Libraries Delivering Digital Inclusion - 2016 Roundup

15 Dec 2016

Written by Luke Wilson & Sharon Wagg

Reflecting back over the past 12 months, here at Good Things Foundation we’ve had an interesting year working with our wonderful network of Library Online Centres.

We’ve been living and breathing all things ‘digital inclusion and libraries’, and that’s involved a whole host of activities - from conducting research and insight to presenting at events, organising library networking events to producing library related resources and reports, and of course visiting and talking to libraries and library stakeholders up and down the country.

We’ve learned a lot about libraries, library users, and about how to improve our support to libraries. Some of our key highlights for 2016 include:

There are currently 2,931 libraries in the Online Centres Network. 857 of these libraries use Learn My Way and 11,619 learners gained basic digital skills in libraries in 2015/2016. Not only do libraries delivering digital inclusion obviously help tackle digital and social exclusion and make a real difference to people's lives, (including social exclusionhealth & social care and economic growth) - they also have wider socio-economic benefits. From just the 11,619 learners gaining basic digital skills in 15/16 the potential national channel shift savings are £2,697,827 and a potential cumulative wider economic benefit are £5,087,793.

Imagine if we doubled, or tripled the number of learners supported through libraries this next year? Imagine the difference we could make to local communities, wider society and people’s lives - people like James and Elizabeth in Cumbria, and Christoper from Newcastle.

We’ve seen first hand that many libraries in the Online Centres Network are delivering great digital inclusion activities. But we’re also here to encourage libraries to do even more, and share that good practice more widely.​

There’s enormous potential for libraries to help tackle the digital divide at both a local and national level, and to contribute to reducing the UK’s 12.6 million people with limited basic digital skills. In order to do so, libraries need further support to deliver digital inclusion, and also to record, evidence and advocate the social impact of their work. We strongly believe that raising awareness of their wider contribution to society - moving away from just being seen as book lenders - is essential to their future.

As mentioned in the recent Libraries Deliver: Ambition for Public Libraries in England 2016-2021, digital access and literacy is a key element of what 21st century libraries deliver - and underpins all the Outcomes identified by the Libraries Taskforce. Libraries are increasingly becoming a frontline public service, helping to tackle a range of social challenges from health and wellbeing to prosperity, learning and skills to community cohesion. Digital access and digital skills are essential to all of these goals.

Good Things Foundation believes that libraries can tackle digital exclusion and the associated social challenges it accentuates. We also believe we can help - for instance through Learn My WayEnglish My WayGoogle Digital Garage, through our management information systems and our webinars and online training.

Although Sharon and I are moving on next year, Good Things will continue to work with local and national partners to support the development of digital inclusion in libraries, and to advocate for a well-resourced, innovative 21st century national library service which can underpin, engage and support communities up and down the UK.