The digital future for dysfunctional readers

It is estimated that more than half a million Danes are experiencing considerable reading difficulties. What will happen to these people when it becomes obligatory to communicate digitally with the public authorities? Danish libraries have laun-ched a cross-disciplinary learning project concerning digital citizenship for dysfunctional readers.

Joint public initiatives

We live in a constantly changing world. In a reality where the digital development with the greatest speed renews and simplifies our daily activities both in a private and a social context. We find ourselves on the threshold of a society where physical service functions and information handling of everything from letter post to textbooks to an increasing degree are turned into data. The digitised society has become the designation of the vision for the future, which we in Denmark strive to carry out within a brief number of years. If we are all to sustain the feeling of citizenship, we need to a reasonable extent to be ‘hooked up to’ the general development and be part of the digital reality which gradually will materialize. Through initiatives within The joint public digitisation strategy we are encouraged to act and think in terms of this kind of society where mobility and being available online more or less round the clock is about to become a normative common feature.

The development project Digital road to future prosperity was launched in 2011 for the purpose of keeping everyone afloat in the massive sea of information and using the digital tools for improving conditions within central areas of public services. The project clarifies the technological possibilities, and especially online service functions play a decisive role. Tax in-formation, netbank, NemID (digital signature) and basic data on borger.dk (citizen.dk) are samples of areas within which it is necessary to be able to navigate, when the major part of all public communication in 2015 will take place digitally.

However, it may well turn out to present a considerable challenge for some sections of the population to live up to the requirements. Among others the group of dysfunctional readers in Den-mark. Horsens public libraries together with a number of other public libraries in Jutland have therefore agreed on a cross-disciplinary collaboration in order to help young people and adults towards mastering the necessary skills. This initiative is known as Digital road to future prosperity – also negotiable for dysfunctional readers.

Project strategy

In pace with our increasing use of mobile technology, tablets and internet the choice of courses in digital manoeuvr-ing has widened correspondingly. Within the framework of the library there are offers to both the young, the elderly and the dysfunctional readers. Here is everything from Nota’s (National library for dysfunctional readers) production of easy-to-read material to Seniorsurf, which is an introduction to the net for senior citizens. The objective in terms of future digital infrastructure in the public sphere has made it necessary to intensify the focus on citizens with reading difficulties.

The project Digital road to future prosperity – also negotiable for dysfunc-tional readers started in March 2012 and runs for one year. Horsens public libraries have entered into a cross-disciplinary partnership with five central-Jutland public libraries as well as a number of players with focus on stimulating the reading skills of the citizens. Among them local providers of FVU/OBU courses (Preparatory adult education/dyslexic education) as well as the Network Locomotive – a network of private and public organisations that work hard to improve conditions for dysfunctional readers. Via specially adapted courses in public self-service citizens with reading difficulties will be given support and help in managing to navigate on “the digital road to future prosperity”.

Digital navigation

The courses form part of the FVU/ OBU courses, where librarians shape and carry out the instruction together with the teachers involved in the courses. The courses consist of a mixture of presentations and exercises. Form and content are evaluated currently by both participants, instructors and an external knowledge centre, with a view to adjusting methods and material. A log book is for example prepared after each course has finished, in which the abilities and wishes of the participants are described. Up till now the courses have had a positive effect, even though there have been differences in terms of age and the degree of reading handicap and IT-skills. It has been quite apparent that personal contact and the possibility of meeting the digital challenges together with an instructor have made for greater familiarity with the use of public self-service.

Apart from the targeted courses in digital self-service the project provides a number of workshops, where players from various knowledge centres talk about i.a. turning theory into practice and about the project’s social and professional perspectives. This inter-disciplinary collaboration between the libraries and other institutions creates a fruitful forum with room for both exchange and development of experiences and knowledge.

Objectives

The aim of the project is to provide reading impaired citizens with the necessary tools for manoeuvring in the public digital fora. Many self-service solutions are produced on the assumption that everybody can read and write on an equal footing. As public output more and more is taking place in written form of the net, it is important to have focus on the target group so that no one is left behind.

Today the library is more than just books. Not least is it a cultural forum, but also a knowledge and learning centre. It has therefore been an obvious task for the libraries to take some responsibility for helping people with reading problems. By arranging courses in digital self-service the library helps citizens to become self-reliant and in the final analysis gives them democratic influence. Seen in a large perspective, the project also aims to pave the way for the preparation of a national learning strategy through inter-disciplinary knowledge exchange. In other words the aim is for the project to result in a workable course pro-gramme for further distribution.

Citizen and library user

Moreover, there is a desire to give the reading impaired an inkling of what the library has to offer. Experience shows that very few citizens with reading difficulties use the library and are aware that help is to be found there. The courses provide greater knowledge about what the library is, can and does, which in the final end encourages the target group to use it. In the final phase of the project the parties involved will acquire experience and knowledge for the preparation of future courses and partnerships. The concrete data will be included in a final evaluation conducted by National Knowledge for Reading.

Digital road to future prosperity – also negotiable for dysfunctional readers is a project that addresses a highly topical problem, which does not only affect the individual citizen, but our society as a whole. We are standing on the brink of a new digital era, where boundaries are constantly being moved. It is vital that everyone is included, and that the digital reality facilitates and simplifies everyday life instead of complicating it. The project is instrumental in paving the way towards this and making it negotiable for everybody.

PR and communication consultant, Horsens public libraries