Continuing our series by winners of the Chambers Ireland 2021 Excellence in Local Government Awards is Meath County Council, whose Library Service was awarded Best Library Service for the project ‘Laptops for Loan’, aimed at addressing the digital divide compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The initiative began in March 2020 as a Covid-response initiative, funded by Facebook. We wanted to address the digital divide compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic which had caused disproportionate hardship on those students who were disadvantaged or marginalised. The period of school closures was enormously difficult for all school students, but particularly for those who didn’t have access to a suitable device at home for remote learning. For successful remote learning, we knew that phones and tablets were not suitable devices and that what students required was a laptop/desktop computer.
For Phase 1, we identified 5th year and LCA students in Meath’s Post-Primary schools as our main priority. They were ending year one of their two-year senior cycle and had missed a lot of course work. We also understood that there was economic and social disadvantage in all schools, so we took an egalitarian approach by offering each Post Primary school a minimum of 30 laptops to distribute to their students.
With the €809,100 donation from Facebook, whose data centre is based in Clonee, Co. Meath, we planned to purchase around 900 laptops which would support 50% of fifth year and Leaving Certificate Applied students who did not have access to suitable digital devices. The laptops would be loaned to students who needed them for the duration of the pandemic. Meath County Council Library Service, with the invaluable assistance of our IT department, provided the logistical support, procuring the laptops which were delivered directly to the schools who managed their own bespoke set-ups. The school then distributed the laptops to those deemed most affected by social and educational disadvantage.
The initiative was launched in Beaufort College Navan in June 2020 and was further extended to 18 additional Post Primary schools by August 2020. The laptops were also loaned to families with school-going children in Mosney Accommodation Centre.
In Phase 2, we linked in with organisations that work with families and individuals who are economically, socially or educationally disadvantaged. Laptops have gone out on loan to a variety of organisations such as LMETB, National Learning Network, Family Resource Centres, Special Hands and Meath Community Drug & Alcohol Response who host the Meath Strengthening Families Programme.
Jackie Maguire, Chief Executive, Meath County Council, said: “I would like to add my congratulations to everyone involved in achieving this notable award. We are delighted that this project had such a positive impact for students and the wider community in Meath,”
Meath County Librarian, Ciarán Mangan, said: “The support from Facebook meant that we were able to run this project on a far bigger scale than we could ever have imagined or managed with our own resources”.
To date, we have loaned out c.1,000 laptops to Post Primary schools and the various organisations working with the disadvantaged in our community. All schools have renewed their laptop loans until June 2022. It is great to hear about the impact it is having on the ground. We are now extending the project by applying ‘Design Thinking’ principles with a view to supporting library IT services to older persons.