This year, we’re highlighting some of the amazing digital services provided by our libraries. There’s lots to explore and celebrate in the lead up to the digital-themed national Libraries Week later in October.
In this post, we introduce Rochdale Libraries’ longest running group, the Smithy Bridge Silver Surfers. This senior technology group is a fantastic example of how libraries are addressing the digital divide while satisfying the digitally inquisitive nature of their customers. Most importantly, it shows how there doesn’t need to be (and often isn’t!) a gap in digital capability between the generations. All you need is your local library to gather, support and inspire you.
So what exactly has made Smithy Bridge Silver Surfers such a roaring success? We’ve had the privilege of exploring this with the group themselves and their knowledgeable tutor, Michael Willis. Here’s what they had to say…
When and how did the Silver Surfers start?
The Silver Surfers is a library initiative which started in the early 2000s, using Smithy Bridge library’s two original computers. Initially people heard about the group from information in the library, and later through word-of-mouth from members, friends and relatives. Members have joined to further their technical knowledge and basic computer skills, but as the range of activities and social opportunities widened many of us have stayed on, meeting every Tuesday from 10-12 noon. Membership is limited by the space available to thirteen including two tutors, and there is a waiting list.
What do you think has made the group so successful?
As well as developing some valuable computer skills we are very much a social group. We’re friendly, like-minded and enjoy supporting each other, both through our learning and socially.
The library is a very welcoming venue for us to gather in. All of our activities are decided or requested by members so lessons are flexible and varied. We’re not restricted to a fixed programme, so there are always new topics coming up. Visiting speakers add to the variety.
Above: Local history guest speaker presents to the group
What are the skills you’ve learned or shared in the library?
When the group started the emphasis was on ‘office’ software on PCs but has progressed to cover other technologies. We’re now able to confidently communicate via e-mail, messaging, WhatsApp, FaceTime, Skype and Facebook. We can bank and shop safely online, book travel, and use price comparison sites. We can download or stream music, e.g. Spotify, and connect it to other devices. We can download films, TV, games and blogs. We may be the older generation but we are very much part of the modern world!
As technology evolves, Silver Surfers helps us stay up to date. We are a lot more confident in being able to access information on our individual devices, such as our mobile phones, tablets, laptops and computers. Being able to access this without constant help being required is incredible. It is as much about knowing what can be done as how to do it. As an older group we are proud that we keep track with changing technology. It’s also made our lives easier – being able to do so much online.
What library resources does your group rely on?
First and foremost, the electric kettle, as we are such a social group! We began by using the library’s computers but have now built up enough technical confidence, we’ve bought and started using our own devices. So we rely very much on the library’s Wi-Fi and we also sometimes use the library printers.
With help from a local councillor the group has been successful in getting a grant for a digital projector and screen, both built-in, which can also be used by other groups and visitors (see top photo). Last but not least is our librarian and Honorary Member Jennifer who is always very helpful and supportive with our enquiries.
Why is meeting and learning together as a group important? What value does it add?
It gives all of our members the opportunity to exchange ideas, share experiences and help with problem-solving. Because members of the group know each other well they feel able to ask all sorts of questions (even ‘silly’ ones) or suggest topics for future teaching sessions.
As well as technical issues there is always the social side of the group (see kettle above) and much discussion of local issues. For example, it’s led us to find out more about the social history of the area. The ‘genealogist’ in the group has helped some of us to do our own research, including wartime experiences, and how parents met etc.
In what ways could you say it’s improved or changed your life?
While improving our IT skills it’s expanded our knowledge into new areas and made us aware of things we didn’t know were possible. It’s given us new interests and hobbies especially in retirement.
Most of the group are sharing their new found technical knowledge with friends and family outside of the library. We’re online shopping and selling, booking holidays and using comparison sites for good deals on all of our purchases. It’s saving us both time and money. We’ve improved our skills in photography, with a member of a photographic group showing us how to take and edit digital images. It’s also led us to look at the history of photography. Most of the group are avid readers who have now adapted to digital books using applications like BorrowBox and RBdigital for ebooks and magazines.
The social aspect of our group is one of the most appealing factors. As well as the regular meetings and fundraising efforts, we’ve ventured beyond the library, exploring the local area with new friends. We’ve shopped for tablets at the Apple Centre and go on photographic expeditions to try out the digital photography skills we’ve developed. There is lunch at a local restaurant at the end of each term – with suitable venues researched online.
Above: Celebrating end of term at a local restaurant
As a whole we are using more methods of social media and video calling (including a FaceTime call to a member on holiday in Australia - there is no escape!). This has made a huge difference in our social interactions with friends and family who we can’t see day to day. The group also offers mutual support in case of illness or bereavement.
Has it helped you to stay safer online?
Our group’s tutors keep us up to date on the latest scams. We’ve learnt how to protect and keep our information as secure as possible including the use of password managers (Note from tutor - if I mention passwords again there will be a riot as we have covered them ad nauseum!!)
Two visits from banks have also been very informative on how to browse and use the web securely. Barclays ‘digital eagles’ talked to us about online banking and were very reassuring, so that a couple of members took the plunge and got started. A Community Banker with NatWest spoke to us about fraud and scams, both on- and offline, which was a real eye-opener. We covered the ways in which vulnerable people are targeted, such as the recently bereaved, and how easy it is to give away private information.
The stereotype of the elderly being the main victims of scams is really oversimplified though, as young people are increasingly prone to fraud. We now know never to respond to phone calls from Microsoft, click on links in spam e-mails or do online banking in Starbucks…
Top: Talk on fraud and scams with NatWest; Above: Barclays Digital Eagles discuss online banking security with the group
What would you say to libraries who are thinking about starting a Silver Surfer group?
After the success of our group we would say definitely go ahead and start a similar group at your local library; both for the technical and social side of things we couldn’t recommend it more. Some advice would be that if it’s a formal, long-term group you should have a committee, a constitution, and a bank account to handle grants and sums from fundraising.
Other things to consider might include library opening hours, the support of the local librarian and tutors. When recruiting be realistic about numbers and the size of the venue. A website or email group, Facebook or WhatsApp account would be useful but be very careful about privacy. Once you are established, check the availability of grants for further resources.
What do you think libraries do better than anyone else?
Libraries bring the community together and make things happen. They host local interest groups such as reading groups and talks by authors. They offer an important local venue for all kinds of uses, for example for local councillor and health surgeries. They provide information and essential resources, including computers and Wi-Fi as well as the traditional lending services. It’s all available with opening hours suitable for working people. All of this is available in one place, and it’s free for everyone to use!
A big thank you to the members of the Smithy Bridge Silver Surfers for sharing their success story.