Digital literacy and digital inclusion TeachMeets in London and Leeds

Reviewed By: Kathleen Heslop, Jason Patrone, Jamie Westfold

Link to article: https://ojs.lboro.ac.uk/JIL/article/view/CC-V10-I1-2/2317

Article synopsis:
The article is a summary of meetups organized by two independent non-profits who champion digital information literacy, the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals’s Information Literacy Group (ILG) and the Tinder Foundation, a UK based charity that promotes positive digital use. The Tinder Foundation has since been renamed the Good Things Foundation. The goal of the two organizations was to bring different types of libraries together to discuss how libraries can utilize resources to assist older patrons, keep up with new technologies and policy changes. The meetup tackled issues specific to the UK, such as welfare reform and assisting seniors navigate it, in addition to international issues. Most libraries will have aging populations and increasing technological demands, therefore the topics have universal appeal.

Core research question:
The UK government has developed an equity program known as the Government Digital Strategy whose goal is to make all government services accessible online in a manner that is usable by all communities. The service is marketed with the tagline Digital by Default: “digital services that are so straightforward and convenient that all those who can use them will choose to do so whilst those who can’t are not excluded” (Cabinet Office, 2012). The TeachMeets tech conferences were held in order to discuss these practical, everyday information needs echoing the government’s Digital by Default message: How can access to basic government and community services be more inclusive?

Research Methods:
The participants in the conferences represented three library types: public, academic, and ‘further education’ (high school) who voted and settled on six topics to be covered. Short, peer-led presentations were followed by longer discussions of the six themes. Certain trends emerged from the discussions: establishing sub-themes, identifying barrier to implementation, examining case studies, and sharing best practices. The meeting format is useful for different library staff members to share ideas or experiences. It identifies concerns, challenges and solutions another location may have already found. Post-event evaluations expressed praise for the communal, self-led, sharing framework; it was obvious that the librarians enjoyed collaborating with peers rather than being lectured to by outside ‘experts’ or consultants. Complaints about the conferences’ methodology pointed towards perceived domination of the further education contingent as well as too much time spent discussing academic rather than (one can assume) practical concern. The fact that many participants complained about the conferences being too short is a final testament to their overall success (Tinder Foundation, 2016).

Findings and conclusions:
The studies ultimately determined that three historically disenfranchised populations should be targeted for inclusivity efforts: the elderly, non-native English speakers, and the poor. The discussion of accessibility for the elderly touched on personal computer skills. The example was given of an older person who is accustomed to using a public computer and therefore has immediate help if needed. However, when they get a personal computer, they are faced with tech tasks they never learned (physical set up, installing updates, contacting ISP’s, etc). Libraries could provide small groups or one on one sessions to teach elderly patrons about new technology. Libraries should empower older patrons to use technology either through showcases or bringing digital books to homebound patrons in file form. English language learners’ access to social media was another concern: how do they access untranslated sites in public spaces? Finally, UK residents who relied on public assistance are forced to adjust to new welfare laws (Universal Credit / Jobcentres) pushing them into more of a ‘workfare’ system. This population is now being asked to apply to jobs online, so more training in web forms is needed.
Three other conclusions were reached relating more to staff than patrons:
1) Volunteers: use to cover different areas and give more in depth assistance, use more in a relationship-building ways, such as delivering books to homebound patrons, leading workshops, or as one-on-one tutors. Having knowledgeable volunteers to give in depth technological assistance to the public would be an invaluable resource; however, it might be difficult to find volunteers with the necessary skills to teach the technology;
2) Other technology: libraries should offer devices other than desktop computers, including tablets, smartphones, and “Breezies.”
3) Tech training: again, since more and more patrons are bringing their own devices to libraries, staff should know how to access library services on them and should be trained in troubleshooting a variety of mechanisms. Libraries should create opportunities for their staff to experience and learn more about available technology. If the library can create a culture of exploration and experimentation with new technologies their employees will feel more comfortable assisting patrons, even if they are unfamiliar with the device.

What Can American Libraries Learn?
Many of the issues discussed in the TeachMeets could be applied to international communities and are not limited to the UK. Most American public libraries have to deal with some sort of digital divide, whether that is due to having an elderly community, non-Native English speakers, or economically disadvantaged residents. Any of the theories discussed by the TeachMeets might be easily put into practice at a library in the United States. US libraries should understand that many of their patrons have practical information needs. Sure, many patrons approach the reference desk with esoteric, trivial queries, but vulnerable communities may not have the luxury of spending time musing on obscure topics.

References
Cabinet Office. (2012). Government digital strategy. Retrieved from https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/296336/Government_Digital_Stratetegy_-_November_2012.pdf

Tinder Foundation. (2016). What place does digital inclusion have in digital literacy? Tinder Foundation/CILIP ILG TeachMeet facilitator summary report. Retrieved from https://www.goodthingsfoundation.org/sites/default/files/research-publications/teachmeetfacilitatorreportfebruary2016.pdf