Building safer cyber communities

By Brad Langoulant, eSmart Libraries Advisor, Alannah & Madeline Foundation

Local governments are increasingly working to ensure that their communities are not only safe in a physical sense, but also safe online.

This commitment is demonstrated by 70 per cent of public libraries across Australia registering to be part of the eSmart Libraries initiative – a cyber safety framework designed to equip libraries, staff and library users with the skills they need for smart, safe and responsible use of digital technology.

A partnership between Alannah & Madeline Foundation and Telstra Foundation, eSmart Libraries is one of Australia’s most significant and ambitious cyber safety programs ever undertaken.

During a recent independent evaluation, library staff and management were asked for their opinion on the most important components of eSmart. The unequivocal answer was ‘professional development’.

‘Effective staff knowledge and capabilities’ was indicated as the most important factor influencing behaviour change.

Technology has affected most industries, but few have needed to adapt at the same pace as library staff.

For many it has been a very steep jump – from beginner, trying to learn, to expert, trying to teach.

Libraries are seen as vital sites for bridging the digital divide. They offer a space that provides free public access to digital resources – computer terminals, broadband, Wi-Fi and software – as well as offering the education and training necessary to navigate them.

Learning how to safely use technology protects the whole community, from exposure to inappropriate content – and reduces the likelihood of falling prey to other cyber risks, such as identity theft and violations of personal privacy.

With the support of their councillors, mayors and CEOs, library staff have been given the go-ahead to implement cyber safety training on a scale not seen before. With more than 200 resources located on the online eSmart system, as well as access to eight online self-regulated learning modules, each library registered for eSmart can compile their own custom-made program for professional development.

Of those libraries who have completed eSmart, 100 per cent of library managers and 93 per cent of staff reported improved staff knowledge and confidence in how to be safe, smart and responsible online.