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An article by Jamea Kofi
17 December 2023, 14:40
Digital Government Information Points in the library

At the Digital Government Information Points (IDO in Dutch) in public libraries anyone can get help while dealing with the (digital) government. Library staff contribute to a society where everyone can keep up digitally. The IDOs are also an example of the library transforming from a ‘book library’ to a ‘people’s library’.

The work being done at the IDO is much needed, in June this year, the 100,000th question was registered. It shows that change is in full swing – public libraries are embracing their function as (low-threshold) providers of digital help with government affairs. More so, it shows that people trust the library and its staff. However, the help libraries now offer also involves social contact, and this change is not easy for everyone, employees say. Some do not have a problem with change and see it more as “continued growth”. The transformation within the library affects the daily tasks of librarians working in the front office. The IDOs reveal that the library has taken on more social tasks, with an accompanying budget, but not always with accompanying training.

For our research, I shadowed an employee who has been working at an IDO for about two years. In those two years, she has seen a lot of people pass by. “We hear a lot of harrowing stories here,” she says. Many elderly people visit, next to other people who need help with the digital world we now live in. It is busy when there are changes within the (digital) government that directly affect citizens, such as within the benefits system. On a sunny day in September, we helped an elderly man with a payment to the Tax Office. Afterward, the employee looked at me and said, “See, this is what I meant.” A poignant case – someone who has no one around them to quickly help them or is afraid to ask. “But this wasn’t even that bad,” she says.

The IDO is not fitting for every employee; sometimes they get scolded or there are crying customers in front of them, says the employee. “The trick is to stay calm,” she says, “to wait until the customer has cooled down. It’s important to be open to people and listen to them,” she stresses. “It takes a lot of empathy and patience, because you need knowledge of people, and you don't learn that in a day, but from experience,” she shares. It’s also part of her personality, being patient and eager to help, she says.

Still, this employee also cautions against the changes. “The IDO has taken over the role of the social worker, but we are not trained for it,” she says. At the IDO, it is essential to “listen to what people want” and find out what their request is. This employee offers crying clients a cup of coffee or tea. “Then you’re a social worker! But I'm not trained for it! We did have training, but I didn't sign up for it,” she tells me. When she started at the library several years ago, this was not what was in her contract. “That’s a bad thing in principle, because if something happens... It's not your job. And that’s upsetting, but yes, it has become part of your job, because of the changes.”

During this day of participant observation, I saw not only the transformation of the public library but also the awareness of employees. “This used to be the job of the municipality. Now, through a subsidy from the municipality, library staff perform those tasks. It’s outsourced.” She smiles and looks at me over her glasses. “Very clever,” she says, “’outsourcing’ as they call it.”

By Jamea Kofi (jamea.kofi@ru.nl)
Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)
Translation of Dutch column in monthly magazine Bibliotheekblad (2023-9)

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