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SMITH UNDERLINES COMMITMENT TO PUBLIC LIBRARIES IT NETWORK

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The Government will help public libraries across the country to make full use of information technology to encourag...
The Government will help public libraries across the country to make full use of information technology to encourage lifelong learning and educational services for everyone, culture secretary Chris Smith said yesterday.

'We will make a substantial contribution to kickstart this initiative and ensure its ongoing success,' he said.

In conjunction with the secretaries of state for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland he published Government's response to the Library and Information Commission's (LIC) report 'New Library: The People's Network'.

The Government will:

- ensure that #50 million of National Lottery money is made available through the New Opportunities Fund for digitisation of educational and learning material, much of it held in public libraries; the material will support the Government's proposed National Grid for Learning to which libraries, schools and other institutions will be connected;

- ensure that #20 million of lottery money is provided for training all the UK's 27,000 library staff in IT skills;

- establish an LIC committee to act as a focal point for implementing a public library IT network throughout the UK to provide expert advice, leadership and co-ordination, develop a technical specification, and consider how industry can best be challenged to

provide network services;

- in addition, in England the Government will provide #6 million pump-priming investment over the next two years through the DCMS/Wolfson Public Libraries Challenge Fund to support 'Libraries of

the Future'.

Mr Smith said:

'Public libraries play a vital social, economic and educational role in the daily life of the nation. They are among our best loved public services, used by ten million every fortnight. The development of IT provides new opportunities for them to deliver better services to more customers to complement their core book services. Making sure that library users have access to ever wider storehouses of knowledge and information through new communications technology is of enormous importance for the future.

'The Government wholly endorses the objectives for the public libraries IT network set out by the LIC. It will do all it can to create the conditions required to ensure success. Our proposals today will allow libraries to make the 'IT shift' necessary for this change to happen.

'Public libraries hold the key to ensuring that we don't end up as a divided information society, with some citizens having access to knowledge through their home computer systems, and other left behind.

Libraries can help to put the balance right, to make access available to all, and to remove the veil of mystery that hides the value of new technology from too many people at present.

'The key to success in providing these opportunities lies in creating partnerships between the private sector, local authorities and Government. Our aims and ambitions for the libraries network are challenging and will not be easy. But the prize of a reinvigorated public library service will make the journey worthwhile.'

Notes

1. A copy of the response is being sent to each public library authority in the UK. Further copies are available from the Stationary

Office, quoting Command Paper 3887.

2. The response is also available on the Department's website, www.culture.gov.uk.

3. 'New Library: The People's Network' was published by the Library and Information Commission in October 1997 and is also available on the website at www.ukoln.ac.uk/services/lic/newlibrary.

4. National Lottery funding for content creation and for training librarians will be provided by the New Opportunities Fund (NOF), the new lottery good cause for health, education and the environment proposed by the National Lottery Bill now before Parliament. Subject to Parliamentary approval, the NOF will make available further details on how to apply for funding in due course.

5. The DCMS/Wolfson Challenge Fund first ran in 1997/98 and part of its remit was to enable libraries to develop innovative IT-based approaches to delivering services. #3 million was provided to 30 projects across England.

6. The Government today published a policy statement, 'Our Information Age', setting out an action programme to work with industry, the voluntary sector and public services to maximise the potential benefit from IT developments. The document also sets out a range of other initiatives including IT for All, University for Industry, and the National Grid for Learning.

7. The full text of 'Our Information Age' is available on the new

10 Downing Street website, launched by the Prime Minister yesterday, at http:// www.number- ten.gov.uk, and from the Department for Trade and Industry.

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