Public libraries giving users the digital help they need

This Libraries’ Week, the Universal Information Offer team are celebrating two new government contracts. Last year, SCL successfully applied to be a supplier on the Government Digital Training and Support Services (GDS) Framework. This allows us to tender for paid opportunities to provide assisted digital and digital inclusion services for the public via the libraries network.

In April, the Isle of Wight library service ran a pilot with the Office for National Statistics to test the online 2021 census with 8,000 households, to help local residents get online and complete the census questionnaire. Library Service Manager Rob Jones said: ‘We were really excited to be involved in this national pilot test and our library staff are fully trained to assist residents online.’ Sharon Bexley of the Census Transformation Programme highlighted the importance of the project: ‘This will help us assess the range and scope of the assisted digital service we offer for the 2021 Census. We want to make sure no-one who wants to get online gets left behind.’

From the end of September, SCL and library services across the UK will also be supporting applicants for in-country visas on behalf of UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI). Over 1 million visa applications are made from the UK every year. An estimated 1%, or 10,000 people, may need help completing their application. The project is led by We Are Digital, an experienced training company that is coordinating the project and directing applicants to the most suitable routes for support. This support is provided in person via local libraries, in the applicant’s own home by We Are Digital’s visiting tutors, and by telephone from Migrant Help UK.

Libraries provide public computers, Wi-Fi, and help from library staff to use the new digital online visa service. Applicants can either walk in or book time with library staff to get help accessing and completing their online application form. Fifteen* library authorities are currently taking part with more joining later in the year.

The Home Office says, ‘The UKVI assisted digital support model is a great example of how to meet user needs. It helps people who are not online to make immigration applications and will help upskill people for the future’.

Medi Bernard, Library Service Manager, Bournemouth & Poole libraries

* Suffolk, Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, Portsmouth, Bournemouth & Poole, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Nottingham City, Warwickshire, Stockton on Tees, Blackpool, Barnsley, City of London, Glasgow and Edinburgh.