The Norwegian Government Report No.17 (2006-2007) – An Information Society for All – pays particular attention to libraries as arenas where the general public can develop digital skills. According to a survey carried out by Vox, Norwegian Institute for Adult Learning, more than a quarter of the Norwegian population lack the skills to make use of digital technology.
In recent years several libraries have introduced services aimed at improving digital competence among their users. ‘Learn computer technology in your library’ and ‘VOLARE’, two projects carried out respectively by the county of Oppland and the Drammen Public Library, have been particularly useful in this respect. The Archive, Library and Museum Authority has come to the conclusion that the challenge now is to build upon this experience and to create a national programme aimed at improving digital expertise and training throughout the public library system.
The Authority has selected four public libraries as arenas of learning for digital competence. Following a round of applications in the autumn of 2008, libraries in the cities of Arendal, Drammen, Lillehammer and Trondheim have received a total of NOK 450.000,- to share in developing a model which can be taken up by all public libraries throughout the country. The project, called DIGIKOMBI, has been financed by the Ministry of Government Administration and Reform, which is the body responsible for the development of ICT throughout the country.
Future national model
As a starting-point for the project a master model has been drawn up to underline certain central requirements:
• The service offered must be assured of receiving specific priority on the part of the library owner to develop the library as a learning arena and must be an intrinsic part of local or regional planning. The service must also have the positive backing and acceptance of the library staff involved.
• The service must be based either on individual instruction or on themestructured mini-courses with only a few participants per instructor. Teaching should include an introduction to Internet-based services offering the greatest everyday benefits, such as e-mail, searching for information, electronic trading, banking and social technologies.
• The library must have computers capable of meeting requirements with regard to number, quality, Internet-access and other features suitable for learning purposes.
• The service must be part of the library’s normal activities and the staff must be directly engaged in its shaping and execution. Basic requirements would be for the library to have staff with satisfactory professional librarian skills, digital expertise and well-developed library services.
• There should be regular and systematic contact between the library and other relevant participants in this field
• The service must be financed from within the library’s normal budget.
This outline model will be evaluated and revised at the conclusion of the project in order to serve as a basis for any library wishing to include the improvement of digital skills as one of the services offered to its users.
Cooperation with other participants in the field
In this area there are many other arenas and participants outside the public library system. On the one hand there are many organisations also aiming to improve digital competence, such as Seniornett Norge, working to increase participation in the ICTcommunity among senior citizens, various study groups, municipal and county initiatives within adult education, voluntary organisations and courses in ICT offered to the public for commercial profit. On the other hand there exist bodies whose target groups overlap to some extent those of the library sector but whose activities are differently based. Among these we find the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration, local private and public institutions and other bodies, such as those directing their activities towards the immigrant population.
It is important to establish contacts with these organi-sations in order to examine the possibilities for their cooperation with the library sector.With this in mind, several of these bodies have sent representatives to the project’s reference group.
Model library projects
Since 1999 the Trondheim Public Library has arranged computer courses for senior citizens and also for women’s groups and immigrants. The library intends to use the DIGIKOMBI project in order to expand course content and to improve the pedagogic aspect. A new initiative is aimed at younger persons with little or no computer experience.
The library will be cooperating with the voluntary social centres in Trondheim as a means of getting in touch with interested participants. Courses will be arranged at both the main library and the branch libraries.
In 2008 the Arendal Library invested in a new computer room with a view to holding courses for a variety of user groups. The library chose senior citizens as their particular target group. Taking as their starting-point the standards of digital competence set by Vox, Norwegian Institute for Adult Learning, the library has aimed to raise senior citizens from level 0 to level 1, the highest level being 3. The Arendal branch of Seniornett Norge has been a close partner in carrying out the project.
A further aim of the project is to illustrate how the course model can be used in smaller libraries.
Lillehammer Library has offered tuition in ICT for several years with senior citizens as the largest user group. Teachers have come from among college students of computer technology. One of the project’s objectives has been to improve the library’s own ability to offer guidance and instruction in digital competence. The main target group in this respect has been immigrant women recruited through the municipal department for immigrants and the municipal adult learning programme.
The aim of the Drammen Library is to act as a centre of learning and this includes developing the library as an arena for the improvement of digital competence. In order to ensure the best results, the library has defined several levels of tuition and asks applicants to make their own choice of the level they feel most suitable.
In addition to a growing number of older people, there are many inhabitants from a minority language background who could benefit from acquiring greater digital compe-tence. By cooperating with a Turkish teacher, a local branch library has been able to offer a computer course especially for people with a Turkish background.
By cooperating with the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration, the Drammen Library hopes to make a contribution beneficial to inhabitants who have problems finding a job, in many cases due to their lack of the required digital skills.
Blog digikombi.biblioteknett.no A blog has been established to register internal comments on the situation with regard to guidance and tuition. Here any material relevant to the theme of the project can be published, such as the discussion of teaching resources, other interesting initiatives or news from the project libraries themselves. This Internet arena will be of interest to all those who wish to keep track of the development of libraries as centres of digital competence.
The way ahead
The Norwegian Government report No. 23 (2008-2009) – The library. A centre of knowledge, a meeting place and a cultural arena in the digital age – lists the improvement of digital skills in the public library sector as one of ten important initiatives. The government states its intent to improve library expertise in providing services appropriate to a digital society, to promote public libraries as arenas of digital learning and to consider how the public library system best can function as a tool to counteract digital divides in the community.
The four libraries selected continue to test and develop their model projects. Their experiences will be summarised in a joint report to the Ministry of Government Adminis-tration and Reform at the end of 2009.
Norwegian Archive, Library and Museum Authority
Arne.gundersen AT abm-utvikling.no
Translated by Eric Deverill