As more of our everyday lives become digitised, it is increasingly vital to ensure that everyone has access to a digital future. The Oxfordshire Digital Inclusion Project is a collaboration between the University of Oxford and the Oxfordshire County Council Libraries to collect data-driven insights on the digital needs of people who are under- or unconnected to the internet and other digital technologies. Public libraries are increasingly on the front lines of the digital divide, providing essential digital skills training and digital services to people who need connectivity. By documenting and evaluating the digital needs of library patrons, this project works to improve digital assistance programmes for people in Oxfordshire with the aim of making policy recommendations on the digitisation of public services.

About digital inclusion at public libraries

In his 2018 report on poverty in the UK, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights observed that ‘a digital welfare state is emerging’ and ‘the impact on the human rights of the most vulnerable in the UK will be immense.’ As critical government services, such as Universal Credit, become digitised, people on the margins increasingly need digital skills to access their basic rights and perform basic life tasks. Unfortunately, these people are least likely to be online or possess digital skills.

In many places, public libraries have stepped in to help close the digital divide, providing free digital assistance to people who need help acquiring digital literacy and accessing computers and internet connections. Libraries are quietly filling the gap, but their crucial work and the people they serve are still largely invisible in public policy around digitisation. We need to change that.

Project Goals

- Make visible the lived experiences of people who rely on library digital services and the library programmes that are helping people survive in a digital world

- Improve the digital helping scheme at Oxfordshire libraries to better serve library customers

- Recommend policy interventions at county and national government levels regarding digital services and the lived experiences of the digital divide in local communities


This project is funded by the Knowledge Exchange Seed Fund (KCD00042.CX01.01).

Oxford Research Ethics Approval Ref No: R66542/RE001.

Supported by


  • K Allmann and Grant Blank, 'Rethinking digital skills in the era of compulsory computing: methods, measurement, policy and theory' (2021) Information, Communication & Society
    Around the world, digital platforms have become the first – or only – option for many everyday activities. The United Kingdom, for instance, is implementing a ‘digital-by-default’ e-government agenda, which has steadily digitized vital services such as taxes, pensions, and welfare. This pervasive digitization marks an important shift in the relationship between society and computing; people are compelled to use computers and the internet in order to accomplish the basic tasks. We suggest that this era of compulsory computing demands new ways of measuring and theorizing about digital skills, which remain a crucial dimension of the digital divide. In this article, we re-examine the theory and measurement of digital skills, making three contributions to understanding of how digital skills are encountered, acquired, and conceptualized. First, we introduce a new methodology to research skills: participant-observation of novices in the process of learning new skills along with interviews with the people who help them. Our ethnographically informed method leads us to a second contribution: a different theory of skills, which identifies three primary characteristics: (1) sequence, (2) simultaneity, and, most importantly, (3) path abstraction. Third, we argue that these characteristics suggest the need to change current ways skills are measured, and we also discuss the policy implications of this empirically informed theory.