Prelog City Library and Reading Room, a small library staffed by just two librarians serving the town of Prelog in Croatia, is making a huge impact across the country with its ‘GEL - Guerrilla Education for Librarians’ programme. GEL is an online safety training programme targeting librarians, with a strong training-of-trainers component enabling librarians who have undergone the training to pass on their knowledge to the communities they serve.
“The COVID-19 lockdowns, when people depended on the internet for almost everything - information, to keep in touch with family and friends, to order groceries, to work, teach and learn - brought home to us the need for online safety training,” explains Maja Lesinger, head of the library.
“As information professionals, we have extensive knowledge of the digital world and digital tools and behaviours. However, our institutional courses for librarians do not cover the most up-to-date online safety topics. We needed to learn about online safety skills ourselves, and then, taking a ‘guerilla education’ approach, to pass them on to others,” said Maja.
Ready-made resources found online
In their hunt for suitable resources, the Prelog librarians found three online training courses, the ‘Data Detox Kit’, ‘Data Detox X Youth’ and ‘What the Future Wants - The Glass Room’. The courses were developed by the Berlin-based non-profit organization, Tactical Tech. “They allowed us to use the courses and related materials as they are under a Creative Commons licence,” said Maja.
The Tactical Tech training courses include guides, materials and resources for trainers and learners. They aim to help people to improve their lives online by taking control of their online privacy and security. Training is interactive and flexible. It works in online, hybrid or face-to-face sessions, and can be adapted to suit the needs of different libraries, communities, age groups and knowledge levels.
The curriculum covers data privacy, and the risks associated with excessive data sharing. Trainees learn to review and adjust privacy settings on their devices and social media platforms. They are encouraged to assess their digital footprint, to delete or deactivate unused accounts and to minimize the data they share when signing up for new services. The training promotes the use of encrypted messaging apps, virtual private networks (VPNs) and browser extensions that enhance security. It emphasises the importance of using strong, unique passwords, and two-factor authentication.
“We translated the training courses and materials from English to Croatian, and our translations are now available on the official webpage of Tactical Tech as well as on our own web pages.
“After learning ourselves, we began offering webinars to librarians working in our national network of 1,800 libraries. “In the beginning there were just two of us doing the webinar training, but after some time a couple of volunteers joined us. They were participants of the GEL training, and they wanted to give back to the community,” said Maja.
The training goes national
Between March 2021 and May 2023, Prelog library trained over 250 public librarians, school librarians and teachers from all over the country.
“Our trainees have reported organizing online safety workshops for almost 1,000 people, mostly members of the general public, including adults, youth and children. They have also trained other librarians and schoolteachers, and say they want to conduct workshops at conferences and at their association meetings.
Martina, aged 30 is a school librarian at a vocational high school in Osijek, 388 km away from Prelog. After undergoing training, she joined the Prelog librarians as a volunteer webinar presenter: “This series of online workshops exceeded my expectations. It was very interesting, useful both for personal use and for further use in a work environment. I have already started to apply some of the new knowledge I have acquired in my work, and I will certainly continue to organize workshops for the students of my school,” she said.
To assess the impact of the online safety training, Prelog library collected feedback from teenagers who took part in their workshops. One question they asked the teenagers was, "What messages do you have for younger children?"
They had some good advice -
“Don’t believe in everything you hear on social media. Don’t judge people on social media.”
“Don’t follow influencers blindly, not everything is as perfect as it seems.”
“Less internet - more spending time together offline!”
“This is guerilla education at its best. We managed to build a strong community of committed people who have specific knowledge and are willing to share it with their communities - and we know they are actually doing it. It’s a great thing to see that we planted the seed and it’s growing and it’s spreading and contributing to the cause of online safety,” said Maja.
- More public and community libraries contributing to online safety in their communities.