In recent years, our local libraries have been subject to closure and large cuts, this at a time when we should actually be upgrading them. This unusual form of democracy undoubtedly birth related-innovations such as co-working space and social hubs. While many of these related-innovation are timely and necessary, they lack the community and political ingredient required for emerging fluid and digital society. For me, this is the simple reason why the local and community library remains an inextricable part of the puzzle.

As citizen institutions, I believe libraries have a gluing role in sustainable developments, and as such, they are essential for integration and cohesion. Being a fan and advocate of the library, it’s quite the excitement to learn that London libraries are introducing a NEW SiLL programme.

SiLL is a three-year project will include tailored workshops, networking events giving local people and businesses access to the Library’s business collections and resources. A feat epitomised by Online Centres Network through Get Online Week celebrations at Brandon Estate in London.

In this article, I share some inherent social-economic benefits of the SiLL programme. To reinforce my lens, I revisit 2018’s Get Online Week celebrations at Brandon Estate.

What is SiLL?

SiLL stands for Startup in London Library. SiLL is a business support programme led by London Libraries to support start-ups and entrepreneurs across London. The programme aims to help local people and charities develop the insight, skills and confidence they need to start and grow successful businesses. 

For scale, SiLL will be delivered through, and by, a network of 10 London borough authorities with each London borough having its own SiLL Digital Champion. The programme is funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

3 benefits of the programme for Online Centres Networks

Despite austerity cuts and closures, libraries continue to deliver citizen-centred innovative community solutions at local levels that contribute to both local and national economic growth – as epitomised through Online Centres Network. As founder of an Online Centre myself, I’m pleased about the development, and convinced it will improve my centre’s abilities and capacity by removing the 3 barriers below.

  1. Organisational structure

In my first article in 2018 I highlighted the slowing impact organisational structure has on sustainable change and transformation.

NEW SiLL has no direct reports, this inherently adds some agility and fluidity to a rigid structure. Instead, SiLL champions will report directly to the Principal Strategy Officer on the Local Economy Team. 

2. Integration and cohesion

A lot of work has been done in the UK on improving the terms for individuals and groups to take part in society. Many inclusion-based initiatives have either:

1. empowered poor and marginalised people to take advantage of rising opportunities in emerging forms of economies;

or

2. developed ready-made open, ubiquitous and accessible spaces through strategic partnerships. 

SiLL has arrived at a time when many charities and community organisation’s source partnerships with local council for practical and sustainable scalability.

3. Future workforce and economy

Libraries can’t be ignored any longer. My research and fieldwork at IFB Gaming identifies the library as an important and often ignored asset for identifying and engaging the most digitally excluded. 

For instance, IFB Gaming’s online centre partnered with “Find My Charity” and “Southwark libraries” in 2018 to employ the Brandon library’s resources to help local people with digital skills. However, when we arrived at the library, we learned that local people’s need was different – it wasn’t basic digital skills. At Online Centres Network we’ve also manifested the libraries vitality for continued political ‘education and engagement’. This through innovations such as VoiceBox Cafes.

Personally, I’m keen to see how SiLL can:

  1. intersect with higher education institutions to educate and empower the next generation of community advocates and politicians;
  2. improve project selection.

Final word

At IFB Gaming, we work on a day-to-day basis with lots of great community organisations, including libraries, and citizens. 

Following our report, Good Things Foundation is now developing new business development courses for Online Centres Network. The project is supported by organisations such as BT, Lloyds, Google, and the Government’s Equalities Office.

Personally, I’m confident that SiLL will be a powerful example of the role digital can play in addressing social challenges and Bridging The Digital Divide. We look forward to working with the SiLL champions at IFB Gaming’s online centre in Southwark.

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