As I read the news at the LJ InfoDocket website – “Info Tech and Public Libraries: The Edge Coalition Releases “Edge Benchmarks 1.0″” – I had some initial high hopes.
According to the LJ release; “Launched in March 2011, the LibraryEdge.org initiative is led by a coalition of leading library and local government organizations to develop a suite of tools that support continuous improvement and reinvestment in public technology.” And, according to the Benchmarks published by Library Edge.org;
Edge is a leadership and planning tool.
Its aim is to help you:
• Assess your public computers and how they are being used,
• Identify ways to strengthen or enhance your public technology, and
• Communicate with key leaders on the value of the library’s computers for supporting a skilled workforce and employment, the educational needs of students, and more.
Led by a coalition of library leaders and bolstered by thousands of public libraries and staff, the Edge Initiative is a suite of tools that support continuous improvement and reinvestment in public technology.
In addition to these Benchmarks, here’s what is included in the toolkit:
• A Resource Guide with practical templates, tools, and tips for improving the library’s public computer services.
• Case studies that feature examples of public libraries of all sizes using computers to meet citizen needs.
• Reporting tools that help library leaders tell the story of how computers support the local economy, workforce, lifelong learning, and a strong community.
• Training that will guide libraries in using their Edge results for planning, advocacy, and outreach activities to enhance as well as build technology services.
Edge is a tool for library professionals. It helps libraries plan and grow for the future.
These are pretty bold claims for one resource. But, as I read the specific 11 recommended benchmarks, my high hopes sank. They contain neither leadership nor new useful ideas that I can discern, just another assessment tool. Which part contains the leadership? Where is the implementation strategy? And seriously, is simple survey input from “thousands of public libraries and staff” really bolstering this assessment tool? Hardly!
Among these benchmarks, which ones are innovative or even new? Seriously!
Which ones are goals, objectives or tasks that the vast majority of libraries are not already doing, or at least addressing?
1. Libraries provide assistance and training with the goal of increasing the level of digital literacy in the community
2. Libraries provide access to relevant digital content and enable community members to create their own digital content
3. Libraries provide technology resources to help patrons meet important needs related to personal goals and community priorities
4. Libraries make strategic decisions based on community priorities for digital inclusion and innovation
5. Libraries build strategic relationships with community partners to maximize public access technology resources and services provided to the community
6. Libraries support continuous improvement in public access technology services by sharing expertise & best practices with other digital inclusion organizations
7. Libraries integrate public access technology into planning and policies
8. Libraries have sufficient staff with technology expertise to help patrons achieve their goals
9. Libraries have sufficient devices and bandwidth to accommodate user demand
10. Libraries manage their technology resources to maximize quality
11. Libraries ensure participation in digital technology for people with disabilities
NONE! So what’s the point of yet another tool to endorse common-ness among libraries with a one size fits all approach? And where is the “leadership” and “continuous improvement and reinvestment in public technology” in this assessment tool?
Visionary Leadership! That’s what libraries need to survive and thrive in the 21st Century.
I’m not saying that these LibraryEdge Benchmarks can’t be a useful tool for many libraries who may still be struggling with these issues, and this Post is in no way intended to diminish the exceptional efforts of so many valuable organizations who have spent considerable resources developing “a … tool … to help you … Assess your public computers and how they are being used,…,” etc., etc., etc.
• American Library Association Office for Information Technology Policy
• The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
• California State Library
• International City/County Management Association
• Oklahoma Department of Libraries
• Public Library Association
• Techsoup Global
• Texas State Library and Archives Commission
• University of Maryland, Information Policy & Access Center
• University of Washington Information School
• Urban Libraries Council
I mean, who would deliberately insult such a coalition as this, but to self proclaim this tool as anything more than just “another tool to help libraries assess their public use technology” is unwarranted and unfortunate. Tools like this do not provide leadership. Leaders do! And is this going to be like a community needs assessment? Once you’ve achieved the results, you try to figure out what it means so you can develope a solution to address the issues?
Where is there any useful new idea in telling libraries that they should “accommodate users with disabilities?”
Where is the leadership in telling a library to track metrics they are already following?
Number of hours public devices are in use by patrons
Number of attendees in technology classes
Average wait times for public devices
Number of wireless sessions
Number of requests for one-on-one technology help
Where is the cutting edge ideas in telling libraries that they should “provide peripheral equipment that enables patrons to complete tasks?” – DUH!
What library director doesn’t yearn to be able to “provide staff with work time to engage in technology related learning activities?”
“Benchmarking is the process of comparing one’s business processes and performance metrics to industry bests or best practices from other industries.” These LibraryEdge Benchmarks are the library industry’s best practices? Seriously?
Frankly, I think librarians and libraries are capable of much more and much better performance, and introducing this “assessment tool” as the magic bullet for public computer use, a day late and a dollar short is misleading at best, insulting at worst. Use the LibraryEdge Benchmarks for what they can help you assess, but strive for much higher “benchmarks” for yourself and your library. Many of you are already way down the road in terms of public access computers, and have moved on to more important issues. Seriously!