A library is a community institution, a place almost all of us would have visited at some time in our lives. Increasingly, these vibrant knowledge centres are playing a key role to bridge the digital divide, by connecting communities to the online world. Over the past six years, this transition has been supported through eSmart Libraries, a unique and ambitious partnership between the Telstra Foundation and the Alannah & Madeline Foundation.
The partnership is an acknowledgement of the key role libraries play to bridge the digital divide, by connecting young people and communities to the online world safely, smartly and responsibly. As well as promoting safe behaviour online, it improves digital literacy and teaches skills around social media and digital copyright.
The eSmart framework was designed to equip staff and visitors with the skills they need for smart, safe and responsible use of digital technology. The Telstra Foundation has committed $8 million to the project and aims to improve online safety through the 1500 public libraries in Australia.
Seventy percent of libraries are now participating in the program, which was developed from a holistic and evidence-based approach, to look at how the library and community can develop smart, safe and responsible digital behaviours.
Jenny Musty is a librarian at a rural eSmart Library and says the program has enabled staff to offer help and advice to parents whose children are victims of cyberbullying.
“Recently we had an incident where we knew a child was communicating with someone they shouldn’t have been via computer. They were skipping school and our staff felt confident in dealing with that situation by contacting the school, making sure they were aware of what was happening and following up on that and making sure the child was safe.
“That was a really good outcome and I believe that child had a better outcome because of us picking up that situation and being more aware and confident,” Ms. Musty said.
A recent evaluation shows it to be one of the most highly-rated programs ever undertaken in Australian libraries, with 100 percent of surveyed library managers recommending the program. 93 percent of library staff reported improved knowledge on how to assist community members to stay safe online.
“eSmart has helped to reinforce the library staff role, it is about technology and supporting people and making sure everyone is comfortable.
“I think libraries have played a key role in assisting people to use technology, right through from when email was first thought of – and we’re in an excellent position to provide education and support in all facets, including all the downsides and the pitfalls of technology,” Ms. Musty said.
In the 21st century, it is clear that librarians’ roles are evolving, from not just assisting individual customers but to tackling wider societal problems. The success of eSmart Libraries comes down librarians having the skills and the technology available to them to solve problems.