Nearly 14,000 public library staff, 80% of the workforce, signed up for an SCL e-learning programme designed to improve their digital skills and digital confidence. The pro-gramme, funded by SCL and Arts Council England, helped library staff to recognise barriers people face when getting online, equipped staff to support people with various disability needs, and strengthened their role as digital champions.
For many people in the UK, the local public library is the only place to access free computers. According to ONS data more than 4 million households do not have internet access, and a large part of this group state that barriers, including lack of skills and equipment and access costs, prevent them from connecting to the Internet. Public libraries offer more than just computer and internet access: most have internet taster sessions aimed at both novice and experienced computer users.
Local and central Government departments in England rely on libraries as a delivery channel for their digital services. Now, thanks to the SCL programme, most libraries in England have taken steps to improve the digital confidence of staff members in order to help customers even more.
Ciara Eastell, SCL President, said:
"I'm very pleased that so many library services got involved in this training. It was delivered at low cost and to a tight timeframe, and in response to the identified training needs of library staff. Having a baseline of skill and confidence in place across the whole country gives us a real opportunity to talk with the new Government about the potential of public libraries to be a key venue for digital inclusion work with the most vulnerable in our communities.”
Brian Ashley, Director of Libraries, Arts Council England, said:
"Access to trusted skills and expertise is part of the library's USP. This needs to be continually refreshed, especially in the digital world, so the Arts Council felt it important to invest in this important work. The scale and value for money achieved in this programme is remarkable, and we look forward to continuing our work with the Society of Chief Librarians and with the Leadership for Libraries Task Force.”
An independent evaluation of the e-learning programme, carried out by Oakleigh Consulting, found that most staff felt better placed to help customers meet their online needs.
The evaluation surveyed library customers and found that 65% did not have a computer at home and 53% needed help get-ting online. 90% of the customers surveyed said that the online support they received in libraries was very important.