At a recent ALA MidWinter session on the Edge Initiative, Larra Clark from ALA OITP ended her remarks with, "the benchmarks are meant to be kicked. So kick it." Thus launched a focus group exercise where approximately 50 attendees were asked to provide feedback to a draft set of public access technology benchmarks.
What we learned
Along with Mary Hirsch from PLA, we invited our group to think hard about a set of three benchmarks (selected from 14 total), covering topics related to engaging the community and decision makers. What did we learn? We learned that "the benchmarks are definitely aspirational" and "mid-sized libraries can whack out most of them." We also heard that even for the smallest of libraries with little or no support, the benchmarks are useful, and serve the purpose of an aspirational tool.
We also learned that the benchmarks are "roughly right," meaning we're headed in the right direction. For some, that distinction might sound less than appealing, as if perhaps we should be hanging our heads or wondering if we're doing the right thing. For me and for my team--as folks working hard to be sure we're creating a useful and meaningful tool--showing our first draft and hearing that we're on the right track is crucial feedback. We're very early in the process, and we're eager to learn what libraries think. If they veer off track or aren't useful, we need to hear it.
Listening is our charter
This isn't our first exercise in getting feedback, although it was the first time we showed an entire draft to the public. A major part of this project is listening. I consider our group (officially called the Edge Coalition) to be a steering committee of sorts. It is our responsibility to listen to the field, to articulate what we're hearing and observing in libraries across the nation, and to distill these best practices into measurable and useful benchmarks that libraries of all size can use. Have we finished listening? Not yet. We're still in the early stages, and we have a lot to learn from you and your colleagues. If you haven't yet had a chance to weigh in on a sample benchmark, please spend a few minutes responding to one in a 2-question survey. We appreciate and rely on your thoughts!
The next step
While the benchmarks are the part of the Edge Initative you've heard me talk about the most, they are only one piece of the pie. We're working hard to understand what libraries will need after they've dug in and measured their library against the benchmarks. We envision tools that will help libraries both acheive a benchmark and also start a conversation with elected officials and other stakeholders. This conversation is key to influence investment in libraries, and we're thrilled that the Association of City/County Managers (ICMA) is a partner in making this happen.
During the ALA MidWinter session, Ron Carlee, Chief Operating Officer of ICMA, said it best when he offered a challenge of sorts to the audience:
This is not the end. Go back and have the conversation with the leaders in your community. Find out what would make the benchmarks meaningful to them."
Ron knows what he's talking about. Listen to him, and be sure to tell us what you learned.