Edge Benchmarks: Community Assessment and Partnerships

I just read Tom Sloan's highly informative Public Libraries magazine piece on the Naperville Public Library (NPL) titled, "What Makes an Award-Winning Public Library Successful." This article is jam-packed with practical tips on how to manage people, data, and create a culture that is nimble and open to change. What's more, the tips Sloan outlines are directly related to the Edge Benchmarks. Read on to find out how, and while you're at it, please take a few minutes to tell us your thoughts about the Edge Beta Benchmarks. We rely on your thoughts and expertise!

Assess Your Community to Learn What they Really Need

Benchmark 7: Libraries have leaders and staff who actively engage in high-level community planning and digital inclusion efforts to amplify their value in the community

Time and time again, Donna Dziedzic, NPL's former executive director, shared how her staff's focus on data has led to key decisions, informed talking points, and a nourished a community-oriented culture of sharing and listening. Of key importance is her library's emphasis on providing multiple avenues for feedback. Whether online or offline, when staff are commited to listening, implementing changes, and reporting publicly what they heard, great things can happen. NPL actively seeks data via:

  • formal data-gathering processes, such as the time it takes to answer reference questions
  • informal data gathering processes, such as paper and online forms and areas on the website for targeted feedback
  • staff feedback
  • external measures, such as the HAPLR index
  • measures outside the library world, like "101 Best Places to Work in the Chicago Area"

Staff feedback: In particular, it was Dzidezic's keen eye toward her staff that caught my eye. She called them "internal customers" which underscores her focus and reliance on staff input, and brushes a broader stroke on what "community" really means. She said,

It’s important to remember that management has internal customers called staff. In addition to public opinion of the library, staff’s opinion is tremendously important to helping to maintain morale and to improve the corporate culture. The library conducts employee surveys regularly and then works to resolve issues of concern—or dissolve myths that have popped up—and lets staff know what can be done, what has been done, and what’s just not within our control."

As important as it is to collect data, if it isn't used effectively all that effort in collection is wasted. Dziedzic noted that using the data to inform presentations to the public and to government leaders not only promotes their work, but it offers incentives and goals to which staff aspire.

Measures outside the library world: Interestingly, TechSoup just used an external measure to invite internal feedback on the organization. Executive leadership at TechSoup shared the importance of learning staff perspectives about our work and workplace, and they hope to use key data to inform future changes. As a staff who completed the survey (I believe it was something like The Best Place to Work in San Francisco), I learned quite a bit about how I view my work, the management, and the culture. The exercise helped me codify fleeting thoughts into a better overal picture of my workplace. While TechSoup didn't win the contest, our executive leadership is considering using the metrics from that external survey to inform more regular internal data gathering. Like NPL, they expect to use key data to inform future changes. Dziedic shared,

I also think it’s important to seek measures outside of the library world where possible. For example, going through the “101 Best Places to Work in the Chicago Area” review process was truly valuable in identifying positive and negative aspects of the library workplace and gave us great feedback on which to work. Winning the award proved very beneficial in gaining the attention and respect of the local business community."

Edge Benchmarks at Your Library

If your library is interested in using the Edge Benchmarks, which of the following items in Benchmark 7 is your library doing?

Partners Don't Just Help Get Work Done, they Expand Your Stakeholders

Benchmark 8: Libraries build strategic relationships with community partners to maximize public access technology resources and services provided to the community

Dziedzic reported that partnerships allowed her team to offer services--specifically, public programs--that might have fallen by the wayside due to funding shortages. Through the hard times, the library maintained key partnerships that helped bridge the gaps and widen their reach.

While getting work done is a key function of partnerships, libraries benefit from partners in other ways, too. Through these relationships. your library builds social, and arguably, fiscal capital. Consider this: are partners stakeholders? You bet they are. Could partnerships lead to funding, to relationships outside of of your library or community? Could partners be advocates for funding decisions? From my experience, the libraries that partner well and often or the ones that report the most success. 

Edge Benchmarks at Your Library

If your library is interested in using the Edge Benchmarks, which of the following items in Benchmark 8 is your library doing?

What partnerships are you nurturing? Are there key partners you haven't yet engaged? Consider an exercise I shared during an ALA12 program to help discover new partners and stakeholders you might not have in your inner circle.

More to Come from the Edge Initiative

If you said, "Yes, our library is doing this!" to any of the items listed in the two benchmarks above, pat yourself on the back! If you'd like to learn more about some of the ideas noted above, please continue to visit the TechSoup for Libraries blog, as we're interviewing librarians on each benchmark and sharing their best practices with you.

On that topic, we rely on your ideas to create resources that work for you. Please take a moment to provide feedback on one, a few, or all of the Edge Benchmarks. Thank you for sharing your ideas and expertise!