Digital helpers on hand at Oxfordshire libraries

View Digital Helpers - getting online
Digital Helpers - getting online

AGE should be no barrier when it comes to getting online and becoming savvy with the digital world. So says retired IT specialist Bryan Rugg, who volunteers as one of Oxfordshire County Council’s Digital Helpers at Kidlington Library.

During Get Online Week, the 74-year-old is once again passing on his expertise from more than 20 years working in IT.

Bryan is one of more than 70 digital helpers working at the county’s 43 library branches, encouraging users to get online and ‘Try 1 Thing’. The scheme’s aim is to gently encourage people to ‘have a go’, to show the benefits that the internet can bring – this could be using Skype to keep in touch with relatives abroad, learning how to cook a healthy meal or finding free learning opportunities such as with ‘FutureLearn’.

Bryan offers advice on Thursdays, and like many Digital Helpers this can be a one-to-one session booked in advance or simply helping someone with a specific problem in a drop-in session. Bryan explains: “It’s the upper age who tend to come in. I would always say that age is no barrier. It’s a perception thing. They tend to mistrust things they can’t kick. They are a bit iffy about it.

“I try to keep it as general as I can. I’ll go through the whole process of setting up an email address and that tends to open doors to most things. Once they have mastered that they are starting to gather the knowledge.

“Skype is one of the main things that drives discussions. It’s a fairly simple procedure to get people set up on their tablet or computer and means they can stay in touch with their families wherever they are in the world.”

Oxfordshire County Council launched its Digital Helpers scheme last autumn. Since then the number of volunteers performing the role has more than doubled and in 2017-2018, 1,620 hours were given by digital helpers to help others. Digital Helpers are there to help those people who are beginners with computers as well as those who may just need a bit of extra help in one particular area or wish to explore something new.

Oxfordshire County Council Community Involvement Officer Graham White said: “The nature of the role is as varied as the people who undertake it.

“All across the county we have volunteers of a wide variety of ages and backgrounds from helping an equally diverse client base – it’s all part of the county council’s aim to enable older people to live independently and the library service’s commitment to help anyone in the county access to the information they need; whether in books, eBooks or via our free Wi-Fi and online services. We get a variety of different requests for help with IT matters from the public and our staff in libraries can’t always offer the depth of support that a person might need. Digital Helpers meet this need admirably with a friendly and patient style which is appreciated by those they help.”

Bryan worked as a printer and then in IT for Oxford University Press, before joining Blackwell’s in 1989 and working in IT support until his retirement in 2008.

His three grandchildren are still a little too young to be exposed to the workings of the digital world but he looks forward to passing on his skills in the future.

He said: “I enjoy being a digital helper. It’s very rewarding. I’m always ready to pass on my skills if needed. It keeps my brain active and hopefully people go away happy.”

Thriving communities

Digital helper Roy Lancaster has made such an impression on a couple at Thame library that they wanted to pay him for his assistance.

The 54-year-old ex-accountant politely declined but suggested they make a payment to charity if they so wished.

Roy had mentioned on a previous visit that he also volunteers at the Red Kite Centre but had made it very clear he couldn’t accept a donation on their behalf. He has since learned that they recently donated £100 to Red Kite by post.

He said: “Some people have been in for several sessions and it’s very gratifying to see them progress – particularly people who’ve been given or just bought a device who were unable to use it but can now find their way around it after help.

“I’ll give people help with mobile phones, tablets and laptops on Apple, Android and Windows platforms. It’s just making them familiar with their devices.”

And Roy’s top tip? “Take care creating and using passwords and the like – you wouldn’t leave your house with your front door wide open,” he said.

For more information about when a digital helper will be at the local library visit www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/libraries or ring the library.

To find out more or to sign up as a digital helper visit www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/digitalhelpers