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First entertainment, then paying the bills

This week, Ville Vaarne talks about how public libraries can help people not only find books to read, but also improve their digital skills.

I was curious to know why 85-year-old Eila Saarinen was so fond of her new tablet. She told me it was her neighbour’s fault. She was now hooked on watching Yle Areena, a streaming service by the Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE.

“But I also want to use it for something useful, like paying bills online”, she said.

Saarinen is one of the students of Marko Torppala, who teaches digital skills to seniors. For Torppala, she was an ideal student, with her positive mentality and great motivation for learning.

“At first, motivation comes from wanting an access to entertainment. After that you can apply the same skills to something useful,” Torppala says.

Torppala is teaching in a government-funded programme that tries to solve a problem. Even though Finland is among the most digital countries worldwide, there are still half a million people in Finland who can’t use a mouse or a keyboard properly. These people come from different backgrounds. A lot of them are seniors, but there are also people with special need and disabilities and also socially excluded young people.

As the world is transforming to more and more digital, we need a way to get these people on board. Of course, the Finnish school system is great at taking care of the younger people’s digital education, but what about people who are past their school years? I’d like to think that it should be the library that can come and help out.

Eila Saarinen borrowed her first tablet from a library. Then, when she felt it was right for her, she purchased one herself. She and other students first got together in their local library to learn how to use their devices.

This is a new role for the library in Finland. It is providing a space and equipment for people who want to learn digital skills. Finland has around 750 libraries in total, and most of them already provide digital support for their users.

It means that the questions librarians have to answer have also diversified. It used to be, “What kind of book should I read?” These days it’s often, “How do I switch this on?”

Published on 14.12.2017