British Columbia Library Association

POVNET: Community. Compassion. Change. Confidence. Commitment.

By Jane Watkins

PovNet-community

For the past year and a half I have had the privilege of representing BCLA on the Board of Directors of PovNet and thought it time to share out some information about this most remarkable organization with which we are associated.

What is PovNet?

PovNet is a non-profit organization that provides online tools to facilitate communication, community and access to information about poverty and related issues. It is designed for anti-poverty and legal advocates, community workers, individuals, and those looking for information that affects marginalized communities. It is a place to access legal information about welfare, housing, employment, debt and other poverty law areas. It provides links to anti-poverty issues, organizations and resources. It moderates email lists where individuals can seek and receive advice and benefit from the experiences of their colleagues in the field across the province. It encourages sharing of best practices and resources, and offers online courses to facilitate learning about complex poverty law issues.

Founded in 1997, PovNet was the brainchild of the anti-poverty and legal advocacy communities who recognized the power of the emerging email and internet technology and the power of advocates working together and sharing resources. PovNet was born and transformed their work.

Today, PovNet is recognized as a key community development tool in the area of poverty. It has been described by many legal advocates, working in isolated communities as their “lifeline”.  Hundreds of individuals participate on the email lists and thousands access the website each month and many more participate in the online courses. PovNet has grown to be the centre of some of the most systemic discussions and campaigns related to poverty in BC.

From the beginning, libraries have been active participants in the development and work of PovNet. The Library Services Branch was an early funder of the network. BCLA has been a long standing member of the Board of Directors with Nancy Hannam and Beth Davies both holding multiple year appointments.

Over the past 22 years, the issues that those living in poverty are facing have remained fairly consistent.  povnet-NickyPhotoWhat is changing significantly is the way the public is required to access services and resources. Whether it is applying for welfare benefits, fighting an eviction notice, enforcing their rights on the job, or appealing a decision they disagree with, there is less opportunity to deal with these issues face to face with someone who can assist with the process. Instead people are having to do this online by themselves.  This requires having access to computer equipment (often including a scanner and printer), the ability to navigate the site and use the technology, and the knowledge specific to the legal issue at hand. This can be extremely difficult and is often a barrier to accessing service and resources.

Today, libraries continue to have a critical role to play in assisting advocates and those living with poverty. They offer safe space, access to computers and the internet and expertise in assisting those seeking information. It is time for advocates and library staff to connect and explore further how we can work together.

Nicky Dunlop, Executive Co-ordinator of PovNet invites the library community to attend the session “How community librarians and advocates can work together to better help those living in poverty” at the BC Library Conference May 8-10. PovNet and Courthouse Libraries BC will be addressing issues around technology based services. Come and join in a collaborative discussion on ways community librarians and poverty law advocates can work together to support those living in poverty, access and navigate online legal information services.  Let’s plan a future where we join forces to work towards removing barriers in access to justice. 

Curious? Check out the PovNet website, www.povnet.org and explore its richness. If you are interested in learning more about the tools PovNet offers to advocates and front line workers like yourself, Nicky would love to talk to you more about it. She can be reached at nicky@povnet.org. Better yet join us at our BCLA Conference session.  See you there!

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