February is an important month for online safety education around the world, marking the annual Safer Internet Day (SID). As part of this, many educational institutions, including libraries, promote safe use of the internet and new technologies, as well as media literacy and overall online wellbeing in their communities. 

On 8 February 2022, Safer Internet Day will be celebrated in Poland for the 19th time. We have asked Magdalena Gomułka, an instructor at the Silesian Library and convenor of the IFLA New Professionals Special Interest Group, to tell us more about the experiences of Polish libraries with this campaign.

A group of people in a room with computers

SID 2019 classes in the Municipal Public Library in Wisła, Poland. Photo by courtesy of the Municipal Public Library in Wisła, with permission granted to Magdalena Gomułka.

What does Safer Internet Day look like in Poland – and why do libraries find it important to take part? 

Magdalena Gomułka (MG): One of the key players helping organise and coordinate educational and awareness-raising events during Safer Internet Day is the Polish Safer Internet Centre (PSIC), run by the Empowering Children Foundation (FDDS) and by NASK – a National Research Institute.

NASK coordinates many development initiatives in Poland, such as building and expanding the broadband network and organising the 2021 Internet Governance Forum in Katowice. Many projects of the Centre are also powered by the Orange Foundation in Poland, an organisation set up by the telecommunications company Orange Polska S.A. to create more digital education, online safety and creativity learning opportunities.

The theme of the 2022 Safer Internet Day is “Together for a better internet”. It draws attention to the need to work together to make the internet a safer and better place for all, especially for children and young people. This goal is captured perfectly in a message to stakeholders by the SID Programme Centre in Poland:

On Safer Internet Day, we join forces with others to educate for good online habits and respond to the needs of young people who, in the era of remote education, often call for creative solutions which support their presence on the internet” 

Educating children and teenagers about these topics cannot be done without parents, teachers and educators showing them a way to interact with the internet in a safe and positive way. In turn, all these educators and carers have unique strengths and ways to engage with young users. Therefore, bringing them together and fostering cooperation within a large-scale campaign helps bring to life interesting lessons, activities, conferences, and – especially during last years of the COVID pandemic – online events.

Last year’s SID was unique because of the scale of commitment. Statistics show that nearly 2 million users, including 460 000 children, took part in 4 960 local activities organised in February and March 2021. Almost 12 000 participants registered for 13 professional webinars. And last but not least, from 462 submissions, the jury chose 34 winners in a competition for the most SID interesting activities.

Staying with numbers here, let’s move to the map of initiatives published on the official Polish website of SID. Organisers encourage schools, NGOs, libraries, businesses and private persons to register educational activities. So far, there are 3 840 events in Poland in 2022 – including libraries, of course!

Could you share a few examples of innovative SID activities that libraries in Poland have organised recently?

MG: All kinds of libraries in Poland take part in celebrating Safer Internet Day. In the past few years alone, they have organised and co-organised different types of activities for young people, as the examples below show:

  • Co-hosting conferences: the Polish SIC organised a conference series entitled “Teacher as a student’s mentor in a digital world”. A key goal of the sessions was to promote and encourage the use of educational materials developed within the framework of the Safer Internet Project in Poland and the INSAFE network. The conference discussions also focused on what the main threats to internet users are today, and how to deal with some of the dangerous situations that can occur online.  In 2018 and 2019, two libraries co-hosted these conferences, with 200 participants attending each. These were the Pedagogical Library in Biała Podlaska (3rd local conference in Biała Podlaska on 19 April 2018) and the Public Library of the City and Commune of Kępice (6th Local Conference in Kępice on 9 April 2019).
  • Participatory video projects: young readers took part in preparing video tutorials where they explained how to use netiquette and how to recognise threats online. For developing these innovative materials, two public libraries received awards in the national competition for the most interesting SID activities – Public Library in Barcin (in 2018) and the County and Municipal Public Library in Pszczyna (in 2021).
  • Workshops and interviews with local residents: in 2019, the County and Municipal Public Library in Skarżysko-Kamienna organised workshops for teenagers about defence against online violence. After the workshops, young people took to the streets and asked residents about their knowledge and awareness of cyberbullying. At the same time, they were handing out leaflets with key tips on how to stay safe when communicating online.
  • Interactive discussions about meeting people online: the Municipal and Communal Public Library in Siewierz invited children to discuss how to stay safe when talking to others online, and to fact-check the information they see there. Part of what motivated the librarians to organise this discussion is realising that the internet has became so popular and close to everyone because we have access to the virtual world not only in computers but also in smartphones, tablets and televisions.

How do libraries see the activities they organise fitting within broader online safety and digital skills strategies? 

MG: Children today learn how to use the internet in IT classes, but often these lessons are not so attractive or engaging for them. Polish librarians see online safety as an important part of their digital literacy offering, and understand why interactive and informal learning opportunities are also needed.

Monika Śliwka, a librarian from the Municipal Public Library in Wisła, noted that the “young audience is simply “przeekranowani” (“hooked to the screen”). However, because of the increasing amount of time spent on digital media, I think that we, librarians and educators, have a lot to do. Cyberbullying is becoming a more and more important issue, and in fact, there is never too much information in this field”.

This point was echoed by a recent scientific study “Teenagers 3.0” by NASK. This research showed that a Polish teenager looks at a computer or smartphone screen for 12 hours per day. Moreover, remote learning and isolation has kept many young people in their homes, with the internet as the one window to the world. With that in mind, librarians as educators have a lot to do.

How else has the pandemic changed libraries’ approach to Safer Internet Day? 

MG: Learning how to use the internet safely has become more and more important not only for children but also for seniors – because nowadays they participate in the digital sphere more and more.

One of the examples of libraries tackling this is the Municipal Public Library in Szczecin, which organised an online conversation with two writers, Michał Orliński and Michał Radomił Wiśniewski, who talked about artificial intelligence and online safety. The meeting was livestreamed on the library’s Facebook page. Additionally, we see more webinars covering topics and skills tailored for older audiences – such as searching with browsers, fake news and information traps.

How are libraries in Poland celebrating Safer Internet Day in 2022?

MG: Polish libraries have once again prepared various Safer Internet Day events and meetings this year. They continue to explore different event formats and engagement ideas. For example, the Municipal and County Public Library in Racibórz invites teenagers to discuss how to manage their presence on social media channels, safety considerations when sharing photos and videos, and how to protect themselves more broadly. The Municipal and Communal Public Library in Siewierz organises workshops on how to learn remotely in a safe way.

Another interesting offer comes from the Municipal Public Library in Gliwice, which invites teenagers and parents for individual consultations about internet safety with police officers. And if users have any problems with a laptop, phone or tablet, the Public Library in Cybinka offers IT advice through different channels – online, via a phone, or in-person.

All in all, such a scale of activities during Safer Internet Day could not be possible without a lot of support from the Polish Safer Internet Centre and local institutions. Librarians can make use of the various resources on the SID website – e-learning courses, lesson scenarios, tutorials, podcasts, audiobooks, and exercises tailored for children, teenagers and adults. Alongside this, library cooperation with kindergartens, schools, universities and police help to celebrate this day with great and unique offers.

Are there any key messages or lessons learned you would like to highlight for libraries interested in the Safer Internet Day campaign?

MG: Safer Internet Day is an interesting topic. When speaking with different librarians from the Silesian region, I found out that young readers like attending library classes where they could learn more about the internet and try out new technologies. More to the point, a focus on exploring the virtual space, especially the potential benefits and threats of the internet, is a good idea for library workshops and meetings with experts during winter holidays.

In closing, I would like to go back in time. When we took part in the SID conference in February 2020, the discussions around online identity protection and fake news seemed a little bit far away. Today, we see how important they are and how they have become a part of our life. For these reasons, taking action to scale up education about internet safety should be important for our libraries.