Digital technology has long been celebrated for making the world smaller through its ability to connect people all over the world, with the click of a mouse or touch of a screen, in an instant. However, the feedback we were collecting during our IT sessions was uncovering something equally important that we were missing: Technology could connect people who were sitting together in the same room just as well as those sitting thousands of miles from each other.
The last formal evaluation we undertook of our IT sessions found the main reason people attended was to learn and develop new skills. This was at odds with the informal feedback we were receiving though, which was that a large number were there just as much to meet new people, have a chat and enjoy being in the company of others. Sometimes you’re too close to something to see it in its entirety, and that’s exactly what was happening with us. When you work in libraries full time you forget that they have been connecting people for far longer than the internet has, and this realisation was the catalyst for us to act and provide something that the people in our communities were telling us, albeit informally, was needed.
We began by giving the content of our programme of PC and iPad sessions, “Discover IT @the Library”, a complete overhaul and basing them around the recommendations of the Digital Participation Charter’s Essential Digital Skills Toolkit. To get people together and learning as a community they first need to have a base line to begin from and a way to benchmark their skills with others. Our “Bring IT On!” and “iOhYes: iPad for Beginners” sessions will now equip attendees with both the recommended foundation and essential skills from the toolkit. These begin in September and we’re confident they’ll make a real difference for those who attend.
Secondly we needed to identify a means of progression that allowed the skills learned in the formal sessions to develop but also let those people who were using the sessions to have a chat and make friends build those relationships too. To do this we started our “Tea and Touchscreens” Chatty Café, a one hour session once a week for people to come along with their tablet, phone or laptop and have a cup of tea and a biscuit and share what they’ve been doing with their tech. These have been running for two months and attract a core of 5 to 7 people who attend regularly and have already begun to form connections; asking about each other’s devices, looking forward to seeing new holiday photos and even remembering how they take their tea or coffee. As the new IT sessions start we hope to see this group expand and thrive and go on to become a fully self-sustaining learner-led support group.
Promoting digital literacy and fostering communities remains at the heart of library provision in Scotland and is
outlined in clear terms in the national strategic document for libraries Ambition and Opportunity: A Strategy for Public Libraries in Scotland 2015-2020:
“Digital and information literacy is of central importance to enabling people to learn, participate, improve their economic position and communicate with others.”
Our own organisational vision and mission can be condensed down to three words: “Inform, include, inspire”. This simple statement embodies exactly what we are trying to achieve with the people who attend the digital skills sessions we provide. What those people perhaps don’t realise is that they do this just as much for us too as we work with them and see them progress.
It’s a really exciting time to be involved with digital skills in Inverclyde and a privilege to help our local communities become digital communities.
Senior Library Assistant, Programme Development (Learning Services)