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Entries in public libraries (8)


Erasmus+ study visit to Bergen: public libraries and their roles and work in inclusion and learning

In May this year, I was really pleased to join an Erasmus+ study visit to Bergen, Norway. It was organised by the Norwegian government agency, Diku, with the aim of exploring “the roles and work of public libraries relating to inclusion and learning”. It drew together participants from 16 European countries, and I was one of two from Scotland representing the UK.



As an information literacy librarian from a Scottish further education college (not a public library), being able to take part in this was something of a surprise. I’m a big fan of all things Nordic, so you can imagine my delight at going! My interest in the visit stemmed from work I’ve been doing in my college for the last couple of years. I have been mentoring ESOL and supported learning students taking part in library-based work experience. Through this student contact I’ve been both learning and thinking a lot about inclusivity in its various forms, which is why this study visit really caught my attention.

In Norway, the 2014 Libraries Act directed libraries to become arenas for conversation and debate. It is a country well known for its generous social funding, and through the Libraries Act, money was made available to help with upgrading technology, adapting and furnishing meeting spaces in libraries and upskilling staff.

The conversation element of what the Libraries Act stipulated (largely interpreted as community conversations within libraries) was evident in both the Bergen and Voss libraries we visited, and in the presentations from other Norwegian municipal libraries. For example, the libraries in Voss and Bergen both have training and meeting rooms open to public booking, spaces for lectures, talks and music events, and other smaller areas which can be adapted for different uses (such as storytelling, literature and poetry readings).

Most of the Norwegian participants admitted that the debate element of the Act posed more difficulty and risk. Are there some voices and views that shouldn’t be given a forum, especially in the field of politics (recalling the 2011 Oslo and Utøya attacks)? What role do librarians have in deciding whether a controversial debate should take place, or in policing what is discussed when they are hosting or facilitating a debate? This area is still a work in progress.

I was very struck by the role that help in person played. Libraries aren’t simply hubs for books or tech, but places where people come together, talk, learn, and make connections and friendships.

Norway has welcomed a large number of new citizens and takes their integration into Norwegian society seriously. The Red Cross is very present in libraries when delivering language support, and many libraries offer activities focussed on bringing different groups together for reciprocal learning. There are many examples of language clubs where native and new citizens meet and exchange cultural information on cooking, crafts, folk songs etc.

Tackling the risk of isolation was another theme, with some libraries liaising with high school students to provide tech and digital help aimed at older adults who may lack family support, or feel adrift when technology has moved on too fast. 

In between library visits and presentations, we discussed in small groups the range of practical help and workshops that public libraries in our home nations offer library users: assisting access to government information (sometimes also completing forms and applications); teaching digital skills; homework clubs (open to all, but used most often by refugee families); and training adults with low literacy and numeracy skills levels, to help them in to employment. There were a few explicit mentions of information literacy, and as you can tell from the above, information literacy was an undercurrent in discussions and our library visits.

I learned a lot from this short visit, and as I summed it up in my post:

“The message from Norwegian librarians – and others - is clear. To bring people into libraries, be flexible, facilitate and adapt. Provide an adaptable physical space if you want people to connect and talk and reduce isolation. Skilling librarians for this new environment means providing support and training in being a presenter, organiser, communicator and a good listener – and learning about the technologies to enhance these roles.”

You can take a look at the blog post I wrote for EPALE here. (“EPALE is a European, multilingual, open membership community of adult learning professionals, including adult educators and trainers, guidance and support staff, researchers and academics, and policymakers”).

Claire Roberts, Information Literacy Librarian, City of Glasgow College



Information Literacy and Welfare Reform: challenges and opportunities


Welfare Reform ChallengesInformation Literacy and Welfare Reform was the title of the fifth presentation at the IL Symposium. Gregory Colgan, Head of Corporate Debt and Welfare Reform, Corporate Services Department, Dundee City Council certainly presented a picture of what he called challenges and opportunities around welfare reform. Connected to that is the digital world we live in and the necessary skills people need.

According to Gregory, we are digital by default. Dundee City Council stopped advertising jobs in newspapers, they are all now advertised online. For many other employers the situation will be the same.  

Gregory presented some demographic figures relating to Dundee citizens and benefit claimants, lower income, deprived areas compared to the Scottish averages (see slide 2 for specifics - a link to the presentation is at the end of the posting).

He then went on to list the welfare reform challenges as:

  • Universal Credit
  • Universal Support Delivered Locally
  • Claimant Committment - Day 1 Conditionality
  • Universal Job Match
  • Job Searches / Activities
  • Digital Access / Skills 
  • Literacy / Numeracy
  • Local access to Services
  • Budgeting
  • Banking
  • In work Benefits

To tackle these challenges Dundee City Council has set up strategic partnerships within and outwith the council that relate or need to respond to Welfare Reform. Included is: Employability and Learning; Supportive Initiatives; Scottish Welfare Fund: Housing Services; DLA to PIP; Universial Credit.

Employability and learning includes upskilling individuals. Equipping locla people with employability skills. Partenrship is seen as key: DWP (Department of Work and Pensions), Libraries and Voluntary Sector. Gregory saw an opportunity for library and voluntary sectors. 

Examples of activities taking place include:

Opportunities Room - This project operates within the Central Library in Dundee, where they have created a space which is around IT, learning and Development. The project also recruits volunteers who train individuals on IT skills.

IT4 Work. This project is funded from the DWP local flexible fund and provides IT support in local community centres to those who are looking to enhance there IT skills to assist them in entering the job market. It is a 6-8 weeks course with Adult Learning Tutors that results in a certificate. Gregory said there was a 'clear referal path from the library to the project'. Some of the quotes on the slide/s showed that it was helping people for example

Browsing from home, I saw a job and applied for it as I now know how to do it. 

I was also interested in the following quote "I go regulalry to Douglas Library, I didn't have the confidence before". Confidence building was an outcome / benefit that John Crawford and I found in a library employability course study. People attedning these course often have had a bad or poor experience of mainstream education resulting in poor confidence.

Another aspect that interested me was using visual digital resources e.g. videos for those who are illiterate. The resources are create by Dundee College with captions for the deaf. I have heard of and seen visual resources created by Dundee College in the form of graphic novels. 

The key message from the presentation was 

Universal credit will be a bit of a challenge to us with information and digital literacy problems. The only way we will make a difference is is we work in partnerships.

I would certainly reiterate and endorse that last sentence. I know from experience the difference partnership working makes. 

Gregory's presentation slides are available on slideshare so please have a look at them.  

For those working in public libraries, they are already seeing some of these challenges particulalry in the present economic climate with the loss of staff and in some places library servcies. I couldn't help but think that for those working in Public Libraries it may seem like a dam is about to burst on them. I not sure if the rest of us are aware of the challenges: I think we are obilvious to the impact the welfare reform will have on libraries. However hopefully Gregory's presentation highlighted some opportunities and strategies that public libraries can take advantage of. 



I attended the above event, held on Monday, 16th June, at the Informatics Forum at Edinburgh University. It was organised by the Scottish Council of Voluntary Organisations. It was well attended and attracted delegates from local authorities, charities and voluntary bodies, universities, the NHS and, of course, libraries. It was organised on the unconference model and took the form of 40 group discussions carried out in a fairly informal fashion. There was also a debate about digital and human rights. This consisted of short presentations by three speakers including Chris Yiu of SCVO and Professor Michael Fourman. Some fairly familiar themes cropped up: the rights to education, leisure and a cultural life and the role of education in getting people into employment. The problems of the disabled who are more likely to be digitally excluded were also raised. Professor Fourman suggested that digital inclusion should be a civil right and that there should be a digital infrastructure which fosters equality of opportunity. He also emphasised the seriousness of the growing state surveillance culture, stating that everyone had a right to privacy.

After that I attended a discussion on how we can include people digitally when they are financially excluded. Much of the discussion focused on the Government’s digitisation of benefits payments and its consequences and the Universal Jobmatch Scheme. I was struck by the fact that there were two groups of people present who were doing similar work but had never heard of each other which raises interesting questions about local planning partnerships.

In the afternoon I attended a discussion about the role of public libraries in today’s digital society. There was little discussion about information literacy or reading. Employability was the main topic with concern expressed about the consequences of the Universal Credit Scheme, the problems it was causing claimants including sanctions and what librarians could do to help. Firewalls and the problems they cause also provoked a lot of discussion.

It was good to see librarians engaging with the digital participation agenda although it is a little concerning that so much attention seems to be focusing around the Universal Credit Scheme and less on information issues. Apologies for the delay in posting but I have been busy with time limited writing, not to mention the good weather.

John Crawford


'Spreading the word: how public libraries are helping to extend digital inclusion' LIR Special issue: public libraries

Looking forward to reading Community of Practice (CoP) member Lindsay McKrell's report on 'Spreading the word: how public libraries are helping to extend digital inclusion' in the latest issue of Library and Information Research on public libraries. The special issue was edited by John Crawford another CoP member.
Library and Information Research
Vol 38, No 117 (2014): Special issue: public libraries
Table of Contents

Editorial (1-4)
        John Crawford

Refereed Research Articles
"You don’t come to the library to look at porn and stuff like that":
Filtering software in public libraries (5-19)
        Louise Cooke,   Rachel Spacey,  Claire Creaser, Adrienne Muir

Public libraries in the "age of austerity": income generation and public
library ethos (20-36)
        Hartwig Pautz,  Alan Poulter

"The love in the room": Evaluating the National Year of Reading in an
Australian public library (37-53)
        Sue Reynolds,   Bernadette Welch

Using social media to create a participatory library service: an Australian
study (54-76)
        Kathleen Smeaton,       Kate Davis

Spreading the word: how public libraries are helping to extend digital
inclusion (77-84)
        Lindsay McKrell

The Ever-Changing World of Libraries: Six Years of “Treffpunkt
Bibliothek” (“Meeting Point Library”) (85-88)

        Maiken Hagemeister,     Guido Jansen


LILAC 2014: bursary winners

Congratulations to the winners of LILAC's bursary scheme which was set up this year to enable access to the LILAC conference for librarians from sectors which traditionally struggle to secure funding from their employers.
They are:

  • Public - Jacqueline Geekie, Information Literacy and Learning Librarian, Aberdeenshire Libraries
  • NHS - Ruth Jenkins, Librarian, Healthcare Library, Berkshire Healthcare Foundation Trust
  • Schools/FE - Donna Gundry, Head of Library Services, Plymouth College of Art.

Congratulations also to CILIP's Information Literacy Group / the LILAC Comittee for offering this bursary.