sunday service hours, which is related to a secondary initiative in the city — the Strong Neighborhoods Taskforce. This got us funding to expand open hours by 30 percent. The second is that people were very engaged in the idea of hotspot lending which allowed us to advocate for more hotspot lending, enabling us to achieve funding for that. The third thing is that we successfully linked neighborhood improvement in the city to access to tech for children in school,” said Ho.
TPL is working to make sure that the advantages they received through Edge are available across Ontario. One way they are doing this is through a project called the Bridge Technology Services Assessment Toolkit, which is meant to complement Edge by embedding existing Edge Benchmarks but expanding and including outcomes for technology access and public libraries.
The hopes for this, according to Glass, are that “[first] we’ll set ambitious benchmarks for technology services in public libraries across Ontario and second that we’ll have evidence-based decision making around outcomes that technology services drive.”
TPL’s overarching goal with technology is that it enable more access, more understanding of technology by the general public and, in turn, spark more advocacy.
“We hope to position the public library as a key enabler of government strategies,” said Glass.