Minister of State with responsibility for Mental Health and Older People, Mary Butler, TD officially launched the rolling out of the Digital Ambassadors programme in Ireland’s libraries on January 20th 2021.
The programme is a partnership between the LGMA Libraries Development Unit and Age Friendly Ireland and aims to support older people in accessing online library resources, particularly while physical library services are suspended as part of government measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Building on the success of the peer-to-peer pilot, that saw members of Age Friendly Ireland’s Older People’s Councils participate in training provided by AFI and Libraries Development in order to teach other older people to get on line, the ambition for this Programme is for the online training to be rolled out nationally through the 48 Age Friendly Library Champions in libraries around the country.
Library staff will take part in training, delivered by Age Friendly Ireland and Libraries Development to support them in providing online tutoring sessions to older people in their areas. Through these tutoring sessions, older people will be empowered to avail of the fantastic range of library services available online. It will familiarise older people with getting on to the internet and downloading apps which will empower them to participate in other online activities, e.g. exercise classes, singing, zooming, etc. which they may have been nervous and unsure about accessing before. In time this may even give participants the confidence to perhaps become mentors themselves and show their peers how to do the same.
Speaking at the launch, Minister Butler said; “Isolation of people of all ages is a significant risk during the COVID pandemic, particularly during periods of tight restrictions on movement and social interaction. It is of huge importance that people, including our older population are supported in staying connected with their communities, including through available services and supports during these challenging times. In this context Minister Butler welcomes the launch of the Age Friendly Libraries Digital Ambassadors Programme. This programme aims to empower older people to avail of the fantastic range of library services available online. It will familiarise many older people with getting on-line, enhance digital literacy and engagement and will enable individuals to participate in other online activities, such as exercise classes, singing, zooming, and so on”.
Jackie Maguire, Chief Executive of Meath County Council and host to the Shared Service, Age Friendly Ireland said, ‘It is gratifying to see the development of this programme. It has progressed from a modest pilot in four local authority areas, advanced to libraries in Kildare County Council and will be scaled up and rolled out by the network of Age Friendly libraries in all local authority areas. This is a prime example of the important role played by Shared Services in local government in supporting collaboration, plus replication and scaling up of good practice’.
Collette Byrne, Chief Executive of Kilkenny County Council & Chair of the Libraries Development Committee at the LGMA, said, ‘It is inspiring to see how libraries and library staff have innovated this past year, and how they continue to provide a vital service to everyone in the community – of all ages. Libraries are a lifeline in communities across the country and we want to try to make sure that services are available to as many people as possible – that’s what this programme is all about’.
Also in attendance at the launch, Catherine McGuigan, Chief Officer, Age Friendly Ireland said, “The Age Friendly Libraries Digital Ambassadors Programme marks the latest achievement in the long and fruitful working relationship between libraries and Age Friendly Ireland, already marked by such wonderful initiatives as the Age Friendly Libraries Recognition programme and the diverse role libraries play in supporting older people as well as all citizens. The onset of Covid-19 has been very challenging for everyone, especially older people who are not perhaps as digitally aware as others. Our Older People’s Councils have responded to this challenge through many initiatives like our recent peer to peer digital training pilot, ensuring older people remain connected during this pandemic”.