Libraries are turning over a new page by introducing information technology (IT) facilities to open up access to new sources of information and to the Internet.
Exciting plans to transform public libraries in Scotland were announced yesterday by Donald Dewar, secretary of state for Scotland.
In conjunction with the secretaries of state for Culture, Wales and Northern Ireland, Mr Dewar published the Government's response to the Library and Information Commission's report 'New Library: The People's Network.'
'The public library service in Scotland was born out of a desire for knowledge and learning, and for well over 100 years they have provided ready access to an enormous wealth of resources. We like our libraries - nearly 60 per cent of us use them regularly - and from childhood to adulthood they support formal learning for all sectors of the community.
'The Government believes that it is now time to develop public libraries' key role in lifelong learning by seriously embracing the new technologies. This does not mean that they should abandon their traditional and popular printed book services which local authorities have maintained to such high standards over the years. But many local authorities have already taken steps to introduce information technology (IT) facilities in their libraries, opening up access to new sources of information and to the Internet, and we have already demonstrated our support for their initiative by providing a challenge fund of 250,000 for IT pilot projects in local libraries.
'The Government wishes to see these facilities available in all public libraries to create an IT network throughout the UK. We therefore fully endorse the objectives set out in the Library and Information Commission's report.
'Achievement of these objectives will depend to a great extent on the local authorities and the private sector, but we are determined to help get this initiative off to a flying start by making a total of£70 million of national lottery money available for two essential preparatory steps:
£20 million to train all the UK's public library staff in IT skills; and
£50 million to convert into digitised form education and learning materials held largely in public libraries.
'Through these start-up measures and the roll-out of the IT network, public libraries will form a cornerstone of the Government's lifelong learning initiatives such as the National Grid for Learning and the University for Industry.
'The Government's response to the LIC report recognises that there are still technical, financial and legal issues to be resolved. These issues will be addressed by a new implementation group under the LIC, on which Scottish interests will be represented. I shall also be looking to COSLA and the Scottish Library and Information Council for co- operation and advice on how this major and exciting initiative should be taken forward.
'As a first step, I am distributing the Government's response widely within every local authority, as well as to a number of library and education organisations. I would welcome positive and constructive contributions from all of them on the development of the public libraries IT network. Present and future generations deserve nothing less.'
1. Public library services are the responsibility of the local authorities which have a statutory duty to ensure the provision of adequate library services for all the residents in their areas.
2. The Library and Information Commission published its report 'New Library: The People's Network' in October 1997. Scottish interests in the working group which produced the report were represented by the Director of the Scottish Library & Information Council. The report provided a framework for transforming public libraries and what they do, and set out the technical, resource and financial basis for establishing an information network throughout the UK. The report is available on the Website: www.ukoln.ac.uk/services/lic/new library. 3. The Government's response to the LIC report is being sent to the Chief Executive, Head of Library Services and Head of Education Departments in every local authority in Scotland, and also to COSLA and library and education interests. The response is also available on the Website: www.culture.gov.uk.