Working together to close the digital divide

Yarra Libraries serve a diverse community and provide spaces, opportunities and resources for learning, literacy and creativity. They have used the Be Connected resources in a number of different ways, both inside and outside of their library spaces. They offer regular one-on-one help sessions which are invaluable for learners who may find group learning situations challenging. They’ve also done outreach sessions to rest homes and community centres, bringing mobile devices and resources to learners who may not have the mobility or means to visit the library.

Daniel, Digital Learning and Community Liaison at Yarra Libraries, says, “The Be Connected vision of improving digital literacy and social inclusion for older Australians aligns with our strategic objective to facilitate learning through technology. We believe in working together to make a positive impact on closing the digital divide in our communities.”

Yarra Libraries digital skills class.

They’ve teamed up with Be Connected Capacity Builder, Lively, to utilise their volunteers to help deliver additional sessions. They held sessions at Richmond Library (pictured above) every Monday morning throughout October to celebrate the Victorian Seniors Festival. Daniel says, “The Be Connected website has been useful in providing a roadmap and curriculum for developing basic computer skills. Sometimes we use it as the basis for our presentations, while at other times we let our learners work and discover resources at their own pace. It gives them a starting point they can trust and consult at home.”

Daniel adds, “Many older learners really appreciate the “cheat sheets” and they really came in handy during National Scams Awareness Week when we were able to display some translated versions alongside our Chinese and Vietnamese collections.”

For socially isolated members of the community who may not have tech-savvy relatives or money to spend on courses, Yarra Libraries feel the there’s a genuine sense of gratitude when they attend their classes. They often hear are that learners appreciate being able to practice on the library computers, and even request longer sessions.

One particular learner comes from a refugee background and his positive outlook despite the adverse circumstances he’s endured is truly inspiring. He arrived in Australia with almost nothing and wants to look for work but lacks essential computer skills. The introductory Be Connected lessons have been incredibly helpful for him because they cover things that we take for granted – like how to use a mouse or access a search engine. He’s attended a number of Be Connected sessions and it has been amazing to watch his confidence grow.

Desktop computers in the branches are in high demand, so Yarra Libraries used their activation grant funds towards a new set of laptops dedicated to the Be Connected sessions. The laptops are more portable, enabling them to deliver sessions off-site and in their meeting rooms that don’t have computers. They have also empowered learners without their own device to participate and use a new piece of technology.

When it comes to getting the word out about their programs, Daniel says, “It took some time at first for us to get our head around how to structure and promote our sessions. We have learners at a variety of levels, and sometimes those that need a lot of help may be harder to reach with marketing. Our approach has been to reach out directly to existing networks, perform outreach for our less mobile communities, and print flyers for older learners that may not get e-newsletters. We find advertising specific topics as events works well. But every group of learners is different, so I think it’s important to be flexible with what you teach and try to meet people where they’re at.”