Latest Public Sector News

19.06.15

Developing the digitally literate library workforce

Source: PSE June/July 15

Ciara Eastell, president of the Society of Chief Librarians, talks about a training programme that has managed to improve the digital skills of more than 80% of the public library workforce.

We have always recognised that public libraries are a key partner in ensuring people can confidently navigate life-critical resources online, and it was clear that libraries would help deliver the Government Digital Service (GDS) Digital by Default and Assisted Digital transformation. We knew there were thousands of digital champions already working in public libraries, but feedback from staff told us that some lacked confidence and needed that extra skills boost. 

Public library staff spend much of their time helping customers find the information they need. This information is often digital, and is very important to the social wellbeing of the library customer. More local and central government information is being shifted online and, as a result, the digital skills of public library staff are increasingly needed to help and support customers. 

I don’t think we were prepared for the level of participation we got on the Digital Skills Training Programme. This was the first training of its kind to be undertaken in public libraries and a lot of planning went in to the design of the training programme. We really listened to what library staff said they wanted to concentrate on, whilst also balancing what they would need to know to help deliver the government’s digital agenda. 

We wanted to use the latest technology to roll out digital skills training. The Society of Chief Librarians’ (SCLs’) Information Offer team, with funding from Arts Council England, commissioned Tinder Foundation and Learning Pool to design the Digital Skills Training Programme.

Regional trainers throughout England were crucial in making sure the staff understood both the importance and the impact of the training. Often it involved a large time commitment and it is down to the excellent leadership across libraries that we are delighted to say we trained 80% of staff – library managers and leaders saw the need for staff to devote time to this programme and they made sure their teams had the time they needed. 

This programme was designed so that those people who work with customers on a daily basis would be able to fluently navigate and use national and local government information sites, demonstrate where these sites would be relevant for someone out of work, needing to claim benefits, wanting to open a business or start a career, or concerned about their health. They also gained the knowledge and skills they needed to set up and coordinate a local network of referral partners to meet the specific needs of customers and communities. Modules included everything from ‘digital divide and your role as public library digital champion’ to ‘supporting access to online services’. 

We are very proud that 91% of the 14,000 library staff who engaged with the e-learning modules are now saying that they use what they learned every day to help customers. We are committed to ensuring that the library workforce have the tools needed to help library customers access life-critical digital resources and we plan to work with GDS and as part of the Library Taskforce to build on this experience.

Some of the thousands of testimonials we received from public library staff point to just how important it was to run this programme at this time: 

“A customer wanted to know if they were on the electoral roll, I gave them the number of the local electoral services using gov.uk.” 

“A customer was having problems with problems uploading their CV to a job application on Universal Job Match. The training helped to make me aware of barriers some customers face and the fear they have of getting things wrong.” 

“A customer had a question about registering for the council tax. I showed them how to access the relevant page on the council website. The training helped me to navigate to the correct section quickly.” 

“A customer wanted some IT information books on how to work spreadsheets. I told her if she was interested we had free IT classes running here at the library and they would be able to help her with any IT issues she might have.” 

We are looking ahead now, hoping to anticipate the next training need that we can help fill, and planning how we can further cement the SCL ‘Universal Public Library Offers’ (Information, Health, Digital, Reading, Learning) in the everyday work of public libraries.

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