Public Libraries

Image of a public library showing bays of shelves and computers

Jacqueline GeekieJacqueline Geekie is the Information Literacy and Learning Librarian for Live Life Aberdeenshire. She has been the Public Libraries Representative on the CILIP Information Literacy Group since December 2014.  Her main interests are in using technology in a creative way to enhance learning and to encourage all to be digital participants. Throughout Jacqueline’s career in libraries, Information Literacy has been at the core of her work, and she enjoys her role on the CILIP Information Literacy Group as well as serving as the Digital Champion for Aberdeenshire Libraries. Working in a rural environment means a whole day in the office is rare, but her work is always varied.  Live Life Aberdeenshire is a joint school and public library service, so her job involves working with all ages.

Background

Modern public libraries have been in existence since the Public Libraries Act 1950 and are viewed as a vital resource in each community.  There has been a decrease in public funding, which has unfortunately had an effect of the number of public libraries, especially in England, and has therefore had a subsequent effect on staffing levels and the ability to deliver Information Literacy provision. In Scotland, there has been a move to become Arm’s Length Organisations from local Councils and many have become Trusts with other Culture and Sport services.  However, people are still using their local library and the report “Libraries Deliver: Ambition for Public Libraries in England 2016 to 2021” states that nearly 60% of the population hold a library card. The Scottish Library and Information Council document “Ambition and Opportunity” states that over 61% of the public use libraries.

Public libraries have been viewed as vital partners in the Digital by Default government agenda that allows the public to access computer facilities they don’t have at home.  Since the introduction of the People’s Network in the late 1990s, libraries have provided free internet access to the public, with library staff given training to support public library users.

Who are the users?

Anyone can use a public library at any age, which has been described as “cradle to grave” service.  In Scotland, the Every Child a Library Member project encourages parents to join the library with their child at any age to encourage active participation.  The information needs of the users can be as varied as the users as they come to read, to learn, to play, to relax, and to create. Having the ability to fulfil all those needs can be a challenge with diminishing budgets and staffing levels. 

What information literacy needs do the users have?

Basic digital skills are required in all parts of our lives and most especially with the “Digital by Default” agenda, which requires the public to interact with government agencies digitally.  These skills are also required to play an active part in society and to keep informed with current affairs.  In this time of misinformation and “fake news”, public library campaigns such as “Facts Matter” are vital.  Having the ability to buy things online can be a money and time saver for everyone and keeping in touch with family members can keep an isolated older person mentally healthy. 

Case Study:Go Digital Newcastle

There has been an increase in the number of job seekers using their local public library due to Welfare Reform changes and the introduction of Universal Credit, which requires all claimants to have an email address, access and maintain their account online and look for jobs online. There has also been an increase in the provision of other services digitally, such as booking a doctor’s appointment or asking for a repeat prescription. For those people who are not confident using technology, all of these tasks can require the help and support of trained library staff.

Further Case Studies: 

I.T. & ME” drop-in sessions take place in Stirling Council Libraries to help people solve basic IT problems and learn new digital skills.  Participants learn at their own pace in a relaxed atmosphere during sessions run by knowledgeable I.T. & ME volunteers, who encourage them to develop their skills.  These might include getting online, signing up to email and social media accounts or making the most of library online resources, including reading great new titles online, listening to audiobooks, and looking through your favourite magazines and daily newspaper all free of charge.  

Work I.T.” sessions take place in Stirling Council Libraries to help people who are looking for work to learn and develop new digital skills.  Work I.T. provides a short introduction to allow participants to access their Universal Credit account, carry out an online job search or create a C.V.  Sessions are one-to-one and free of charge. 

Health Literacy:

The management of long-term conditions as people are living longer is becoming increasingly important in the context of stretched NHS budgets. Library staff have a role to play in helping their users to find reliable health information.  

Case Studies: “Health Information Pathways” is a collaborative approach across public libraries, the NHS and the charity and voluntary sector, to support public library staff to develop their role in self-management, health literacy and shared decision-making.  Examples include a partnership with Macmillan Cancer Support to provide cancer support services in libraries, and projects such as “Shelf Help”, a SLIC-funded project in Scottish secondary schools that has been adopted by some public libraries.  In England, the Reading Agency has provided a booklist of 35 titles for teenagers that are available in public libraries and provide support and advice on a variety of mental and physical health conditions. 

What are library and information professionals working in the sector doing to support these needs?

As part of the “Ambition and Opportunity” agenda, Scottish public libraries have two aims that relate to Information Literacy:

Strategic Aim 1: Libraries promoting reading, literacy and learning

“Public libraries in Scotland promote education and learning for all, develop a culture of reading for pleasure, offer support for everyone from early years to older people, and enable people to make informed choices.

Strategic Aim 2: Libraries promoting Digital Inclusion

“Public Libraries in Scotland make best use of digital technologies to deliver high quality, efficient and responsive services, enabling access to information and services wherever and whenever citizens want them.”

The following list is some of the support provided by Scottish Library Authorities for these two aims, which form part of our core offer to library users: 

  • All have public access computers; e-reference resources; digital skills courses and digital support
  • Most provide e- magazines and safe online practices training  
  • Some provide work or office support for business users.

The outcomes of the “Libraries Deliver: Ambition for Public Libraries in England 2016 to 2021” report also include information literacy. “Outcome 3: Increased digital access and literacy” states that libraries will deliver:

  • Improved digital skills
  • Reduced digital exclusion
  • Increased usage of public services online
  • Access to the internet

Case study: Tinder Foundation (now renamed Good Things Foundation) digital inclusion pilot

Funded 16 library services across England to deliver innovative and sustainable digital inclusion projects, targeting vulnerable or isolated people to help them improve their basic digital skills.

What terminology is used to describe Information Literacy within the sector?

“Information literacy” is not a term that is well used in public libraries, although this is changing.  The provision of real information literacy examples relating to everyday life and citizenship in the CILIP Definition of Information Literacy 2018 has helped to improve understanding of the term. “Digital literacy” is often used interchangeably with “information literacy” within a public library context.

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