Norfolk DigiFest

Elena Judd, Community Librarian at Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library, tells Libraries Week about Norfolk’s DigiFest – a month-long celebration of digital creativity, designed to encourage children and families to build their digital skills. 

What inspired DigiFest in Norfolk?

In Norfolk Libraries in 2018 we reviewed our digital learning provision and concluded that the main focus of our digital inclusion work had been significantly focused on older adults, and less attentive to the digital needs of children, young people and families

We know that age is the strongest predictor of digital exclusion – but this can disguise the fact that there are other significant drivers that affect people of all ages. People with disabilities, lower incomes, fewer qualifications and those in rural locations with poor infrastructure are all less likely to make use of digital opportunities. We wanted to address this, and at the same time to build confidence and capacity in staff teams to lead digital sessions for families.

What did DigiFest seek to achieve?

We set out to design a county-wide festival of digital creativity aimed at children, young people and families. We focused on introducing families to new technology and new uses for existing technology – and above all, we focused on fun. We know that the lack of trust and motivation are significant barriers to digital inclusion, and we hoped through prioritising fun and creativity we could overcome these barriers, inspiring families to do more with technology.

We are committed to addressing digital exclusion and recognise the strong correlation between social deprivation and digital exclusion. We used heatmaps to identify libraries in communities where more than 75% of households are at high risk of digital exclusion and delivered extra and high-profile events in those areas. It was key to our planning that every event would be free to attend.

How did you organise DigiFest?

We split our budget between buying new kit and commissioning external facilitators to deliver sessions using technology or expertise we could not resource internally. Paid partners delivered sessions on 3D printing, vlogging and digital music. All other sessions were delivered in-house by existing library teams, and ranged from building a simple robot, to coding for early years, alongside digital art, more advanced coding for robotics and space-themed robot team games. Through careful planning that ensured library teams were able to get hands-on with the kit in advance of sessions, the provision of easy-to-follow session plans & fully-stocked resource boxes, we found that library teams were able to run the sessions independently. Staff reported afterwards that the festival had been a positive experience and that they were keen to run more children’s digital events.

Who took part in DigiFest?

Every single library in Norfolk hosted at least one event, with 58 events in total. Approximately 395 children & 84 adults took part. Any new development in the service provides an opportunity to attract new joiners and tempt back lapsed members. Attracting non-library members was a clear aim of DigiFest, and to that end (alongside doing something new and innovative, and offering it free of charge at weekends, after school and in school holidays), we experimented with the use of sponsored social media and saw a definite increase in non-user engagement as a result. 76 non-library-members booked places at DigiFest events; that represents 19% of total bookings. This gave us an amazing opportunity to welcome new families into the library and encourage them to develop the library habit.

What’s next?

Since the end of the festival, we’ve been delighted to see a legacy developing. Several staff teams across the county opted to run digital events as part of Space Chase and our local Science Festival has invited us to run digital sessions in libraries during the Festival, to help them attract a new audience. We’re now planning DigiFest 2020 – and we expect it to be even bigger and better.