Computer Buddies, North Ayrshire Libraries
The libraries in North Ayrshire, in common with other libraries, provide computers for general use. However some potential users need start-up help and library staff cannot always meet this need. In April 2002 the library decided to explore the possibility of setting up a ‘computer buddy' scheme allowing library volunteers to offer basic I.T. tuition.
Potential ‘buddies' were recruited through posters, partnerships and local organisations, secondary schools, the local Volunteer Centre and the website. Volunteers certainly need technical skills and training was offered. However equally important was the ability to explain the computer to novices in a simple and friendly way. Recruitment involved face-to-face interviews and buddies were asked to commit, at minimum, one hour per week - the length of one learning session. The response was very encouraging.
The buddies use training material provided by the library, covering mouse and keyboard use, email and searching the Internet. Currently there are around 30 active buddies. The youngest is 17 and the oldest is 76. They come from all walks of life and the ages of the people they have helped range from 22 to 89!
Evaluation forms at the end of each person's session rate:
• content and materials
• buddy input
• pace of session
Participants have the opportunity to say what they would like to learn and progression routes are in place. ‘Buddy' Days are organised to recognise the buddies' contribution, with a lunch and presentation of certificates.
(7 volunteers also support library staff to deliver homework clubs in libraries and in community centres. Similarly their ages range from teenage to retirement.)
Young buddies recognised that participating in the scheme helps them:
• work towards badges/awards in other organisations
• test out an interest in a teaching career
• gain volunteer experience for university applications
They have said:
‘I really enjoy helping someone older and hearing their stories about what school used to be like.'
‘My confidence has definitely improved.'
‘I enjoy helping somebody to learn to use a computer as they never got the chance at school.'
‘I feel really proud of myself that I have shown somebody how to do something.'
‘I feel as if I'm learning even although I am showing someone else what to do.'
Being a computer buddy offers personal satisfaction and is a development opportunity for all volunteers.The opportunities to meet and mix with people of different ages and backgrounds and to share life experience, knowledge and skills are a major attraction. For younger volunteers this stands them in good stead as students and as future members of the workforce. For older volunteers, it is often a valuable form of social contact and interaction. The learners gain skills and confidence in using computers and have opportunities to progress to other courses.