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.
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.
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.
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.
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.