Two recent reports show patterns of Internet use in Wales and the UK. According to the National Survey for Wales for 2013-14:
- 75% of households in Wales had access to the Internet at home;
- 79% of people said they currently used the Internet at home, work or elsewhere;
- 18% of people aged 18 and over reported that they had never used the Internet. Of those, 61% didn’t want to and 40% didn’t need to use the Internet; 28% stated that they did not have the skills to use the Internet;
- 78% of 18 to 24 year olds accessed the Internet from a mobile/smart phone;
- The three most commonly-used devices to access the Internet were: a laptop at home or in work (71%), a mobile or smartphone (53%), and a desktop computer (48%).
However, behind the headlines, there are some important differences. For example, whereas 79% of owner-occupier households have home Internet access, only 56% of those living in social housing have Internet access. Only 67% of households living in the 20% most deprived areas in Wales had access to the Internet (compared with 85% in the 20% least deprived). And people with “at least some qualifications are over 1.5 times as likely to be digitally engaged as those with no qualifications”. Other factors affecting Internet use include age, health, employment status and socio-economic group.
When we look at where people are using the Internet, most people use it at home, but 47% of Internet users aged 18-24 had used it in another person’s home (presumably on mobile devices), and 20% of Internet users had used it in a public place (e.g. library, café or community centre).
Looking across the border, Ofcom published their Internet Citizens report for 2014 in November 2014. The report contains an overview and analysis of “UK adults’ online participation in citizen-orientated content and services.” That is, it’s looking at use of things like government websites, public service broadcasting, local community websites and it also has a whole chapter devoted to ‘Culture and libraries’ (based mainly on the ‘Taking Part Survey’ in England by the DCMS).
Some of their headline findings are:
- The number of Internet users who say that they have ever completed a government process online increased from 53% in 2011 to 61% in 2013;
- One in five UK Internet users accessed the UK Government web portal (GOV.UK) in July 2014;
- Mobile devices are being used to access citizen websites e.g. 45% of users of NHS.uk used a mobile device to visit the site;
- Blogs were visited by 59% of adults who went online in 2013 and 23% said that they comments on blogs;
- Half of adults say they browsed local news and information online at least monthly (51%), with 39% doing this at least weekly;
- Content is being delivered across a range of platforms and in different formats i.e., not just traditional websites but via apps, social media, videos, photos, podcasts etc.
And, for most of the types of citizen websites (health, education, government etc.), it seems that most Internet visitors are in the AB socio-economic group.
Incidentally, the National Survey for Wales 2013-14 found that of those who use the Internet, 83% had accessed government or other public service websites within the past 12 months.
But what does all this mean for libraries?
A local presence online remains important to deliver targeted relevant information to your local audience, and doing this through a variety of media can be beneficial. Many people want to engage more, so by being able to ‘chat’ to the local library service online via Twitter or Facebook brings the service closer to the user. This can increase engagement levels, loyalty, trust etc. And the increase in access via mobile access means it’s essential websites are designed to work on all types of devices.
The UK report also highlights the benefits of digitising items to provide online access and expand your potential audience for those who can’t physically access a library by creating more online content. In the Taking Part survey, 14% of those surveyed had accessed a library website in 2013-14, and 50% of Internet users had used Wikipedia (p.67).
However, with most of the Internet users appearing to be from the AB (and to a lesser extent C1) social categories, it remains an important issue to consider what media and formats could be used to reach the rest of society. The digital divide is real and libraries are well placed in terms of access and skills assistance, although there are challenges around both of these issues. Libraries provide not only the physical access to computers and the Internet, but trained staff who are able to help people use computers, maybe for the first time.
Public libraries in Wales feature strongly in the digital inclusion agenda in Wales, and many are working with Communities 2.0 and other groups to help support people getting online for the first time. Public libraries in Wales open for more than 30 hours a week also offer free WiFi – a requirement that they achieved in order to meet part of one standard within the fourth framework of Welsh Public Library Standards. Interestingly, the review of public libraries in England (published 18th Dec 2014) also recommends WiFi for public libraries.
This post is mainly about the Internet and digital divide. There are of course many other computer related issues such as the ‘virtual’ library (being able to access resources remotely) and things like e-books, e-magazines, which is a whole other topic I could spend hours writing about!