In today’s digital world people are often told that they will need to ‘go online’ to ‘get things done’, but some don’t know where to start when they have no access to the internet and little or no experience of a computer or the online world. This can result in people feeling fearful and uneasy and becoming digitally excluded.
Derbyshire library staff support people in our libraries to get online via digital help sessions. Staff understand that online tasks and transactions can be difficult and will sit down, listen and help people work at their own pace through the challenges that going online can present, enabling them to unravel what might seem like a maze.
Initially, staff can help with the urgent, more pressing matters – to complete and send off a form, update a Universal Credit account or type up and save a CV in order to apply for a job before the deadline passes. Then, in future sessions, they enable people to move on to connecting with family and friends, finding a better gas and electricity deal, grabbing a bargain and learning how to search effectively online for employment. Eventually, people’s confidence and motivation grows as their digital skills expand. At the same time people forge new friendships with others around them using the library.
Our public libraries are in the heart of our communities and, as safe and trusted spaces, they have always been ideally placed to provide support to the people in their communities. Of course, in recent years this support has evolved to encompass digital and in Derbyshire Libraries, as in many library authorities, we provide access to free computing facilities, free Wi-Fi for those who have their own device and free tailored support to help people make the most of digital.
This support can offer a lifeline to the internet access and assisted digital help that is badly needed by so many. In Derbyshire we also offer some outreach sessions, taking the library service to people in a different way by delivering support in a range of additional community venues such as Job Centres, Adult Education and other community centres. We are working with our Thriving Communities approach to develop different ways of working. We are listening to local people to understand their needs and make the best use of our resources to provide better services and opportunities for residents.
The role we play is vital. It should not be underestimated how important it is to help break down barriers and provide support that can build confidence as well as skills; that unlocks potential and helps prevent people, including the more vulnerable and isolated, from becoming disadvantaged due to a lack of digital access and know-how.
When people are digitally excluded they often find themselves socially and financially excluded too: public libraries can be a gateway to other areas of assistance. Our partnership working with other specialist advice and information partners in Derbyshire communities enables us to refer and signpost to further appropriate support for individuals, which some people may struggle to access on their own. For example, debt or benefits advice, help with mental health issues, adult education information and careers advice.
In these different situations, we are not only connecting people digitally, we are also connecting them to the very real people, services and spaces within their community. Connected support and an holistic approach is key when dealing with such life critical areas, ensuring that people are able to make positive changes for themselves going forward.
This ethos is shared by the Online Centres Network. Supported by the Good Things Foundation, a social change charity, Online Centres can be found across the country, and many are public libraries. Their vision is a world where everyone benefits from digital. I attended the Good Things Foundation Digital Evolution event in November: jam-packed full of ideas and examples of good practice, it was a refreshing and inspirational day.
By the time you read this 2020 will be well under way. For those of us working to support digital inclusion, in Derbyshire Libraries and beyond, the New Year will bring with it continued endeavours to help and encourage people to try new things. For example, setting up and learning how to use email, or downloading eMagazines or eBooks onto a new tablet via Derbyshire Libraries’ free eLending service. Whatever it is, I know that we all share the same New Year’s resolution – to continue to recognise the importance of digital inclusion and provide opportunities for people to become confident, skilled and independent users of digital, as well as providing connected support and helping people to make a real, positive and lasting difference to their own lives.
Senior Librarian, Digital Inclusion
Derbyshire County Council Libraries
Derbyshire County Council Thriving Communities:
Good Things Foundation: