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Digital Skills Sharing project - Libraries Development Initiative

  • Date: 2 May 2013
  • Artform: Libraries
  • Area: National
Three women and a man stand together, one holding EDGE award, all smiling The winners collect their EDGE award for the Digital Skills Sharing project, Lloyd Smith Photography

The Digital Skills Sharing project was founded in April 2012 by the Publishers Association and the Reading Agency, with funding from Arts Council England through the Libraries Development Initiative. It was aimed at helping library services build and develop digital skills in an evolving marketplace. The project won an EDGE 2013 Virtual/Digital Award in March 2013.


In 2011, the Reading Agency carried out research into library services in England that found:

  • only three per cent of library services have a digital strategy
  • 64 per cent of library authorities want help with using digital media to develop their reading offer
  • insufficient staff expertise is a big problem

Digital media plays an increasingly key part in consumer behaviour, with many consuming written content through both printed books and digital devices. The research suggested that both publishers and libraries need understand this growing trend and adapt their services accordingly.


The overarching aim of Digital Skill Sharing was to help librarians develop and enhance their digital skills, enabling the library sector to use its reader development work to enhance its offer to existing audiences and reach out to new audiences.

The project also aimed to partner librarians with publishers in order to give publishers an insight into the valuable ways that libraries can offer a route to consumers.


Digital Skill Sharing brought together six teams of librarians and publishers who, over seven months, collaborated on reading campaigns through the use of digital communications platforms and social media.

The project progressed on the basis that for modern library services to be innovative and sustainable, staff must develop an engaging and varied digital offer. The team recognised publishers are currently exploring these areas, and by sharing their skills and expertise they can offer great insight.

The six skills sharing teams were: Gloucestershire with Bloomsbury, Granta and Profile; Halton and Lancashire with Raintree and Faber; Leeds and Wakefield with Random House Group; South Tyneside with Pan Macmillan, Headline and Canongate; Nottinghamshire with Penguin and Hotkey Books; Tri-borough London with Little Brown and Hodder.

The project consisted of four key strands:

  • a launch event, with talks and showcases from librarians and publishers reaping the benefit of digital platforms and social media
  • collaboration between publishers and libraries to develop digital strategies, including website and social networking
  • masterclasses with digital innovators, including The Guardian's Claire Armistead and Nicki Sprinz of Made By Many
  • skill-sharing teams showcasing their highlights, challenges and learning at an event held at Southwark's Canada Water Library

Lessons learned

  • having more than one library authority per team made things more complex. Objectives and skills in different library authorities vary greatly, making delivering one project across multiple authorities difficult
  • scheduling is important. Projects were delivered in the summer holidays, which was problematic for aspects focusing on young people; and just before Christmas, which is amongst publishers' busiest time of year
  • information and communications technology issues arose often. Librarians had problems accessing the initial survey because of ICT issues; many authorities could not download software because of ICT restrictions. Tackling this will require discussion around policy and infrastructure

Positive reader experiences were an important catalyst for developing skills among the, sometimes sceptical, library staff. It also helped libraries and librarians to raise their profile within the service and local authority.


Collaboration provided a fantastic platform for publishers to build on their support for the public library network. There have been many opportunities for mutual learning and understanding, building on a shared objective of engaging directly with book lovers.

The benefits of the project are being widely shared through case studies and educational resources on the Reading Agency website.

The project found that a lack of digital learning is damaging to the advancement of library services, and that this needs addressing at a high level. These findings will now feed into a bolder vision, which will see libraries playing a leading role in building digital literacy skills and providing community access to quality digital content and experiences such as e-books, games, author interviews and audio clips.

Miranda McKearney, Director of The Reading Agency, said: 'The digital skills sharing programme has shown just how much libraries are up for new ways of working to achieve their mission. Once we've gathered the learning together, The Reading Agency will develop a training programme to respond to what libraries are telling us they need to create the powerful blend of online and offline reading experiences that will be vital to a compelling offer to an increasingly sophisticated audience.'

Ongoing activity

The Digital Skills Sharing website hosts resources generated by the programme to a community of library and publisher practitioners, as well as showcasing the Digital Skill Sharing projects and testing the appetite among the librarian community for a resources hub focusing on digital practice, informing future site development.

Key stats

Some examples from the Gloucestershire group April 2012 to March 2013:

  • 272 Twitter followers (from 0)
  • 34 e-book loans
  • 12 e-audiobook loans

Digital Skills Sharing website:

  • 1195 views of the video resources (until March 2013)
  • 45 per cent of digital skills sharers reported finding the website 'reasonably useful' or 'very useful'
  • total page views:  8,541