9 Febrero 2021
Safer Internet Day: Experiences in Latvian Libraries
Every February, many countries celebrate and organise events dedicated to Safer Internet Day. A wide range of stakeholders – from parents and educators, to libraries, media professionals, and policy-makers – come together to support awareness and skills-building to ensure the safety and wellbeing of young people online.
Promoting digital literacy - including the fundamentals of online safety and privacy - has long been an important part of many libraries’ offer. That’s why Safer Internet Day offers libraries a unique platform to highlight and expand their work around digital literacy – particularly for their youngest patrons.
So how can libraries support the Safer Internet Day campaign – and why should they take part? To offer a look from Latvia – a country where libraries have been championing and supporting Safer Internet Days for many years – Inga Niedra from the Latvian Culture Information Systems Centre shared some insights.
How did libraries in Latvia first get involved with Safer Internet Day?
From the moment technologies came into libraries in Latvia and librarians began to learn how to use computers and the Internet, digital skills training for library users became a more and more common practice. One of the key topics in a library users` training has always been online security, and it remains especially relevant due to the pandemic.
Particularly active library staff started educating library users in 2009, when they participated in the training programs implemented within the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Latvian State-supported Latvian Public Library Development Project “Father’s Third Son”. In this training, librarians also acquired knowledge and skills on how to offer digital skills learning opportunities for their users.
The activity and involvement of libraries and librarians in Safer Internet Day (SID) is also partly thanks to the Latvian Safer Internet Centre, which has been operating since 2006. The Safer Internet Centre educates and informs the society about the safety of children on the Internet, and provides an opportunity to report offences discovered online. The activities of the centre are coordinated by the Latvian Internet Association.
Every year the Safer Internet Center in Latvia organizes a campaign promoting SID. As part of the campaign, schools, youth centres and libraries are invited to organise various events in on the day itself and throughout February.
Librarians in Latvia participate in SID every year. Libraries are motivated to participate in this campaign and organise events for their users by their desire to diversify the range of services available to library users, and to educate them. They are also motivated by the opportunity to receive information and content support for their events from the Safer Internet Center, and by a positive competition and their desire to keep up with fellow colleagues.
The past years saw many different SID activities in Latvian libraries – games, storytelling, creative labs, and so much more. Could you tell us more about the different formats you have explored?
There have been individual consultations and trainings, trainings in groups, various tasks on media literacy and Internet safety, erudition games and competitions, quizzes, drawing competitions for the little ones, knowledge tests, lectures, seminars, information publications, posters, project development and implementation, local information campaigns, live broadcasts, library lessons and joint viewings, alongside the games, creative workshops and storytelling events mentioned above.
The target audience has been quite wide all these years - children, young people, adults, seniors. Any activities that target and engage a specific audience have worked well. Librarians, when working with their users on a daily basis, know the target audience and know what approaches would work well to achieve the best possible result.
It is important that libraries know their users very well, and know what kind of activity or what kind of content would work best for a particular target group. That’s why, when designing events and activities, librarians should feel that the event (or content of the event) is interesting for the intended participants.
For example, for the 2020 Safer Internet Day, the Jēkabpils City Library invited users to take a test that drew attention to their own and other Internet users' behavior on social media, and encouraged them to think about the risks of posting personal information on the Internet. In addition, the library distributed leaflets with practical advice and useful tips for Internet users.
The Smiltene District Library hosted an educational face-to-face event, and set up an exhibition “In the World of the Internet”. The various exhibits explored such topics as media literacy, computers, the Internet, and acquiring information literacy.
In the Trapene Library, a fairytale about media literacy was created especially for primary school students. The fairytale characters - Wolf and Hare - helped children to better understand how information can be manipulated. The reading of the fairytale was supplemented with video clips and demonstrations.
What have you learned from libraries’ experiences with SID – are there any event formats or approaches that have worked really well?
For libraries, educating their users has now become as much a part of their daily work as issuing books and other materials. Technologies are evolving, and risks are changing. Internet users have to learn every day. Such campaigns help to draw and intensify people's attention to this topic.
For adults, the motivation and interest to learn more comes from the usefulness and ability to apply acquired knowledge and information in everyday life. This also motivates children and young people, but they are even more excited by the opportunity to compete with each other - and perhaps to receive a prize at the end, something tangible or delicious.
How are libraries in Latvia approaching Safer Internet Day this year, during the pandemic?
This year, SID will be particularly different from other years – because, due to the pandemic, any activities can only take place online. Of course, informative materials will be placed in libraries, near library buildings and in other public places. They will also be available on library websites and social networking profiles. Everything that happened in the past in person will happen exclusively in the e-environment this year.
Just as in previous years, libraries will cooperate with schools, youth centers and kindergartens in organising events. Various activities will be implemented by using already well-known and traditional tools - Zoom and Microsoft Teams.
For example, this year, starting from February 9, Latgale Central Library offers primary school students educational online events with the motto "Safer Internet starts with you!". Through online classes, library staff will improve students' knowledge of safe Internet use, use of smart devices and applications, web behavior, as well as data storage and social media content. Every participant will learn how to protect themselves and be safe using today's communication and entertainment options. Latgale Central Library carries out these events in cooperation with schools, inviting teachers to apply for classes.
Ogre Central Library has combined SID with the 80th anniversary of the well-known Latvian children's book author Juris Zvirgzdiņš, which will be celebrated on February 13, and set up an online erudition competition. In this competition, the famous book hero Tobias from the books of Juris Zvirgzdiņš invites children to check whether they use the Internet safely and correctly. Children are invited to take part in the competition throughout the month, and winners will receive prizes in early March.
This year, the Safer Internet Centre will also implement activities in the e-environment. There will be an online quiz on Internet safety for 5 different age groups; a special educational video has been prepared for primary school students on Internet safety and courtesy, meaningful use of technology, critical thinking and work with information; young people are invited to apply for membership in the Safer Internet Centre Youth Council.
In addition, the Centre has prepared educational materials which schools, teachers, parents and families are invited to use to educate and inform children. The range of these materials is, indeed, wide - they include lesson plans, assignments, tests, digital books, information materials and advisory materials for parents.
What advice would you give to libraries who would like to get involved with Safer Internet Day for the first time?
I would encourage libraries to just go ahead and participate, without overthinking it too much! Even though preparation and implementation of activities requires time and additional work, there is a lot of satisfaction in helping educate library users, including on the safe use of the Internet.
Since such campaigns attract more attention and involve more people, less time would also need to be invested in day-to-day digital skills support and education. Information about exciting activities spreads by word of mouth and, as it is known to be the best advertisement for any activity and any target group.
It is not worth complaining about the difficult times and the restrictions imposed by the pandemic. The current situation must be used to learn and master technology. In libraries, as in any other industry, this time will bring permanent change.
Culture Information Systems Centre