Libraries are at the Forefront of Today’s Digital Skills
The government’s Digital Inclusion Strategy laid out ways that individuals and organisations both use digital, online, and internet tools in different ways.
The 2014 report says that “being digitally capable can make a significant difference… day to day. For individuals, this can mean cutting household bills, finding a job, or maintaining contact with distant friends and relatives. For organisations, going online can provide ways to reach more customers and reduce operating costs.” The important thing for local councils to realize is that their libraries are already working to support people, businesses, and organizations in exactly these ways. Smart towns and cities are focusing on their libraries as ways to “reduce isolation and supporting economic growth.”
Digital access and literacy is critical to strategies around economic development, reducing social isolation and community cohesion. Libraries are digital leaders in their communities. They do this by showcasing the potential of new technology and giving the community the opportunity to learn, test and explore its possibilities - and to use it creatively. For example, Cumbria libraries are taking mobile devices out into the community and work directly with local disability groups through two local branch libraries. Libraries also provide assistive technology to support access to library services by blind and partially sighted people.
Public libraries now support a wider range of digital initiatives like code clubs, Code Green and the innovative Make It Digital (in partnership with the BBC). Makerspaces - physical places people gather in to share resources and knowledge, work on projects, network, and build -help intermediate and advanced users develop their skills and creativity, particularly inspiring younger generations to engage with the STEM agenda (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). This promotes the development of high-end technology skills needed for prosperity and social mobility. Councils that want to see more innovation and invention are wise to invest in setting up makerspaces in their libraries.
Public libraries are at the forefront of developing a whole host of “digital literacy skills”. Smart Councils fund their libraries so their librarians can provide basic digital skills training, and advice and guidance on things like online privacy and security. There are still too many households who don’t have internet access. Through the DCMS-funded roll-out of high-quality WiFi in public libraries, they can either access the internet through the library-owned devices or their own. Every library in England should offer a basic level of infrastructure - including free WiFi and computers - so people can use the full range of library services as well as the internet. Because libraries don’t exclude anyone they engage more vulnerable and less confident people so they are not left behind.