This year’s Libraries Week will be Celebrating Libraries in a Digital World and it couldn’t be a more timely theme. For the second year running, our public library survey results indicate that libraries are seeing more and more people come in for help with digital skills and services. Almost 50% reported an increase, with most of the remainder seeing stable demand for this support (only one library authority reported a decrease).
We’re a few months away from this important week (7-12 October), but this allows us all to focus ahead. It’s an opportunity to really highlight what libraries make possible for their customers every day of the year when it comes to digital access and support.
“Digital is always a field of rapid change, so there are always new questions cropping up.”
Netloan public library authority customer
What libraries are being asked to help with is vast in both content and nature. There’s a huge range of questions needing answers and tasks needing guidance. However, from our survey findings we can see where help is needed most frequently: in the critical areas of jobseeking and government digital services – with Universal Credit being the one cited most often.
Here’s how the survey results look:
Many under-estimate the importance of libraries and their staff in providing access to computers and the opportunity to get online. But for those that rely on them – and it isn’t a small number – they provide a lifeline to achieving life-critical tasks. 10% of households are without online access, a proportion that has remained practically unchanged between 2017 and 2018 according to the Office of National Statistics.
Many others are reliant solely on smartphones but this doesn’t equate to knowing how to find the information you need, applying for a suitable job vacancy or progressing your career. It’s doubtful it’ll enable you to produce a polished CV. As one public library authority customer comments:
“The new ‘basic’ user probably has a smartphone so can browse the Internet (though some still are ineffective at this) but they may struggle with forms, security knowledge to do with personal data and payments, emails and attachments and sometimes an unfamiliarity with Windows as they are used to Apple or Android.”
While provision of the People's Network of library computers is vital, libraries offer much more than this. There’s a wealth of online resources for school children, small businesses, students and really anyone with a question, project or interest that needs specialist information, encouragement and a happy place to progress it. Just looking at London libraries alone, the online resources on offer are simply staggering!
There’s simply no substitute for what libraries provide, either in scale or opportunities served. Yet they aren’t sitting still – libraries have lots more in store for us. Over 40% of them have plans to increase or develop digital support services and resources in response to customer demand this year. These plans range from doing more of the basics such as offering computer skill classes, to advancing skills far beyond this with code clubs, Virtual Reality activity events, animation classes, blogging workshops, STEM activities, wireless and 3D printing, and Innovation Labs.
Libraries Week 2019 – Celebrating Libraries in a Digital World
Libraries Week this year aims to encourage libraries to showcase the digital services they offer, including how they engage communities through technology, build digital skills and confidence and enable digital participation and inclusion.
We’ll be looking at some of the essential digital services that libraries provide in the run up to Libraries Week this October and beyond it. There’ll be an array of initiatives in the spotlight.
To contribute your ideas and experiences, please get in touch!