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Urban Libraries Council Celebrates Successful Launch of Edge Initiative

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The Urban Libraries Council (U.L.C.) is celebrating the successful launched of the Edge Initiative. “Almost 1,800 libraries nationwide have signed up and so we’re very excited about that, we’re taking a moment and celebrating that initial success,” said Jake Cowan, Senior Program Manager for the U.L.C., Edge Initiative. He and Alison Saffold, Senior Communications Manager for the U.L.C., Edge Initiative, called in from the U.L.C. headquarters in Chicago for an interview today, Easter Monday, April 21, 2014.

Mr. Cowan said, “Everything’s gone along pretty well…We’ve had a few bugs, but they’ve all been normal start-up bugs.” He noted the library community is pretty small and librarians talk to each other. The fact so many libraries have signed up for the Edge Initiative shows there is good word of mouth about it amongst librarians.

A spokeswoman for the Urban Libraries Council (U.L.C.) wrote me on Maundy Thursday, April 17, 2014, that the U.L.C. “in partnership with a national coalition of leading organization, is celebrating the successful launch of the Edge Initiative, a new leadership and management tool for public libraries. Today, three months after the national launch in late January 2014, more than 1,700 public libraries are applying this tool to make an even greater impact on their communities through strategic public technology services. That represents almost 20% of the public libraries in the U.S.! As the role of libraries evolves, the Edge Initiative presents a new and interesting example of how libraries are working more closely with their communities to ensure their value and relevance in today’s digital world.”

Lara Clark and Mary Hirsh wrote about the launch of the Edge Initiative in the January/February issue of American Libraries: The Magazine of the American Library Association (“How to Get The Edge on Technology Access”). On the Edge Initiative’s Web site, there are six case studies illustrating how libraries of various sizes have used the Edge Toolkit.

In a press release dated April 17th, the U.L.C. stated, “As cities, towns and counties across the United States celebrate National Library Week, public libraries are using a new management and leadership tool called Edge. Launched in late January 2014, over 1,700 public libraries are using Edge to explore the strategic needs of their community and align their public technology services with critical community priorities. Recognizing that communities thrive when people have opportunities to enrich and improve their lives through open access to information, communication and technology services, Edge enables public libraries to assess their current technology, identify areas of excellence and strengthen policies, practices and resources. Edge provides a tool set that helps library staff with strategic planning and resource allocation while strengthening communications with local leaders. By using Edge, libraries are able to demonstrate how their work adds value and supports strong outcomes for the community.”

“We’ve had great feedback both from public libraries and state libraries,” said Mr. Cowan. “Using information in this way to better plan services is something that city managers and mayors are really looking for, and this really helps professionalize the library field.”

“Our police and fire departments, our emergency communications department and our recreation department all participate in accreditation programs. Like these departments, libraries need to go through an evaluation process that takes national standards, benchmarks, outcomes and measures to define the service that they provide,” stated Rashad Young, City Manager of Alexandria, Virginia, in the press release. “Being City Manager, it really does make a difference when our departments have used professional tools like Edge to say ‘here is what the best practices say about where we should be and how we should be delivering services, here is how we compare against these benchmarks and here is what we need to do to meet or exceed these best practices.’”

The U.L.C. stated, “In today’s public libraries, patrons attend technology training and use public computers and Internet-access to apply for jobs, complete college applications, advance skills through professional certification programs, get homework help, receive literacy training, access government, financial, health information and much more.”

“Edge is not just about providing high quality technology, it is also about knowing your community and the types of technology programs that your community needs,” stated Anne Masters, Library Director of Pioneer Library System in Oklahoma. “The Pioneer Public Library is conducting a system-wide community assessment survey in preparation for a strategic planning process. We will integrate our Edge results into our strategic plan and discuss it with our city government and community planning group.”

Just three months following the national launch of the Edge Initiative, nearly 20% of public libraries have adopted this new professional tool. The Edge Initiative was developed by a coalition of leading library and local government organizations with funding from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and led by the U.L.C. “We’re pleased to offer Edge to libraries across the United States – large and small, urban, suburban and rural – to help them continuously plan and work with key stakeholders,” stated Susan Benton, President & C.E.O. of the U.L.C. “By connecting public libraries with the strategic goals and outcomes of local leaders, Edge is making a difference in communities across the country.”

The U.L.C. opened a second office in Washington, D.C. late last year. U.L.C. President & C.E.O. Susan Benton now works in Washington. By working in Washington, they are able to more fully engage the Federal Government and national civic organizations that are headquartered there, Mr. Cowan and Ms. Saffold told me.
A national coalition formed to establish the Edge Initiative. The U.L.C. is the lead organization.

The other parties are the American Library Association (ALA)-Office for Information Technology Policy; LYRASIS; the Public Library Association; OCLC; the State Libraries of California, Oklahoma, and Texas; university-based research groups from the University of Maryland and University of Washington; International City/County Management Association; TechSoup Global; and The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The U.L.C. calls the other organizations in the coalition “collaborative development partners.”

“Those development partners are all national organizations, as well,” noted Mr. Cowan. “They collectively touch most of not all of the library field.”

The program is just domestic, but down the road it may be of international scope, Mr. Cowan said. Only public libraries and state libraries are involved, so far.

I asked if academic and research libraries might get involved in the Edge Initiative. Mr. Cowen explained it would be more complicated than getting them signed up.

There are already some features of the program that would interest them, but it is not geared toward academic and research libraries. “We’d have to do some work to make it relevant for them,” Mr. Cowen said.
He added, “We’re off to a great start, but we want to build it up before we start building it out for others.”

To sign up to become an Edge library or for more information, visit www.libraryedge.org. For more information about the Edge Initiative, call Ms. Saffold at (312) 676-0953 or e-mail her at asaffold [at] urbanlibraries.org.

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