Libraries are for Everyone #libraryletters

Dear everyone,

Libraries are changing … while they’re still the wondrous places that offer a world of learning and access to knowledge that they always have been, in the 21st century they’re now also vanguards at the forefront of a new era of opportunity – the digital era.

The very special thing about public libraries is that they have always been for everyone. Throughout their history, libraries have empowered socially excluded people through offering new opportunities to meet, learn and grow, and they’ve always been a safe, truly free and universal place.

In 2016 there are 12.6 million people in the UK who don’t have basic digital skills; they are missing out on the vast amount of information, education, networks, fulfilment and support that the online world provides. Libraries can make this online world available to everyone equally, no matter their income or background.

Libraries are not simply about books anymore, and they haven’t been for a long time. Nowadays people attend libraries to learn digital skills, as well as to search for jobs, to use Government services which are rapidly moving online, or even to borrow e-books or e-newspapers and magazines. And much, much more than this as well.

Tinder Foundation works with most libraries, and with other local partners in community centres, across England, to help them support local people to be part of our digital society. We are also, specifically, working with 16 libraries, to find new and innovative ways to engage more excluded groups, particularly unemployed people, carers, people on low incomes, housebound, and people with disabilities.

In the future I think libraries will be not just in buildings but all around us, in pubs and cafes, in offices and in bus shelters, wherever the library is found in the future, the library will always be wondrous. The library will always be very everyone.

Best wishes,

Helen Milner

I made Prince Charles laugh yesterday

Yesterday, Prince Charles asked me if older people needed help to use the internet and I asked him if he was angling for a course. He laughed and said something amusing about hacking.

I was at Buckingham Palace to receive my OBE medal. Last June I was thrilled to be awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to digital inclusion, and yesterday I attended my investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace to receive the award from Prince Charles.

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Me and my OBE!

It’s no secret that I feel very strongly about digital inclusion and about ensuring that in this 21st century world – where digital underpins everything – no one is left behind. That’s what I said to Charles too by the way. It feels great to receive such a high-profile award for something that I feel so passionately about and that I just ‘do’ as part of my day-to-day working life. They announced it out loud: “Services to digital inclusion.” I really can’t believe it.

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Me and my mum outside Buckingham Palace

Getting to this stage has been a long and fulfilling journey. I’ve dedicated my life to tackling digital exclusion for over thirty years. From providing online resources for children and schools in the 80s, working in online education in Australia and Japan, to helping to set up learndirect in 1999. Setting up Tinder Foundation and the continued development of the UK online centres network have certainly been career highlights for me. Since 2011 Tinder Foundation has grown from a small staff-owned social enterprise to a staff-led charity with a team of almost 50 – and we’re still growing.

I know it sounds cliched to say I couldn’t have done it without the many great people who have been on this journey with me, but it’s true. The whole team at Tinder Foundation is so passionate about digital, they are great people to work with and it is our team effort that deliver the Tinder Foundation successes. And, of course, the UK online centres network who help people every day to make their lives better with digital.

I was at a centre in Dalston just this week, on Tuesday – a million miles in life experiences from Buckingham Palace, but only 5 miles geographically. In Dalston, I was introducing partners from HMRC to local people who are struggling with digital and who are struggling with life, including Keith – 64 and still hoping to find a job. I was as happy to meet Keith on Tuesday as I was to meet Prince Charles yesterday. All part of life’s rich tapestry and I’m so lucky to see it all.

I’ve always believed that everyone is equal. Whether it’s me, my team, the learners in our network, or ministers in government. My work to-date – growing organisations and helping others – embodies this belief. Me and the Tinder Foundation team are absolutely committed to having a better world where everyone benefits through digital. If we can help people have more aspirations and understand their worth, then we’ve done our job well.

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The team and the board celebrating our fourth birthday at the AGM, December 2015

I couldn’t have achieved this honour without the Tinder Foundation team, our board, our massive network of community partners across the UK, and every single person who has got online and gained digital skills since we started.

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My husband made me a delicious OBE Cake. It was lovely!

I wish I had a slice of cake for all of you. Thank you to everyone sending me congratulations on Twitter – I really appreciate your support. And a big thank you to everyone who has helped me over the years. This award isn’t just for me; it’s for all of you. 

Thank you.

#RebootUK – test and learn

Reboot UK is a consortium test and learn project that we’re running alongside partners Mind, Homeless Link and Family Fund, as well as a handful community partners across the UK. The project aims to test innovative new models to see how they support three groups of people – families in poverty, homeless people, and people with poor mental health – to improve their health and wellbeing through digital technology.

Led by Reboot UK’s head researcher, Laurence Piercy, we spent a significant amount of time exploring the barriers and the benefits for these groups gaining basic digital skills, as well as the approaches that may work. All of this is outlined in the Literature Review, published today.

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Reboot UK’s head researcher, Laurence Piercy (left), visits one of the project community partners [Image by Dora Dc Photography]

The Literature Review has provided us with some solid evidence, helping us to develop understanding and models into what we now want to deliver for Reboot UK, as well as collating findings from a huge range of external sources.

The research revealed, for example, that only once before has a home access scheme been tried on scale. Smaller ones have shown positive results, but hardly any work has been done to find out how home access schemes can be delivered on a larger scale to help those desperately in need of broadband and equipment. Learning at home or putting the skills learned in a community centre into practise in their own time is an important part of the journey for a huge number of learners. Reboot UK involves a number of community-based equipment distribution and lending schemes which will allow us to explore home access and help us to develop ideas of how a scheme can be scaled effectively.  

Another interesting finding detailed in the Literature Review is that for the groups of people we are supporting, their needs are often so complex that they require a response to learning that recognises their needs and adapts to suit them. Some people feel most comfortable learning from a friend or a neighbour, for example. Others may feel more comfortable learning in a community centre, and others may prefer to learn at home.

Once these needs have been addressed, the huge benefits of digital technology to the individual can be realised.

I want to thank Laurence for the fantastic report, and everyone else who was involved in the creation of the review, and is involved in the delivery of the project. I’m really excited about the Reboot UK project, and the impacts it will have on people that may not be reached by other initiatives, and I’m looking forward to following it’s progress. You can read the Literature Review here, and keep up-to-date with the second stage – the testing and learning – through our #RebootUK hashtag on social media.

My letter to Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister of Australia

Back in December I posted a blog after my fun and informative trip to Australia. I talked about the creation of a ‘digimanifesto’ that I was involved in for Australia’s National Year of Digital Inclusion. I tweeted a pledge to go into the manifesto, which has now become a co-created plan of action – I promised to email the Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull.

Pledge for Australian Year of Digital Inclusion #godigimanifesto #digitalinclusion

Seeing as today is Australia Day, I thought it was the perfect time to send my email to Mr Turnbull about the National Year of Digital Inclusion…

‘Today is Australia Day. I’m a little behind you in time zones as I’m writing from the UK. On Australia Day 1988 I was living in Australia to deliver a bicentennial project; I was supporting a national touring exhibition showing artefacts, art, and ideas from Australia over the 200 years since the arrival of the first fleet.

My job in 1988 was to connect children around Australia using the internet, so that they could swap stories from parents and grandparents about the past, as well as share the different experiences they faced whether in public housing in Melbourne or living on a sheep station in outback Queensland. I didn’t know then that the work we were doing back in 1988 was firmly rooted in the future, and although I had a hunch that the internet was going to be significant to the world I really didn’t understand how significant.

My career has led me to work in education and the internet ever since. In the UK I lead a national digital inclusion charity, Tinder Foundation. We support local organisations – community centres, libraries, and others – with networking, capacity development, advocacy, grants, and a dedicated online platform for the learning of basic internet skills. We help over 250,000 people each year to move from no or low digital literacy, to being confident internet users who, in the 21st century, can now use the internet to change their lives.

This is not just about age. In the UK, where the demographics are very similar to Australia, the main delimiter of people’s productive use of the internet is their socioeconomic group with working age people affected as much as older people. And that affects people as individuals, as well as people who are running small businesses.

In the UK there is infrastructure investment from our Government to ensure that everyone has access to good quality broadband, however, we have more people who don’t use the internet that is running past their doors as we have people in the not-spots without the connectivity. The urban poor don’t use the web, or the majority of them use it in a simple or shallow way, although they have the infrastructure available. The 2016 internet infrastructure is about both the cables in the ground and equipping all citizens to use the web productively.

2016 is the National Year of Digital Inclusion in Australia. I think this is an incredibly positive idea. It’s being run by Infoxchange with support from Australia Post. I had the pleasure to visit Australia in October/November for a speaking tour – in Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney and Brisbane – to help launch the National Year of Digital Inclusion (NYDI), led by Infoxchange as they kicked off a mass co-creation of a NYDI manifesto.

I pledged that I would write to you to offer my continuing support to Infoxchange, Australia Post, DTO (Digital Transformation Office), the Queensland Government, and other partners throughout this year, and to wish you a highly successful National Year of Digital Inclusion. I thought Australia Day 2016 would be a perfect time to write.

Good luck, you have so much to gain from a 100% digitally empowered nation, I’m sure the National Year of Digital Inclusion will accelerate the pace at which you achieve this.

Best wishes,

Helen Milner OBE

Chief Executive, Tinder Foundation’

I knew it! Financial and Digital Inclusion do go together

Last week I attended a sneak preview event of Lloyds Bank’s Consumer Digital Index – officially launched on Saturday – and a Lloyds/Demos roundtable event afterwards to discuss the important role of technology and digital in financial inclusion. I already knew that there was a close correlation between the two but this Digital Index backs it up, with robust figures taken from a research sample of 1 million Lloyds customers – the largest study of financial and digital capability ever conducted in the UK.

A lot people who are financially excluded are the same people who find themselves digitally excluded as well – people on a low incomes, with disabilities, and older people for example. It’s the link between digital and financial exclusion – particularly for this demographic aspect – that I’m really interested in.

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The report maps financial capability against digital capability. Ideally, we want to reach the ‘unbanked’ [Source: Consumer Digital Index 2016, Lloyds Bank]

What’s the headline?

Tinder Foundation and our network of community partners are working towards a shared vision – to help people be capable to use the internet in a way that’s purposeful and beneficial to each of them. The majority of people who don’t use the internet are on low incomes, and financial capability is clearly essential for them. For people on low incomes, saving money by being online will help them in the long run, with consumers on the lowest income making average savings of £516 per year. We know that some people don’t use the internet because they can’t afford to buy equipment or afford broadband. People financially benefit by being online, but they lack the money to invest in getting online in the first place. It’s very much a chicken and egg scenario. I don’t know the solution (yet!) but we need to come up with something to break the cycle.

The stats

Being a big stats nerd, my favourite part of the Consumer Digital Index was the numbers. It’s encouraging to see that 31.1 million adults have high digital and high financial capability, but there’s still a disappointing 13.1 million people with low financial capability and 11.1 million with low digital capability. According to the Index, this works out as 3.2 million people in the UK today who have low digital AND financial capability. That’s 3.2 million people who are missing out on all the benefits, both financial and otherwise, that the internet can bring.

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[Source: Consumer Digital Index 2016, Lloyds Bank]

The benefits

The Index says that if the financially and digitally excluded were to turn it all around and start to do more online, the benefit would be £3.7bn in savings for UK consumers. Savings are great, as are the other financial benefits that being online can bring. Being online means you can have access to debt advice and info from services like the Citizens Advice Bureau, for example.

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[Source: Consumer Digital Index 2016, Lloyds Bank]

Choose digital

I understand that not everyone wants to do things online. Nick Williams, Consumer Digital Director of Lloyds Banking Group, said they have 24 million customers and only 11 million actually do their banking online.

One element of the Index that I found to be particularly useful was ‘The four elements of financial wellbeing’. Focussing on ‘Security’ and ‘Freedom of choice’ it looks at where consumers would be if they became financially included now and where this will lead them in the future. I have included the table below. As you can see there are both present and future benefits to choosing to be financially included and it would be unwise to ignore them.

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[Source: Consumer Digital Index 2016, Lloyds Bank]

Behaviour change

When writing about the Index, a lot of the media have focussed on the amount of money people can save by being online. It’s definitely a motivator if even consumers on the lowest income can make average savings of £516 per year. Let’s go back to the ‘poverty conundrum’; the intractable challenge for people on low incomes. We need to make sure that they can afford the internet in order to make those savings. What we need to do is create a behaviour change, where people have the ability to get online and be in control of their finances now and be prepared for what they might need in the future; where people have the financial freedom now to enjoy life and be on track to meet their financial goals in the future.

This is the 21st century. Today, digital underpins almost everything. Here’s the punchline. We’re determined to reduce the number of people without basic digital skills as much as possible; that’s the day-job. We’ve got a goal to help more than one million people between now and 2020. What the sectors should be doing is working together as much as possible to help both fronts – financial and digital. Of course, you can create better financial capability without digital, but why would you? There are so many benefits for consumers when we make sure they go hand-in-hand.

 

Government digital strategy by me: An ambitious goal, a taskforce, and a 4-point plan

At our Digital Evolution conference in November, Ed Vaizey, Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy, said that since 2010 the Government has invested about £30m to help people get the basic digital skills they need to function as part of our increasingly digital society. This was the same day that Chancellor George Osborne delivered the Autumn Statement and Spending Review, giving the Government Digital Service a cash injection of £450 million. Ed talked about the people that Government investment to date has helped, and how important it is to do more – and he also told us that the Government sees digital participation as a continuingly important issue.

Naturally, I jumped at the chance to put my views across in person this week at the Science and Technology Select Committee in Parliament, examining the digital skills gap for the Government’s Digital Strategy Review.

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Me giving evidence at the Select Committee. Image courtesy of parliamentlive.tv

There are still 12.6 million people in the UK who lack basic digital skills and of these, 49% are disabled, 63% are over 75 and 60% have no formal qualifications. But the punchline is that it’s the poorest in our society – those who are already being left behind – who aren’t benefiting from digital.

We’re in the same boat

I sat on a panel with Nick Williams, Consumer Digital Director of Lloyds Banking Group, and Margaret Sambell, Director of Strategy at the Tech Partnership. We were followed by another panel with Dr Ellen Helsper, Director of Graduate Studies and Associate Professor at the London School of Economics, Charlotte Holloway, Head of Policy and Associate Director at TechUK, and Steven Roberts, Strategic Transformation Director at Barclays PLC. Although the panel sessions were based around different topics, it seemed to me like we all feel the same way – we’re doing well but the government needs to take charge and work with many others to accelerate the digital agenda.

My four-point plan

You can watch the full meeting below, courtesy of Parliament Live TV, but one of the main things that I put across for consideration in the review was my four-point plan – something which I think is very important for the government to consider:

      • Leadership: The UK lacks clarity on what we want to achieve. We need a goal. I recommend that the Government sets a goal, for example 98% of the UK population with basic digital skills, and then provides the leadership and coordination to make sure we get on with it and succeed. Government is uniquely placed to convene and encourage key organisations to get this sorted.
      • Behavioural change: With so many people who have never used the internet saying it’s because they don’t see the relevance of the web to their lives, we don’t just need to help with skills – we need to get people interested in the first place. I think the private sector could lead this, as they’re already so good at persuading us to buy all sorts of things!
      • Skills, informal, and local: Our network is great, and all of the research shows why it works so well, as people want support to get basic digital skills by someone like them, which also means someone local to them too. Adults need learning to be informal, not to feel like school, and to be as personalised as possible. Tinder Foundation and our hyperlocal partners help about a quarter of a million people a year. We could double that delivery, but if you do the maths, us working along means we’d reach the 12.6 million at a much slower pace than we would if we worked together. What else can be done? Can the Government incentivise employers of low-skilled people to help them to digitally upskill their workforce for example?
      • Make digital more affordable: As the digital divide deepens, the cost of devices and broadband is a big issue for some who are still offline. People are finding things tough, and that means even the best deals are out of their reach. Government needs to work with tech companies and broadband providers to make digital more affordable. I don’t know the answer but I’m sure the Government using its convening power can bring relevant companies together and make the internet affordable for everyone, and especially to those in the lowest socio-economic groups.

Watch the video here. 

Speaking from experience

I listened with great interest to committee member Carol Monaghan MP, a member of the Scottish National Party. Carol seemed very clued up on digital inclusion and the importance of it, as she told us about her 80-year-old father who regularly tinkers with his iPad and makes mistakes, which his family then need to fix for him. She also said, however, that she was glad he at least tries to use it. This reminded me of the man that I met during my visit to Nottingham Libraries last week, whose family do all of his online transactions for him but don’t have time to teach him to do it himself.

In my final comments, I told the committee that I think the Government Digital Strategy should articulate a clear aim, and that I would like to see 98% of the population with basic digital skills by 2020. Norway is there already – it’s not an over-ambitious goal. I know 100% is a scary thought.

A goal that’s both ambitious and achievable, Government leadership through a taskforce or a cross-sector Council, and a four-point plan – that’s what we need. Then, together, we can achieve a better, stronger, more productive, digital nation, helping those most in need to become fully functioning members of our digital society.

To quote Dr Ellen Helsper, “Digital is 70% of my job, but 100% of my life” – let’s make it 100% of everyone’s.

The important role of libraries in a digital world

At the end of last week, I was lucky enough to find myself with not one, but three meetings about one of my favourite things – libraries. I attended the CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) MMIT AGM on Thursday to give a presentation about the role of libraries in digital citizenship, and then on Friday I visited Nottingham Libraries where I caught a glimpse of the digital inclusion work they’re delivering, as well as attended a meeting at the Arts Council. All of these visits further cemented something I’ve been talking about for quite a while – just how important the role of libraries is to communities, as well as in the digital world.

The CILIP MMIT Group (part of CILIP – the Chartered Institute of Library Professionals) are embarking on a year where they will really be focussing on digital inclusion, so I thought I’d share what my main recommendations for libraries are, following my discussions with them:  

  • Use existing resources: Become a UK online centre, explore Learn My Way – there’s no need to reinvent the wheel when we’ve already done lots of the hard work.
  • Work with partners: Invite local partners to come into the library to support users, or go out to partners to deliver – other UK online centres, health professionals, or other local groups and clubs are all people to think about.
  • Design around local needs: Think about the hooks that work for your audience group. Health always has broad appeal, but things like family history may work well for older people, or employability for young people. Take a look at the resources on Learn My Way for some tips.
  • Talk to each other: Use our Digital Libraries Hub Ning to talk to other libraries who can share some great ideas with you.
  • Read the Doing Digital Inclusion: Libraries Handbook for more inspiration.
Helen at CILIP AGM

Delivering my speech at the CILIP MMIT AGM

One real highlight of last week’s trip was my visit to Nottingham Libraries where I was kindly hosted by Sarah Coulson, Commercial Library Lead for Nottingham Libraries. We headed over to Aspley Library to see their first ever Discover Digital workshop. It’s a Basic Digital Skills course, which is one of 30 being delivered as part of the funding Nottingham Libraries received from our Libraries Digital Inclusion Fund project.

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Visiting Aspley Library

 

As always, the best part of the visit was talking to the learners. There were ten in all, and they were all very keen to learn about how to use a tablet to access the internet. It was interesting to see how some of them found the touchscreen difficult to use, although it feels very intuitive to a frequent web user like me. I met one man who benefits from the internet already, but only through children and grandchildren, who weren’t patient enough to support him to learn but were happy to do his internet transactions for him. He’s now on the path to learning to do it himself.

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Chatting to the learners and hearing about their experiences was lovely

We then made our way to Nottingham Central Library for a quick look around and to see the digital inclusion work they’re doing on a day-to-day basis, and it was interesting to see their co-location with the benefits team.

It’s not only about lending books

Both of these visits made me think a lot about libraries and their role in today’s society. Towards the end of last year I read on the BBC website that the number of libraries in the UK had fallen by 2.6% in 2014-2015, which means that 105 have closed down (or become community run) in just a year. This really struck a chord with me, as I feel very passionate about libraries and their role in communities. They’re not just places to borrow books, but are social hubs – somewhere you can take your children, a place where you can use a computer if you don’t have access to one at home, and a place where you can learn. It’s really important to me personally that Tinder Foundation do the most we possibly can for libraries to support them in their evolving role in the digital world we now live in.

What we’ve done already

We’ve already done a lot to support this – recently creating an online community for libraries to meet, network and share information in the form of our Digital Libraries Hub, which I have mentioned above and which has really taken off since it’s launch at the end of November. A lot of the original members who joined were part of our Libraries Digital Inclusion Fund Project but we’re now at almost 100 members with people joining from as far afield as Australia! It’s clear that it’s more than just Britain’s libraries who are keen to jump on board the digital inclusion rollercoaster.

Embracing digital

Almost all public libraries in England will have free public WiFi by the end of March, and many have new technology and state-of-the-art facilities, including Fab Labs and 3D printers. It’s clear that embracing digital inclusion is the way forward for modern-day libraries – and lots are already doing so. My visit to Nottingham is hopefully the first of many library visits for me in 2016 and I’m making it my goal for Tinder Foundation to work even more closely with libraries over the next year, and to help further accelerate their digital journey.