CANTON  The Stark County District Library has been named a 2017 Top Innovator by the Urban Libraries Council (ULC). It was one of only 10 libraries nationwide to receive the honor.

The winning initiative was the Mobile Device SmartKit. It’s a new tool the library has developed and implemented to introduce users to the library’s tech and digital offerings.

The kit consists of a pen/stylus, microfiber wipe, and quick start cards with information on e-collection apps, wireless hotspots, wireless printing, and help services including the new tech helpline and setting up one-on-one appointments for help with various technology devices.

Technology training coordinator Dee Rondinella said the library has distributed more than 14,000 SmartKits since December 2016. She said the kit was a team effort development with building awareness as the primary goal.

"The SmartKits are cross-generationally where persons of any age or culture can use them and benefit from using them," Rondinella said. "The library wanted to build awareness of the different digital services we offer, our ebook collection and how easy it is to get help with using digital devices. The kits include index cards with information on them on how to use our services. There’s also a stylus pen and wiping cloth people can use with their digital devices."

Rondinella works closely with patrons and has heard many stories about how the SmartKits have been used. She said teenagers and adult children have been giving them to their parents to use as a reference. One patron told Rondinella that she had a friend who had given up trying to use her mobile device to read.

"This person gave her friend, who is 90 years old, one of the SmartKits. I got a call from the friend and worked with her to start using her e-book reader. The SmartKits have been extremely effective on a number of levels. One example is in the area of one-on-one appointments where we’ve set up appointments for 1,028 people this year," she said

Tena Wilson, the executive director at the library, said the library has tracked the effectiveness of the SmartKit and the numbers are impressive.

"Our traffic increased by 165 percent, e-circulation increased 15 percent, library cards online increased 103 percent and the ask the expert session have increased 400 percent since we rolled out the SmartKit," Wilson said. "Libraries serve communities in a number of ways these days. We continue to loan books, movies and music, but libraries have become a trusted resource to the communities they serve. Libraries are open to anyone as a resource for learning. Be it a business person, a teacher, a student, someone who is unemployed or homeless, they are all welcome to use the library’s resources."

She continued by saying that nobody is judged at local libraries and everyone is treated equally regardless of financial status or need.

"Libraries continually look at the needs of our community. We’ve become a community information center where people gather to inspire ideas, enrich their lives and create a sense of community. We believe libraries make a community better," Wilson said.

Developing and implementing the Mobile Device SmartKit was one way the library reached out to the community to build awareness of all of the services the library offers. Wilson said the library serves 240,000 people which is about a third of the service area. She said the SmartKit is one way they can reach out to the other two-thirds and encourage them to use the library services.

The 2017 Innovations Initiative showcases leading "best" and "next" practices that demonstrate the value and impact of public library service in the 21st century which embodies ideas, approaches and insights which other libraries can adapt. The Innovation Initiative award is based on the strength of the innovation, results achieved and the capacity to be replicated by other libraries.

A panel of judges selected the Mobile Device SmartKit from a pool of more than 250 submissions as one of 10 library practices that best embodies the 21st-century library’s role as a community leader and pioneer for positive change. Stark County District Library along with the other 9 winners were honored on Oct. 13 the ULC’s Annual Forum in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Wilson said that many departments within the library worked on the SmartKits including marketing and communications, technology, education, design and the public services staff. She added the staff at the library is a "group of forward thinking, innovative, talented people who respect tradition while looking to what the next generation of libraries will look like and who realize what we need to preserve while continually reaching towards the future."

"The library’s vision is to be a part of a community of excellence just like so many other organizations in the county. Receiving this award says that we are doing our part by providing a great library that’s cutting edge. The award also says we are doing the right thing when we create something that can be duplicated across the country," Wilson said.

SmartKits are available free in all branches year round. This upcoming holiday season, the library will be bringing back the popular holiday gift program with a popup location in Belden Village Mall from Dec. 4- Jan. 3.

The Stark County District Library was also honored earlier in the year at the PR Xchange hosted by the Library Journal. It won awards for both its new Mobile Device SmartKits and its new cardholder email series.