Community connections can help libraries do digital for all

14 Jul 2016

New research from Good Things Foundation has found that libraries’ community roots and community partnerships are key in helping to address digital and social exclusion - from the ground up.

But if England’s library network is to live up to its true potential, more needs to be done to tap into local support services and get digital out of quiet corners and into the lives of the people with most to gain from it.

The library action research programme funded 16 library services to deliver new digital inclusion projects which targeted vulnerable or isolated people. More than 1,600 people improved their digital skills at over 200 branch libraries and other community venues. Target audiences included elderly people, families in poverty, disabled people and the long term unemployed.

Rather than a one-size-fits-all model, the programme allowed each library to adapt their activities to the needs of their community and the audiences they serve. That local knowledge helped libraries forge new partnerships with key intermediaries - allowing them to reach new and excluded audience groups. Those partnerships were supported by Good Things Foundation centrally, and included relationships with Housing Associations, colleges, other local Online Centres, disability support groups and charities.

Libraries used the additional funds from Good Things Foundation to invest in mobile equipment like tablets and mobile internet devices, essential for outreach engagement and delivery. They also collected management information through Good Things Foundation’s Learn My Way learning website and Capture IT system, to report on the progress and impact of their projects.

Delivery models included the recruitment of local digital champions from a housing estate, who then referred people into Newcastle Central Library for classes, and a supported home access programme in Leeds - offering housebound library users tablets on library loan. Meanwhile in Cumbria, health and social care students helped shape and support a programme for people with physical and learning disabilities as part of their course’s mandatory placement hours.

The full evaluation report of the action research projects can be found here.