So far they’ve run 19 six week classes at 7 libraries, helping 83 people get to grips with tablets and make the most of the internet. The project has been part of the Library Digital Inclusion Fund from Good Things Foundation - which aimed to pilot new digital inclusion delivery models.
It’s the first time Barnet Libraries have had tablets or mobile equipment to move between libraries, although the demand for tablet training has been rising year by year.
Neil Mclaughlin is Service Development Librarian at Barnet Libraries. He says: “There’s a high demand for our IT courses, and increasingly we’ve been seeing people coming in and asking for help to use their tablets. The funding from Good Things Foundation gave us a unique opportunity to get that equipment, train our staff how to use it, and move it around the borough so as many people as possible could give it a go.
“It’s been really positive for our libraries in updating what they offer in terms of digital inclusion, and updating the skills of frontline staff. The libraries that have taken part have all had an interest in this area - or local demand - and some staff capacity. The beauty of Learn My Way is that the content is there for them to follow, and once they’re familiar with the courses they want to deliver they’re good to go. We’ve had four branches delivering two or three sessions a week, across six week blocks.”
Neil put together session plans for the basic course based on Learn My Way, so that individual libraries could then tailor their delivery to their different audiences. He explains: “While everyone might start out with the basics of using tablets, job seekers will move on to the online job search course, while older people or families might do online health. We’ve also trialled ‘lending’ tablets out between sessions, so those wanting to come in and practice can check one out on their library card, and sit in the library to use it.
“Learn My Way also lets us track learner progression, although we’ve also kept offline learner diaries. So far satisfaction levels have been really high. 85% of our learners say they now use the internet more, and all say they’re more confident online, thanks to our classes. Many have moved on to other Learn My Way Courses or were referred to other IT courses at local colleges or elsewhere.”
The sessions have also helped recruit new library users, as learners have to be a member of the library to log into the WiFi. Neil continues: “People are always amazed when they find out how much we do in our libraries and the services available, and the Learn My Way courses have been a great ‘hook’ to get people in. They’ve also been a great resource for us to signpost people to, so if we’ve got someone who already knows a little bit about the internet, we can direct them to Learn My Way to find out more for themselves. That’s great in the branches which don’t have the capacity to run classes.”
The funding also allowed Barnet Libraries to target new audiences - and they wanted to reach out to some of the hardest to reach and worst off people in the community. That meant building referral partnerships with key community organisations including Jobcentres, Children’s Centres, Community Centres, local charities like Age UK and local food banks.
“Six months isn’t a long time to build up relationships with new partners,” says Neil, “but we’re particularly pleased with how our Jobcentre partnership has progressed. As well as handing out our leaflets and flyers, we’ve talked to advisors about what we do, the course content and which job seekers might need to start with the very basics. That’s really helped them identify the right people to send to us, and they’ve been really happy with the skills their clients return with. We’re hoping our other relationships will continue to develop in the same way.”
One of the learners who has focussed on job search at Chipping Barnet Library is Andrew, 69. Andrew has been looking for a job after a break from the workplace following a series of strokes. He says: “It’s pretty unusual to want to get back into work at 69, and when I saw a leaflet for this course I knew it was just what I needed. It’s organised into a proper programme, and it’s been really handy.
“I’ve used PCs on and off for years, but I’ve never used the internet that much. You need to these days though, and it’s particularly useful for research - including researching jobs. I like coming into the library, and I’ve liked learning in a group with contemporaries - people of my age. I don’t feel so dumb because we’ve all been pondering our way through it together.
“I’ve liked learning on the tablets, too. I had one at home but I couldn’t make it work and it was just sat in the cupboard. Now I’ve got it back out! Things go very fast when you use the touch screen, but there’s plenty of help available here so if you go wrong someone helps you fix it pretty fast.
“This Learn My Way course has really put all the pieces of the jigsaw together for me, and started to make it make sense. I particularly like the Universal Jobmatch system. Four days after doing that bit of the course I actually got an interview! My second application! It really lifted me off the ground. You hear about people sending off thousands of applications and never hearing anything, and here I am with instant results! It’s definitely the way forward.
“That job wasn’t meant to be, but I know what I’m doing now and I’ve got every confidence I’m going to find the kind of job I’m looking for. It’s early days, but I know good things are going to happen because of this course. It’s been great.”
Moving forwards, Neil and the Barnet Libraries team plan to adjust delivery to take the tablets out to more branches. Neil says: “It’s a big commitment for some people to give up an hour or hour and a half once a week for six weeks, so we might try and cut the beginner’s course down to four weeks. We can then do one-off workshops around the borough, focussing on things like job search, or health, or online safety.
“We’ve had a real interest from people who want to learn a bit more in certain areas, and great success when we did a digital health workshop as part of a health fayre at Chipping Barnet Library. We have even been able to run sessions showing how to download books from our digital library.
“Now we’ve got the tablets and committed staff trained in both how to use them and how to use Learn My Way, we plan to make the most of them.”
Barnet Libraries have recently received further funding to deliver a new project - helping sole traders and small businesses to improve their digital capability using the Google Digital garage. We are planning to use some of the tablets from the Libraries Digital Inclusion research project to support this new one and we are looking forward to working with the Good Things Foundation once again.