Surrey Public Libraries has worked to make information accessible to everyone

Surrey Public Libraries bridges the ‘digital divide’

Library's role in enhancing literacy extends far beyond books, providing free access to information to all.

There was a time when the library was a place with books. Lots of them. There were also shelves and chairs and tables, but that was pretty much it.

Step into a library today and there’s still books aplenty. But there’s also bound to be rows of computer terminals, probably a separate room or two with classes being taught and children learning to read on iPads.

As technology has dramatically and rapidly changed everyone’s lives, libraries traditionally mainly a repository for written material Surrey Public Libraries (SPL) has responded, transforming to address the way society now reads, communicates, researches and learns.

SPL released its 2014 Literacy Day Report Monday, coinciding with International Literacy Day.

It points out that while it may sometimes feel like everyone is continually connected with a never-ending flow of information with people gazing endlessly at their smart phones or tablets the reality is there are some segments of the population who face barriers to accessing that technology.

For example, statistics show that while 85 per cent of British Columbians had Internet access at home, just 71 per cent of low-income households had home access. And while 28 per cent of the province’s youth (16-24) use the Internet at the library, nearly half of low-income youth go to the library to access the Internet.

In the report, SPL’s Chief Librarian Melanie Houlden says the library “plays an invaluable role in reducing the ‘digital divide’ and ensuring all are included” in accessing and understanding technology.

There are 300 computer terminals in the nine SPL branches, accessible for free by anyone with a library card (which is also available free of charge). Users get Internet and email access, but use software such as PowerPoint or Microsoft Office.

There’s also free Wi-Fi at eight branches, so visitors who do have their own laptops and devices can be connected online. There is also a SPL app available for Apple and Android phones. And library card holders can always access the SPL website to check out and download e-books from home.

Age and cultural factors can also be barriers to accessing and understanding information. That’s where SPL’s Computer Learning Centres step in.

From using a mouse to setting up an email account, to more specialized classes on social media, Skype or digital photography, four branches (City Centre, Semiahmoo, Guildford and Strawberry Hill) offer regular classes to help anyone who needs it.

The library is now working with not-for-profit groups to ensure new Canadians, refugees, seniors and low-income residents are aware of the opportunities. For some, learning how to find a bus route or fill out an online form can be transformative.

New at SPL’s Newton branch is Curiosity Corner, specifically geared to children, where kids can access iPads loaded with age-appropriate apps focussing on basic literacy and numeracy skills.

As Houlden says in the literacy report, “the library acts as a bridge that connects the past to the future; ensuring that people have the technology skills needed to flourish in a knowledge and information based economy.

There are currently about 188,700 Surrey Libraries cardholders.

The library is continuing its Ged Carded campaign this year, with a goal of seeing another 20,000 people become members.

For more information about Surrey Public Libraries, check


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