For those living in regional Australia, it hasn’t always been easy to find free and local support to learn how to use digital devices. Fortunately for the largely senior population in Clarence Valley, they can find support at Grafton Library and their mobile branch through the Be Connected program.
With over 30,000 members, the library has become a local tech hub as one of the few places where members of the public can access free wifi, computers and printers. Erin Brady, Senior Library Officer of Clarence Regional Libraries, says, “Unfortunately, not everyone has access to a device or data at home. This can be really isolating for seniors and we want to help them out by providing a space where they can do things like check their email, or get local support with a friendly smile”.
While they have offered digital skills support for over 3 years, they saw an opportunity to introduce a device loan program through the Be Connected ‘Digital Devices grant’ offered by Good Things Foundation. This grant allowed them to purchase 5 iPads with data sim cards which were loaned out to people to use in their own homes. These devices helped seniors get familiar with technology and allowed them to stay connected with family and friends online.
Erin says, “For a library, being able to loan devices to our community was so important, particularly because of COVID. These devices allowed us to connect people, offer them support and teach them new digital skills remotely.”
Each device was loaned for 3 weeks and included regular phone calls from their Be Connected Facilitator, Hayden Lowe. During these phone calls, Hayden helped people set up their device, then checked in with each member weekly to see how they were going. This proved to be a useful way to keep in touch with socially isolated seniors in a time where face-to-face support was limited.
Loan devices make a difference:
Lorina regularly goes to Grafton Library to access their free wifi and use their computers as she did not have internet at home, and her mobile data was extremely limited.
When the device loan program was announced, Lorina jumped at the opportunity to bring a device home and try things out on her own time. Although she had never used an iPad before, Hayden helped guide her through the Be Connected Learning Portal and other library resources to give her the confidence to do things herself.
With regular phone assistance, as well as one-on-one sessions at the library with Hayden, Lorina has learnt to use an iPad, search on Google, use Zoom, access Clarence Regional Library eLibrary services and play games. Hayden has also helped Lorina set up her smartphone and back up her computer, all things that she can now do herself.
Lorina continues to be an excited participant in the loan program, having borrowed an iPad a total of three times, and is once again on the waiting list for another go.
Devices were also loaned in a “computer bag” that included the device, how-to-guides, contact details for the library for support and other helpful booklets to help people get started on their digital journey. These in-house designed resources proved to be extremely useful, and have now been shared with other libraries running similar programs.
Erin also had some helpful tips for other organisations who wanted to run their own device loan program. They maintain their borrower’s privacy by giving them instructions on how to erase data from the device before returning it, and will even do it for them if they forget. They are also concerned about keeping the devices COVID-Safe, and thoroughly clean the device with wipes in between users. Sim cards in the iPads are managed by their IT department, who also monitor the amount of data that is used by each user to ensure they don’t go over their datacap.