The Digital divide and the library’s efforts to close the gap

Imagine, an unfortunate and all-too often experience at the library …

An elderly lady walks into the library and says that the real estate agency has told her to ‘go on the internet’!

“They have sent me the forms to rent a house on the internet”, she says.

“Did they send it to your email address?” asks the Librarian.

“What is an email address? I don’t have any email address but they told me that they have sent it on the internet” she replies.

The librarian is able to quickly work out that all she needs is to print out some downloadable forms from the agency’s website, but explaining how to find the website and navigate within it, let alone download the required forms, is no easy task if you’ve never used the internet and possibly never used a computer!

All too often people are referred to websites and are expected to know all about the internet. Some folk are highly skilled internet users, feeling right at home in the online environment, these days even toddlers adeptly play with smart phones and tablet computers! However there are many in our society that have not caught on so quickly, often with little or no digital literacy skills or adequate means to access online resources.

Coffs Harbour City Library started running free public ‘Digital Literacy’ sessions in 2012 to help people gain the necessary basic skills. Beginner and Intermediate Internet classes were developed including sessions on how to scan, upload and download attachments in emails.

The library continues to run sessions to introduce people to the internet and to give them a taste of the potential of social media sites to stay in touch with family, as well government sites to gain useful information.  Along with encouraging people to use these sites, participants are also cautioned against scams and spam. Knowledge of secure verses unsecure sites helps people make right decisions about when to share or not share their banking details online and other personal information.

These sessions are run several times a year at different times and on different days to accommodate people from all walks of life. The library’s goal of supporting people with life-long learning is essential for society to keep working cohesively and in reducing the capability gap between generations, as well as the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’.

In 2012-2013 alone, the library helped over 60 people with their basic computer skills and introduced them to the World Wide Web. Feedback and comments were all positive including this one –“It was very informative, the ladies were wonderful and patient!”

The skills taught in this community learning program provide an essential foundation for these customers to then learn how to access and use the library’s digital library (e-lending) service. This e-lending service was established in September 2012, thanks to a grant of $27,000 from the Library Council of NSW.

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