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ALA OITP, PLA Participate in National Coalition to Develop Technology Access Benchmarks at Public Libraries

$2.8 million in new Gates Foundation funding will support initiative

An unprecedented national coalition has formed to design and pilot a series of public access technology benchmarks for public libraries, with $2.8 million in funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The American Library Association (ALA) Office for Information Technology Policy and the Public Library Association (PLA) — with other library and local government leaders — will provide leadership in developing guidelines that support continuous improvement of and local re-investment in public technology access at libraries. 

OITP will be most actively engaged in the early stages of the effort, co-leading benchmark development with the Urban Libraries Council and creating a foundational literature review of benchmarking efforts within and beyond the library community. The office has undertaken several prior projects related to benchmarking, culminating in such publications as “The Library in the Networked World” self-assessment tool, “Principles for Digital Content,” and “Making Connections: Lessons from Five Shared Library Networks.” 

“Supporting and promoting the effective and efficient use of technology in libraries is central to OITP’s mission,” said Larra Clark, director, OITP Program on Networks. “Building on this experience, we look forward to developing compelling benchmarks that will help library leaders measure the effectiveness of their technology services, craft plans to guide improvement, and advocate for the highest quality library technology services today and for the future.”

In addition to participating in benchmark development, PLA will lead curriculum development and train-the-trainer programming to support adoption and implementation of the benchmarks by public libraries. “The Technology Benchmarks Program aligns with PLA’s core purpose ‘to strengthen public libraries and the communities they serve’ as well as our strategic aims in advocacy” said PLA President Audra Caplan. “This initiative ensures the creation of practical tools and training to support and encourage advocacy efforts by public libraries.”

From the work of the PLA Legislative Committee to a range of advocacy-related publications, PLA continually works to offer advocacy resources to its members. In a previous partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, PLA developed Turning the Page: Building Your Library Community, an advocacy training program that reached more than 3,500 librarians and library supporters across 32 states. As a result of the training, over 98 percent of participating libraries achieved their funding goals. PLA and the Foundation recently extended their partnership to offer Turning the Page 2.0, a free online advocacy course open to all librarians. 

With the Urban Libraries Council as the project lead and facilitator, the coalition also includes: the State Libraries of California, Oklahoma, and Texas; Lyrasis; Web Junction-OCLC; researchers at the University of Maryland and University of Washington; International City/County Management Association; TechSoup Global; and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. 

Benchmark development will include three phases. To begin, the coalition will draft prototype benchmarks and collect feedback from the library field and local government leaders to ensure the benchmarks are meaningful and useful. Next, the group will test an initial set of benchmarks in communities in California, Oklahoma, and Texas, beginning in fall 2011. The prototype benchmarks will be refined with feedback from the pilot communities and the library field. They will be launched for broad use in spring 2012. 

“This initiative is the next critical step in the library field’s successful effort to bring information and opportunity to communities, through public access technology,” said Jill Nishi, deputy director of U.S. Libraries and Special Initiatives for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “We are tremendously proud to support this coalition and their collective vision for the public access technology benchmarks.”

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