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Hartford Public Library's Innovation: HartfordInfo.org

Posted: 10/28/10 02:05 PM ET

As the CEO of Hartford Public Library I realize that incremental change - doing the same thing better - is a losing proposition. If we are to survive in the 21st Century it will take radical, discontinuous change to make that happen. And it means there must be major shifts in vision, strategy, work flow, organizational systems, culture and staffing. It means reinventing our library in a relatively short period of time while continuing to operate during challenges that threaten our survival.

It's a heady experience for sure, but it's not tilting at windmills. The rules of the game have changed and as leaders of our urban public libraries we must be focused and resolute because the discontinuous change we need is not simple, carefree or routine. So let me give you an example of what we have done that we believe is unique, innovative and rule changing.

Six years ago we grew increasingly concerned that the people who lived and worked in Hartford were unable to gain access to information and documents on a wide variety of important issues affecting the city. Finding an answer was either difficult or sometimes impossible. Often the data needed to be very granular on information related to a specific neighborhood, zip code or street. We needed a primary information gateway through which citizens and decision-makers could access the information they needed to address issues, problems and opportunities in our City (ex. teen pregnancy, the achievement gap, public safety services, and others).

With an initial grant from the Annie E. Casey Foundation the Library created HartfordInfo.org, the primary gateway to thousands of documents, reports, articles, datasets, maps, and videos about Hartford and the region. Information is available on a broad range of subjects such as education, economic development, public safety, health, government, arts and culture, transportation, Hartford neighborhoods, and much more.

HartfordInfo.org brings together resources -- some of them not publicly available anywhere else -- from many different places: city departments, State of Connecticut departments, the federal government, several local newspapers and blogs, Hartford neighborhood associations and non-profits, colleges and universities, and others. HartfordInfo.org is the only source in Hartford to get demographic and other data organized by city neighborhoods. The website is managed by an expert staff, so when users have questions they can get fast, efficient, and personal service.

There are other web sites that provide some of the resources and features that I described, but there is nothing else in Hartford that brings them all together in one place like HartfordInfo.org does.

Utilization has grown steadily since its launch. On average, the site is visited 10,000-15,000 times per month, while total hits per month have ranged from 1.3 million - 1.7 million in 2010.

In May this year we asked users to give us feedback. In response to the question "Why do you use HartfordInfo.org?" the most popular responses by far were, "for my work at a nonprofit organization" (56%) and, "to learn about my neighborhood" (42%). Significant numbers of users also said that they used the resource for a neighborhood group, for work at a government agency, for work at an educational institution, for grant writing, and for school assignments.

About the site Mayor Pedro Segarra, the City's chief executive officer said, "HartfordInfo.org is a unique and remarkable resource for residents, employees and visitors. I myself have used it many times to find demographic information and neighborhood data, and to research particular issues that are important in Hartford. Every city should have something like HartfordInfo.org."

We are developing a comprehensive business plan that will include strategies for fundraising, branding, and marketing. And we are planning to incorporate social media, enabling users to contribute content and have online community conversations. This month we are adding an interactive mapping feature through a partnership that will enable users to choose and map data easily on a wide variety of topics.

In June this year, our Library received a Top Innovations Award for HartfordInfo.org from the Urban Libraries Council. Over 200 nominations were received from members in North America; only twelve awards were given. HartfordInfo.org was the winner in the civic and community engagement category. Other award winners included some of the most distinguished, and much larger, urban public libraries. Nothing is better than getting the nod from your peers that we are making a difference.

We went out on a limb with HartfordInfo.org and stepped off into nothing at first. We weren't aware of any other public library that did something like this. But we were convinced that this radical and innovative change would propel us into the future and would help our citizens and government leaders make good choices.

Said Linda Bayer, Director of Hartford 2000 (the umbrella organization for Hartford's thirteen Neighborhood Revitalization Zones):

HartfordInfo.org is a wonderful resource for Hartford residents and others. I use it frequently, and I know that many people throughout the Neighborhood Revitalization Zones use it to get information on neighborhood issues, to get data and other information for writing grant applications, and for school assignments. I've used HartfordInfo.org for a number of years and it just gets better and better. We're fortunate to have this kind of web site in Hartford.

You see as the CEO of Hartford Public Library I have one of the best jobs in America, because I am participating in creating a sustainable 21st Century urban public library, one of the last remaining truly democratic institutions in our nation. And the quintessential public option. Who could ask for more!