Libraries on the Front Lines of the Digital Divide: The Oxfordshire Digital Inclusion Project Report

28 Pages Posted: 8 Jun 2021 Last revised: 23 Jun 2021

See all articles by Kira Allmann

Kira Allmann

University of Oxford - Centre for Socio-Legal Studies

Grant Blank

University of Oxford - Oxford Internet Institute

Annique Wong

University of Oxford - Oxford Internet Institute

Date Written: June 7, 2021

Abstract

This report summarises findings from the 2020 Oxfordshire Digital Inclusion Project, which studied the digital assistance provided in Oxfordshire County Libraries. Public libraries are trusted, accessible community spaces that people rely on to cultivate relationships, exchange ideas, and learn. Today, libraries provide essential access to digital equipment, services, and skills training. They are vital bridges across the digital divide. In this report, we present findings from our research in the Oxfordshire County Libraries, focused on two themes: (1) Exploring the day-to-day role libraries are playing in our digital world; (2) Understanding the lived experience of digital exclusion, through observations and data on library computer users and digital help seekers. Based on our findings, we make several recommendations about how to better address digital exclusion and to enable libraries to fulfill the role they are already performing: (1) There is a need to improve the digital skills of library staff, meaning that staff need to be digitally fluent themselves in order to address the high volume of digital help requests from customers; (2) Government and local councils must recognise and support what libraries deliver with funding to hire more staff, acquire more hardware, and support a digital learning volunteer programme that can supplement staff expertise and time; (3) We need to shift the focus of digital inclusion agendas from digital skills to digital wellbeing, meaning that any digital inclusion programme should be embedded in a wider social inclusion agenda because digital marginalisation is often bound up with other forms of social, economic, geographic, and educational marginalisation; (4) Libraries must work to increase community outreach and awareness of the services they offer by reaching out to communities that might not know about their offerings, making libraries true community hubs for a diverse set of users.

Keywords: digital inclusion, public libraries, digital skills, computer users, digital inequality

Suggested Citation

Allmann, Kira and Blank, Grant and Wong, Annique, Libraries on the Front Lines of the Digital Divide: The Oxfordshire Digital Inclusion Project Report (June 7, 2021). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3854877 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3854877

Kira Allmann (Contact Author)

University of Oxford - Centre for Socio-Legal Studies ( email )

Wellington Square
Oxford, OX1 2JD
United Kingdom

Grant Blank

University of Oxford - Oxford Internet Institute ( email )

1 St. Giles
University of Oxford
Oxford OX1 3PG Oxfordshire, Oxfordshire OX1 3JS
United Kingdom

Annique Wong

University of Oxford - Oxford Internet Institute ( email )

1 St. Giles
University of Oxford
Oxford OX1 3PG Oxfordshire, Oxfordshire OX1 3JS
United Kingdom

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