From Monday 23 February to Saturday 7 March 2015 the Information & Reference Library took part in UK Online Centres’ Be Online 2015, a fortnight of free events aimed at encouraging digital beginners to make the most of IT.

Information & Reference Library staff took turns to lead sessions on topics designed to highlight the many benefits of using digital services to carry out everyday procedures related to job hunting, health & welfare and leisure. The library has a dedicated IT training room which is well-equipped for holding sessions with up to fifteen attendees, so we were able to offer 12 sessions during the Be Online fortnight. We tried out some new topics this time, which made the events more interesting for both regular attendees and staff. Among the sessions making their debuts were:

  • Online Travel – explaining how to book holidays online, with guidance on using flight/hotel comparison websites, tips for finding destination reviews and useful information for more adventurous trips, such as NHS and FCO advice.
  • Health Information – focusing on finding authoritative, concise and easy-to-understand medical and health information, highlighting symptom checkers and service directories.
  • LinkedIn for beginners – demonstrating the website and explaining how to set up and network a profile.

These were blended with adapted sessions on topics covered in previous events – YouTube, eBooks, staying safe online to name a few. We also held two tablet try-before-you-buy sessions – allowing participants to try out a range of tablet devices, including an Amazon Fire HD, Apple iPad, Samsung Galaxy 2 and Tesco Hudl2, and ask questions in an impartial, non-commercial environment. These sessions proved really popular, with a number of participants apparently more comfortable discussing such technology with library staff rather than sales assistants on the high street.

Be Online in action

Thankfully there were no technical issues to contend with during Be Online 2015 – these can really set a presenter’s pulse racing when attempting to demonstrate the reliability of online services to a group of sometimes-sceptical beginners. There were a few raised eyebrows during the Online Travel session, however, when a flight comparison website returned some questionable prices for return flights to Barcelona, but this at least highlighted the need to select the right criteria when using online search tools – in this instance the wrong flight type had been chosen. On several occasions staff were called upon to dispel negative myths about the Internet, reassuring attendees of the relative safety of carrying out online transactions while emphasising recommended information security practices, such as using strong password and avoiding getting caught by phishing scams.

Generally, the attendance at the sessions was very healthy: 94% of those who booked attended the sessions, with additional attendees joining several sessions on the day, while the overall attendance was 52. Most importantly, feedback from the sessions was good and it seemed that everyone was able to learn new information and skills by their attendance. This is main purpose of Be Online, given its focus on developing digital skills that can be used for carrying out many day-today tasks. From our point of view, it’s a great opportunity to interact in a different way with our users, while demonstrating some excellent resources and new ways to access information and services through a mixture of informal presentations and hands-on workshops.

We hold a number of similar IT events regularly (as well as helping individual users to learn new online skills through shorter one-to-one taster sessions), which allows staff to hone their presentational skills and provides more opportunities for members of the public to participate. Up next is Spring Online – 20-26 April 2015.