ICT use and learning in public libraries

If European library users were their own country, it would be the largest country in Europe with almost 100 million people. This and a myriad of other interesting findings are now available in research reports on 17 European countries and their library patrons’ use of public-access computers (PACs) in the libraries.

The research was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). It incorporates both a quantitative and a qualitative study with about 2,400 respondents total in each country. Among the Nordic countries, Denmark and Finland participated in both studies, while Sweden participated in the qualitative part.

BMGF funded the study due to the foundation’s commitment to bringing the benefits of ICT to the world and a firm belief in the library as the best public facilitator of this mission. Furthermore, BMGF believes that libraries’ role should be more visible in the agenda of the European Union. The reports – one for each country and a joint European report – are now being made available.

A major finding is that Denmark and Finland generally fund public libraries more generously than the rest of Europe, and we also have the highest use rates by far. 57 percent of adult Danes visited a library last year. This is only surpassed by Finland with 67 percent. The European average is 23 percent.

The highest use rate

The Nordic libraries clearly have a great hold on the demographic groups endangered by social and/or digital exclusion. Both countries show a 58 percent use rate for the group of people aged 65+ years. The European average is 14 percent.

Preliminary results indicated a very good use rate for people born outside the nations as well. Both countries have some of the world’s highest percentages of homes with internet access, but also have by far the highest use of PACs in the libraries.

Having other internet access alternatives actually makes you more likely to use a PAC in the library. Denmark and Finland show great participation numbers for ICT courses and related activities as well.

Active in digitisation

PAC users state various reasons for use, but interacting with public authorities is cited frequently. People also use the computers to improve their job situation. In fact in 2012, 97,000 Danes and Finns applied for a new job using a library computer and 19,000 got the job.

We recommend delving into the comprehensive reports, but one of the major points is this: The Nordic countries are very active in the digitisation of society. This leaves some groups in danger of exclusion. The public libraries pick up these groups and provide for them not only the technology itself but also a safe space for learning. If not libraries, who could fulfill this role – and do it so successfully?

Consultant Danish Agency for Culture
Counsellor for Cultural Affairs Ministry of Education and Culture Finland