e-Iris : A plan to fight the digital divide from public libraries


During the past decade, the digital transformation of society has accelerated, and the pandemic has completed our technological immersion in virtually every facet of life. That is why it has become essential to have the ability to access, evaluate, create and use information critically, as well as to create content, collaborate with others and communicate safely and responsibly in the digital context.

To achieve this, the policies to promote the information society born some thirty years ago have developed programs and actions for digital literacy, also called media and information literacy, or in recent years digital competence .

As it is one of the eight basic competences of European citizenship, an attempt has been made to extend it in the educational system, in the field of public administrations, in the field of companies, and also in the field of training basic digital competencies of the citizens.

And there they are, along this line, the regional digital transformation plans such as Ikanos in the Basque Country, Andalusia connected , Extremadura digital , Faite digital @ l in Galicia, CyL digital , etc., which have created telecentre networks as access spaces and training, learning platforms or certifications. And of course, the work of many public libraries involved in informational and digital literacy.

Digital divide and social exclusion

However, in Spain it is estimated that fifteen million people still do not have sufficient competence, as stated in the National Plan for Digital Competences approved by the Government of Spain. This plan has been endowed with almost nine hundred million euros of European funds . There is much to be done for citizens to take critical, empowering and healthy use of the possibilities of digital tools.

The digital divide, either due to lack of access to devices and connectivity, or due to lack of competence for their individual and community use, is a serious problem because it increases and strengthens the risks of social exclusion.

Vulnerable groups (some twelve and a half million people in Spain) and digital exclusion are realities that feed into each other, as the FOESSA Foundation points out :
“The digital divide implies a loss of opportunities in various areas such as employment, education, public administration aid or social relations themselves. This situation of inequality entails the perpetuation and deepening of pre-existing situations of disadvantage, but, in addition, it has been imposed as a new factor of social exclusion, causing even the distancing of the possibility of full participation in society for the individuals and families who suffer it. ”.
The digital divide is presented as a driver of exclusion: not having a device or internet connection and sufficient capacities excludes. Prevents full participation in society. The right to a good quality internet connection, the right to have devices that allow us that connection, and the right to acquire skills or abilities to function in that world are paramount. In fact, digital education is one of the rights established in the Digital Bill of Rights .

Different areas of competence

There is a specific digital competence for jobs in the field of the active population in their different specializations, or a digital competence of the educational, academic or scientific field. But we must have a basic digital competence in our daily lives as people or members of the community.

It is a digital competence that is evolutionary, that depends on the context, and that we must be able to use in our citizen or family dimension or in our decisions regarding health, consumption, the information to which we give credibility or that which we disseminate.

The digital divide is both the lack of access –which prevents the exercise of rights– and the lack of basic competence to function digitally. So is the unawareness of digital risks: vulnerability to misinformation and hoaxes, excessive digital dependencies or exposure to abuse of our private data.

The role of libraries

To improve citizen digital competence, we propose to have public libraries. They are public spaces of closeness and trust, with professionals who are prepared to facilitate learning processes throughout life, and particularly to teach how to use, evaluate, share and apply information. In Spain there are about 4,600 public libraries that reach 97% of the population and whose missions include guaranteeing meaningful access to information, culture and knowledge. One of its basic services – according to the law that regulates them – is “access to digital information through the Internet or analog networks that can be developed, as well as training for its better management.”

The University of Murcia , the CEPAIM Foundation , the Spanish Federation of Municipalities and Provinces ( FEMP ) and the Federation of professional archives, libraries, information services and museums ( FESABID ) have come together to promote the e-IRIS Project . Our aim is to help libraries create modular and flexible digital citizenship spaces. They will be spaces with connectivity, devices and a security and update system provided by Vodafone, for individual and group learning processes. They will be interwoven in activities of citizen participation and social innovation, and will be adapted to different needs.

Collaboration of various universities

The project is supported by a very broad set of training content in which we are collaborating with research groups from the universities of Murcia, Complutense, Jaume I de Castellón, Oberta de Catalunya, Rey Juan Carlos, Salamanca and Huelva. And it will have an online platform to give access to the contents that will be the responsibility of the GRIAL group of the University of Salamanca.

To make this project a reality, we will also develop an initial diagnostic tool to design personalized training itineraries. We will also create a training program for learning mediators, which will be carried out through professional associations. A communication campaign will be carried out to raise awareness about digital competence and the role of public libraries, conceived by Prodigioso Volcán .

Project strengths

We promote this project with an alliance of organizations dedicated to vulnerable groups and entities from the public and private sectors. The role of universities is the design of learning processes and the evaluation of results. The investment made will revert to public libraries, which guarantees that their services remain and are consolidated, once the European funds are used.

Regarding the contents proposed by the digital literacy plan, those of us in charge approach learning by connecting it with processes of inclusion, citizen participation and social innovation. Our vision of digital competence is broad and critical, beyond the office automation or the instrumental. It is about being able to exercise citizenship rights and respond to the demands posed by our new technological reality, both in an individual and personal sense and in its social dimension.

Author Bio: José Antonio Gómez Hernández is Professor of Library Science and Documentation at the University of Murcia