Transforming lives with Leeds Libraries’ tablet lending scheme

For the last few months Leeds Libraries have been working on a pilot scheme aimed at boosting digital inclusion in the city.

The tablet lending scheme shows people the positive changes that can be made to their lives from being online. 

 Ian McArdle, Communities Librarian (West Leeds)/ Digital Engagement Librarian tells us more about the scheme.

Mollie who has borrowed a tablet as part of the scheme

The three main barriers to digital inclusion have been identified as cost of equipment, lack of motivation and a lack of skills and confidence.  All of our libraries provide WiFi, computers with internet access and tuition sessions – all for free.  But we know that actually getting to the library can be a challenge for some people.  Our tablet lending scheme is removing these barriers to bridge the gap between those offline and those online.

We have worked with three very different organisations across Leeds to pilot the tablet lending scheme.  We wanted to test the scheme with different groups of people who’ve had different reasons for wanting to be online:

  • RETAS (Refugee Education and Training Advice Service) in Harehills with a class of ESOL students – using the tablets to develop their English skills and to stay connected with family and friends
  • OPAL (Older People’s Action in the Locality) based in Tinshill with older, often socially isolated people – using the tablets to book appointments, look up health information and keep in touch with relatives using Facetime and Skype
  • Children’s Services with young people leaving the care system – using the tablets to apply for jobs and prepare for further education courses

One of the people who borrowed a tablet as part of this scheme admitted that she struggled to get to her local library and stay there to study English because of looking after her two young children, but the ease and portability of the iPad really helped her out and enabled her to spend quality time learning how to use online resources and develop new skills.  Another RETAS user was able to access the Maps app to help find his way around the city and get to appointments.  Their tutor thought the iPads had been a big help to the class:

I know the learners really benefited from loaning the iPads from you and it would be great if we could participate in this scheme in the new academic year.

Two care leavers borrowed iPads to prepare for college courses that will start in September.   One of them, aged 18, told me “this is going to really help me out.  I’m starting a design and illustration course in a few months and now I’ll be able to download some sketching and lightbox apps and practice some new techniques in the meantime.  Plus my sister’s going to be so jealous – she really wants one of these!

Many OPAL users had limited experience of using tablets and smartphones from previous visits that we’ve made to the organisation, but now members were able to practice using them on their own, with occasional tuition sessions from librarians.  One member told me:

I’ve got a computer at home but I get frustrated with the new Windows.  This is great, it’s much easier to use and I’ve been using the Learn My Way site on there to improve.  I’ve had my eyes opened to a lot more I could be doing with technology and have recently bought a DVD writer for my computer so I can transfer old home videos onto there and send them to my friend.  Now I just need to learn how to do it!

National research suggests there are around 90,000 adults in the city (14% of the population) who lack basic digital skills.  Many of these people are classed as ‘limited users’, meaning they are online but only making use of the internet in a limited way.  We know that helping them to become digitally included will bring wider social benefits:  helping them to be more informed, more confident using online tools, feeling more independent and less isolated.

Our tablet lending pilot scheme runs to the end of July 2017.  We’ll evaluate the results of the pilot and, if the decision is taken to extend the scheme, we’ll be looking for more organisations to work with.  Watch this space!

Thanks Ian we look forward to finding out will happen. If you are interested in getting online visit your local library and find out what other courses are available.

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Health, social and age-related care services working together to make Leeds the best city for health and wellbeing
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