CILIPS Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland
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Libraries offer digital access

A 2018 report by the Scottish Government showed that almost 15% of households in Scotland still do not have Internet access at home. This disproportionately affects lower-income groups, for example, while almost all (99%) of households with an income over £40,000+ had some Internet access, this drops to only 69% of households with an income of less than £10,000. This gap between the lower- and higher-income groups has been decreasing however there are still a significant number of people in Scotland who go without Internet access. With so much of daily life now happening online, from shopping and socialising to applying for benefits and searching for jobs, those without digital access risk being cut off from many areas of modern life. Libraries help with this by providing free or low-cost access to technology and the Online world:

  • The Ambition & Opportunity Refresh shows that WiFi is now available in every public library in Scotland (p.13). This is amazing because so many people who have no Inernect access in their homes need to find an alternatice way to get Online – the library can be that place. Academic libraries also offer free access to PCs, WiFi, and other technology for their staff, students, and subscription members.
  • Statistics show that many people use libraries for Internet access. For example, the 2018 Scottish Government report mentioned above also highlights that 22% of people living in households with an income of less than £25,000 make use of their public library to get online (p.159). Demonstrating this, the Glasgow Life Annual report for 2018/2019 identified that over the year there were 2.8 million sessions of use of the free WiFi and PCs offered across Glasgow’s 33 Libraries (p.20). Similarly, Midlothian Council reported that there were 32,482 hours of computer use recorded for 2017/2018 (p.51)
  • Scottish libraries also provide access to cutting edge technology that most people would be otherwise unable to access easily or at all. For example, every library service in Scotland now provides a 3D printer for public use. 3D printing is used more and more and in the future will likely become a key skill necessary for success in many jobs and modern life more generally. By providing access to this sort of technology, libraries ensure that their communities are developing the right skills necessary for life in the 21st century.

As well as providing this crucial access, libraries also work hard to develop the digital skills and literacy of their communities. For example:

  • Several libraries across East Renfrewshire offer Computer Classes for those who need to learn the basics. These cover everything from how to use a mouse and computer keyboard, how to use email, and how to use Microsoft Word. Libraries are safe spaces where people can feel comfortable taking classes such as these with people at a similar level to them in a friendly and relaxed atmosphere.
  • Code Clubs for children are now available in public libraries across the country and these are well attended, for example around 1,000 young people attended these clubs, which can help improve STEM skills, in Glasgow Libraries in the year 2018-2019 (Glasgow Life Annual Report, p.20).
  • In the year 2016-2017, libraries in Dundee provided 10,531 Digital Literacy Sessions, and the number of people using these sessions has been steadily increasing since 2014 (Leisure & Culutre Dundee, Year in Review Library & Information Services Report 16/17, p.4). Also in Dundee, an ‘Opportunities Room‘ has been set-up in the Central Library. Here, users are supported to develop their I.T. skills and there are lots of different resources available. This report from the Scottish Government discussed the success of this initiative in 2013, stating that 51% of users had increased confidence in their IT skills after making use of the resources, 49% felt their IT skills had improved, and 95% said that the support they received was ‘good’ or ‘excellent’. The hub is still going strong today and is a clear demonstration of the excellent digital support libraries can offer.
  • Midlothian Council’s Annual Report for 2016-2017 outlined the library service as being important in supporting a number of priorities including increasing digital access for adults. The library service was outlined as key in delivering this aim through partnering and facilitating Connect Online sessions run by Volunteer Midlothain in libraries. These sessions ensure that older people are empowered to use technology in order to connect with ther friends and family and maintain their independence, demonstrating how libraries can also support well-being. 103 sessions on digital access and support were provided by libary services for those with limited or no IT skills, 2,008 session were provided to support library users to develop their general IT skills, 26 one-to-one sessions were delivered by libraries in partnership with Volunteer Midlothian and library staff spent almost 130 hours providing patrons with general IT skills support (p.29). Additionally, in their Annual Report for 2017-2018 they outlined that libraries have been key in ensuring older people and vulnerable adults receive digital support and tuition (p.38) and that library users really value the free access to PCs provided by their public libraries, with 32,482 hours of computer use recorded for the year (p.51)

There will likely be many similar initiatives/clubs/events going on in libraries in your area.

Lastly, libraries feature prominently in the Scottish Governments Digital Participation Strategy titled Digital Participation: A National Framework for Local Action. It is a significant demonstration of the value of libraries that they are clearly outlined as important for meeting the Government’s Digital Participation goals:

  • In this report, the Scottish Government note how digital access is crucial to allow people to engage with their local communities and to develop their interests. They state that libraries are places where digital access and training can be offered to local communities to facilitate online engagement (p.23).
  • They also mention how data shows that digital training sessions are more effected when delivered by somebody who the attendees know and trust, which means public library staff, who
  • They also acknowledge the key role libraries have in championing, maintaining, and utilising their database of local training provision and state that library staff will be included in a ‘virtual network of trusted individuals’ who have the right understanding and ability to foster digital skills in sectors of the population who may currently find themselves excluded. Data shows that digital training sessions are more effective when delivered by somebody who the attendees know and trust, which is why public library staff are thought to be in the perfect position to offer this training (p.25).