I noticed an advert on the TV during the summer, and while watching it, I found myself becoming increasingly more irritated by its content as it went on. Then, not long after that, I saw another advert along the same lines, for the same group. I was reminded of my reaction to viewing those adverts last weekend, when I attended Library Camp Glasgow. One of the sessions I took part in covered advocacy, and what can we do to better promote the profession. The existence of these adverts is evidence of, to me, why we need to continue to work hard to show the wider public that “librarian” does not (and never has) equal “timid person who stamps books and says shhhh a lot”.
So, this is one of the adverts that so annoyed me, for Barclays Digital Eagles:
Now, I’m not disputing the fact that the concept is great: Barclays are funding people specifically to assist those who don’t have the skills needed to make full use of the internet, and the many opportunities it offers. This is an excellent thing to be doing, and will certainly help those that most need support to get online. It’s fabulous, and a great thing for Barclays to fund!
But this is where I get frustrated with the initiative. Did nobody at Barclays realise that an infrastructure to support these activities, and experienced staff were already available…in public libraries? Is there such a low awareness of what public libraries offer that not one single person involved in this campaign at any point stopped to think “Hey, you know what? Rather than reinventing the wheel…why don’t we provide the funding to public libraries to allow them to have a dedicated information skills member of staff to be a Digital Eagle? We’d still get the excellent PR of our name being associated with something that’s being done for the good of others, but we wouldn’t have the problems of creating a whole new system, and having to make space in our branches for this initiative.”
Nope. This idea didn’t occur to anyone, apparently.
I can understand that there’s probably an element of a corporate desire to get people into the Barclays branches, in order to eventually persuade them to become Barclays customers, but surely the conversion rate of “came in to be shown how to use a computer” to “being suddenly inspired to switch bank accounts” must be so low that the cost of the areas being used for Digital Eagles activities must far outweigh the commercial benefit?
The coverage and reach of this service certainly isn’t anywhere near as good as the public library service – if I wanted to go to one of their “Tea and Teach” sessions, I’d need to go to…Aberdeen. That’s the only place in Scotland that provides this service. There was an event there on the 6th of November, held between 10am and 3pm, which as a working adult, means that the Digital Eagles service and support is totally unavailable to me. Yet if I wanted to pick up computer skills via a public library, I could go to Edinburgh City Libraries, and use their Adult Learner facilities, which include an online computer skills programme. Library staff would be on hand during evenings and the weekend to assist me to get access to these resources, so I could fit in access around my working life. Unfortunately, the public library staff available to help me don’t have the time or resources to give the more intensive support I’d need as a person with minimal or no computer skills. Surely this is where the Digital Eagles should be: where people are already going, looking for help? The public library is where the public are used to coming for assistance with a wide range of information needs, and although library staff are not there to teach information skills, they nonetheless do end up squeezing them into their days, as an unpaid, unofficial additional responsibility. It would have been far more effective, in both cost and PR terms, to have given the funding used for the Digital Eagles programme to local authorities, ring fenced to be used to fund equivalent roles, in public libraries.
So Barclays: your Digital Eagles are a good idea, but wouldn’t they be an even better idea if they were in libraries?