The Dutch “Library and Basic Skills” programme is expanding to help hundreds of thousands of people access the benefits of e-government.
In the last ten years, several Dutch government organisations have digitised their services and closed their local offices. The digitalisation process was considered a step forward for a society with sufficient digital skills.
Now, after more than a decade, research shows that there is still a large segment of the popluation that needs structural support to acquire the digital skills needed to use these online services.
There are about 4 million Dutch people who find it difficult or impossible to deal with the digital government. This includes the (digital) inbox of Mijn Overheid.nl, and matters such as rent, healthcare allowance, tax, student finance, drivers licence, traffic fines, pension and benefits.
The target group is diverse: the elderly, foreign residents, illiterate people, but also young people who may be able to handle social media, but who find it difficult and complicated to apply for a DigiD (Dutch Digital Identity).
In 2015, the National Library of Netherlands (Koninklijke Bibliotheek) started the national programme “Library and Basic Skills”. The programme has built on the developing role of Dutch libraries as non-formal education and information centres, service providers for people at risk of digital and social exclusion. Several public libraries joined the program, set up services and cooperated with national stakeholders.
One of the most well-known projects is in cooperation with the Dutch Tax Authority (Belastingdienst). In this project, the National Library built ICT facilities, developed training courses on basic digital skills and set up consultation facilities for people to receive help with their online tax forms. Within three years, approximately 120,000 people were trained in digital skills and 25,000 people were assisted with their online taxes.
As the network of participating libraries expanded, more government organisations joined. In 2019, support from the Ministry of Internal Affairs led to the creation of a network of Government Digital Service Information Desks in public libraries across the Netherlands. Since July 2019, libraries not only offer ICT skills training but also serve as the first point of information service about the digital government.
One of the programme’s stakeholders remarked, “Libraries have already invested heavily in digital development in recent years and are continuing to do so. We will start with fifteen libraries and eight government organisations. In 2020 and 2021, we want the 130 other libraries to have an Information Desk. We have chosen libraries because their 800 branches are close to the residents and are easily accessible. There are many more library locations than municipalities. The Information Desk is also in line with what libraries are already doing: computer courses and help with tax returns.”
A mix of national policy and cooperation has enabled the Dutch to implement a nationwide infrastructure to provide support for vulnerable groups. This is closing the digital gap and enabling more people to fully participate in a digital society.