A New Model for Digital Inclusion: An Interview with Helsingborg City Libraries
07 May 2020
The long-standing mission of libraries to promote equitable access to information often leads them to get involved in digital inclusion efforts. We talked to Catharina Isberg, Library Director, and Eva Hveem, Librarian, Helsingborg City Libraries to find out about their experience of working with a European Union programme on the subject.
Helsingborg City Libraries is part of European Union programme, Urban Agenda Digital Transition. One of the results of this work is a published booklet on how to set up a digital competence centre. The two models on this are Helsingborg, Sweden and Sofia, Bulgaria.
We asked Catharina and Eva for more
1. How did you first get involved in this project?
The city of Helsingborg is developing and evolving with a growing population, new city districts and changed social structures. Work on smart cities, with a vision of being one of the most innovative cities in Europe and taking advantage of the possibilities of digitalisation are important parts of all of the work of the city.
The city library is working intensively, developing and changing its operations to continue to be in line with the ambitions of the city as well as to better serve today’s society and continue to be relevant in the future.
Helsingborg public library continuously strives to get more people digitally included by providing access to digital information and technology with the added service of supervision and training by the library staff if needed.
On an operational level, in 2015 the library implemented a new organisational structure including a specific department responsible for the digital inclusion. On a strategic level, the library cooperates with other departments to increase the digital skills of citizens, reduce the digital divide and develop access to the digital arena. With regard to this ambition, a Digidel Center was opened at the Helsingborg City Library in February 2018 in collaboration with the city’s digitalisation department.
As a spin off from this intensive work, the library was asked to get involved in the European Union project Urban Agenda Digital Transition. The library was one of three city departments involved in this work. This shows the impact of the long-term strategic work which had been carried out within the city, which had built greater awareness of the relevance of the library’s work.
2. The project works on the assumption that simply having access to the internet isn’t enough for people to benefit from it fully. Why is this?
There are four steps in including citizens digitally: motivation, access, skills and use, where motivation is the fundamental factor for digital participation.
It is clear that technical knowledge does not equal digital inclusion. There are so many different knowledge areas one has to master to benefit fully from digitalisation. Becoming digitally included is a multi-step, ongoing and lifelong process.
That´s why it is important to offer support for existing and new training as well as retraining programs for the citizens. A Digital Centre combined with training offers and tutorial guidance approach, can accomplish just that.
3. What was your experience as a library in helping users build skills and confidence previously?
Before we started the Digidel Centre project, the library participated in a service design project, “Customer journey mapping” where we interviewed our visitors in depth using our public technology and came up with a number of important insights, e.g. “Those who come to us have nowhere else to go”. We found, in particular, that once at the library, users often need to do private, sensitive tasks on our computers.
As the authorities become even more digital and shut down physical offices, the number of cases / problems we help with has increased and widened in recent years. We get a wide variety of questions and issues every day.
4. How did participating in the project – in particular alongside Sofia, Bulgaria – change your views?
Helsingborg City Library joined the partnership in the spring of 2018.
Working alongside colleges from other countries with a similar agenda has been educational and has heightened the awareness of the problems we face.
Primarily, the huge need for digital inclusion and the lack of basic digital skills overall in the EU were highlighted. Over 43% of the population in the EU aged 16-74 are digitally excluded or does not have enough or the right digital knowledge to take up the jobs that exist today.
This means that almost half of the European population is missing out on learning opportunities brought about by the digital transformation.
Whilst working on the partnership and setting up and running our pilots we were able to do a lot of knowledge sharing leading up to the final result. It really was a team effort.
5. How do you hope the model and toolbox could help others?
The idea with the model is that it should be as general as possible so that everyone can take it and change it based on the needs and conditions of their country, region or city. There are already a lot of good projects and initiatives around Europe and the world, but most of them are aimed at a specific target group.
Our aim was to make our model as general as possible to avoid unnecessary limitations. The model is applicable to various conditions and should be seen as one starting point and reference to start up a Digital Centre.
6. What options are there, in particular, for libraries with fewer available resources?
They can always start up small and build over time. It is important to build a sustainable operation that will last. A good idea is to involve the whole community and municipality, to collaborate with others since digital inclusion is the entire municipality’s responsibility and not that of the libraries. It is also important to offer the services to all citizens in the municipality and not only specific target groups.
7. In what way do activities such as this project fit in with the IFLA Strategy?
As we see it the work is in line with all four Strategic Directions of the IFLA Strategy:
1. Strengthen the Global Voice of Libraries
2. Inspire and Enhance Professional Practice
3. Connect and Empower the Field
4. Optimise our Organisation
All four areas are constantly in our mind when developing our business. Our focus is of course on the benefits to the citizens of Helsingborg, but we constantly exchange ideas with other libraries to learn together and to continue to stay relevant.
In particular, Key Initiative 2.3 “Develop standards, guidelines, and other materials that foster best professional practice” is being realised by this project.
By meeting demands in a number of different projects and ways, we continue to develop our work to ensure a good library service for both today’s and tomorrow’s residents.
Catharina Isberg, Library Director, Helsingborg City Libraries
Catharina Isberg is the Library Director of Helsingborg City Libraries since 2013. Catharina is actively working on developing the library services to best meet the need of the community on both local, regional, national and international level. Since 2011 Catharina is active in IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations) and is from 2019 Division Chair and an IFLA Governing Board member.
Eva Hveem, Librarian, Helsingborg City Libraries
Eva Hveem is a librarian with a large focus on digital inclusion and digital skills, she sees VR, AR and 3D as a part of the library’s mission within education. She is also active on the regional, national and European arena within different projects. Eva Hveem is an active member of the Urban Agenda for the EU Digital Transition Partnership, responsible for implementing Action 2.