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LIBRARIES WILL REACH OUT TO THE SOCIALLY EXCLUDED IN THE INFORMATION AGE

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Dr Mo Mowlam, minister for the Cabinet Office, today welcomed major new policy research identifying ways in which p...
Dr Mo Mowlam, minister for the Cabinet Office, today welcomed major new policy research identifying ways in which public libraries can contribute to creating a socially inclusive society offering opportunities for all.

Making a keynote speech to the 'Open to all? Libraries and Social Exclusion' conference held at the Library Association, London, Dr Mowlam, who leads the government's team of ministers delivering programmes to reduce social exclusion, said:

'This new report, 'Public library policy and social exclusion', is an important document which will raise awareness of what libraries can do to help tackle social exclusion.

'Libraries have traditionally been at the centre of life in communities all over the UK, places where people of all ages can get information to enrich and extend their education. Increasingly, this will involve the information and communications technologies (ITCs) of the new century which are transforming society.

'The report from policy action team 15 fed into the government's draft National strategy for neighbourhood renewal, was published in March this year. Its findings on ICTs underscore the need to use them to help create a more inclusive society and stress that people who live in poor areas should benefit from these new technologies

rather than being further socially excluded by them. The PAT report also recommended that by 2002 each deprived neighbourhood should have at least one publicly available community based facility located in places where people naturally congregate, for example schools, libraries and community centres.'

Commenting on guidance the government has already published highlighting the role of libraries in this field, Dr Mowlam continued: 'Last year the Department of Culture, Media and Sport produced policy guidance on social inclusion in public libraries for consultation. It recommends that above all libraries should be local learning places with social inclusion at the heart of policy priorities within all library and information services. There are already many libraries doing excellent work and providing services to the socially excluded, for example:

- in rural north-east Leicestershire, the county council's library service runs the Asfordbury Information and Study Centre, located in the Parish Hall, providing local events and services information, internet and library catalogue access, CD Roms, reference books, study and word processing facilities, a job vacancy board,

photocopying and fax facilities. The centre began by opening three half days a week but it has proven so popular that it is now open six days a week;

- Southampton library service has trained ten library staff in basic sign language to communicate more effectively with deaf clients, with the collaboration of local deaf associations;

- Brighton and Hove library service, working with the Sussex Internet Project, has organised free workshops to teach basic internet skills, attracting over 1,000 people with no previous experience of the internet, including many older people.

'I am pleased that the policy research being launched today recognises the great potential of libraries to contribute to a socially inclusive society, and importantly explores proposals to bring about the anticipated changes at both the local and national level to focus services more effectively towards excluded groups.'

Key findings of 'Public library policy and social exclusion are that the public library will need to become far more proactive and interventionist, with a commitment to equality, education and social justice at its core. This will require radical change, by, for example:

- mainstreaming social exclusion within provision, staff recruitment and training and resourcing strategies;

- developing a community based approach which targets excluded social groups and communities, links in culturally with them and which works in real partnership with them;

- seizing the opportunities presented by ICT to actively focus on the needs of the most excluded people.

The report proposes wide action on national and local levels to bring about these anticipated changes.

Dr Mowlam concluded: 'Libraries have a place in our commitment to narrow the gaps between those who are deprived and excluded and the rest of society. They have historically been places of learning and education. They need to be a part of the revolution in information and education, as is highlighted in today's report, which will do so much to expand opportunity and extend inclusivity to all.'

'This report being launched today takes the social inclusion agenda further and I am delighted to see that it reflects much of the Government's thinking on social exclusion. We are working in the same direction, with the same goals...to increase the life chances of people living in deprived areas and one of the key ways of doing so, by increasing access to information and learning, via our public library network.'

NOTES

1. 'Open to all? libraries and social exclusion' is a conference to report the findings of the Re:source (the Council for Museums, Libraries and Archives, formerly the separate Library and Information Commission and the Museums and Galleries Commission) funded research project 'Public library policy and social exclusion'.

The project was based at Leeds Metropolitan University, in partnership with Merton LBC and Sheffield City Council libraries.

2. One of the key ideas in the draft National strategy for neighbourhood renewal, launched for consultation on 12 April 2000, talks of local libraries being used as learning centres to offer first-rung courses to make adult skills a priority by getting people back into learning. The consultation document is available on the

World Wide Web: http://www.cabinet-office.gov.uk/seu/index/national_strategy.htm

3. In 1999 DCMS published policy guidance for library authorities in England, 'Libraries for all: social inclusion in public libraries', recognising that libraries could play a crucial role in helping to combat social exclusion, with the aim of encouraging library authorities to adopt a strategic approach to social inclusion.

The policy guidance set out a range of recommendations to develop the library service to be at the heart of the communities they serve, enabling everyone to have access to the widest possible range of information, knowledge and services and to play a major role in supporting formal education and lifelong learning for all. This guidance was open for consultation until recently.

4. DCMS also produced in May of this year policy guidance on social inclusion across the range of Re:source members, 'Centres for social change: museums, galleries and archives for all' and the consultation period for this runs to 31 July. Once this process has been concluded, DCMS will review both the libraries and museums policies

in the light of responses and make an announcement in due course.

5. Both these documents are available on the DCMS web site. The full

reference is http://www.culture.gov.uk/heritage/index_flash.html

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