A catch up phone call with SCLs Digital Offer Group last week (a digital call – aiming to cut our expenditure and increase our productivity!) reminded me, if I needed it, of just how much digital activity is taking place in public libraries, or is planned in the pipeline. And never a more timely reminder than ahead of the launch of Get Online Week, which starts today and runs through until 18th October. A week where libraries alongside UK Online Centres work together to encourage people to use our resources and the fantastic skills of our workforce to get online, stay online and be safe and confident online. With 3500 libraries across the country offering more than 43,000 access points to the internet for free, there is never a better time to get online than now.
Here is a flavour of what is taking place. We continue to work closely with Arts Council England to plan and prepare for the implementation of Wi-Fi in libraries across the country, free to the public, meaning that we should reach our target of 98-99% of all public libraries across England having free Wi-Fi access by March 2016.
At the same time as the ACE Wi-Fi funding, a separate fund was made available for libraries already which are already Wi-Fi enabled, managed by the Tinder Foundation. There are some really exciting and innovative activities taking place, and you can read more about this in Tinder Foundation’s update here. Bids focused on digital inclusion support targeting, for example, people living with disabilities and people living on a low income. All programmes will take place over the next 5 months and will focus on making creative use of Wi-Fi in libraries. We will be tracking the development of these programmes closely, so that we can tell our partners about successes and new opportunities where they occur. Certainly where I work in Doncaster we have a really good opportunity for the library service to work more closely with our Digital Council team and Adult Services colleagues to market support sessions taking place in libraries, and which will focus primarily on the digital skills needs of carers. It’s quite new territory for libraries, to focus on improving the information and advice provision for people with a care role, particularly in response to the Care Act, but there is a very definite place for libraries.
SCL continues to work hard as a stakeholder of Government Digital Service’s digital inclusion charter – an initial response from library services to become Digital Friends has been very positive, with 25% of library services providing a statement on how they will develop a #digitalfriends programme. But we want more to join in and the Digital Group will be revisiting this again soon. And 4 of the 20 potential digital inclusion pilots working with external corporate and third sector partners are developing with positive early indicators; we have been particularly delighted to see the effects of proactive partnership working through the BT Wi-Fi in Communities programme.
The planning for the second and third cohorts of our Digital Leadership Skills training for library service leaders and emerging leaders continues, with events taking place soon in Manchester in London, and we are very pleased to be working with Ben Lee from Shared Intelligence and Ethan Ohs again on this project. The first cohort clearly demonstrated progression in their learning and skills, furthering their digital leadership credentials; a next step will be to build in this type of digital skills development into the workforce so that we naturally become digital leaders by sharing best practice, creating the environments for learning, and bringing in great examples of digital practice and thought leadership from other sectors. And new partnerships are springing up around the country focusing on code clubs in libraries as we seek to build on some great early-stage partnerships with Code Club UK. There are around 50 Code Clubs in libraries taking place around the country at the moment, and we want to see many more. We are also really keen to work with other code skills clubs whether at a strategic national level, or through local contacts.
So, all in all a very exciting (and busy!) time, and always with a focus on what difference library services can make to people who want to get online but can’t, or who when online, want to get a better experience, whatever their needs around reading, developing new skills, information-seeking and research, or simply staying in contact with friends and families. Improving the digital experience offered by libraries is what we are all about in the SCL Digital Offer group, and there no better time to reflect on this at the launch of Get Online Week. So, if you know someone who is not online but could be through their local library, make that connection. And if you work for an organisation which could work with libraries to get the digital skills message out into communities, let us know.
SCL Digital Offer Lead