The People's Network
97. The People's Network is a lottery-funded programme
which was established to provide ICT learning facilities in all
UK libraries and to train library staff in ICT skills. The project
was funded with £120 million from the New Opportunities Fund
and is managed by MLA. £2.5 million was also donated by the
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to MLA in 1999 for the provision
of information technology learning centres in public libraries.
The implementation and roll-out was timed to coincide with the
completion of the People's Network.
Through the People's Network all public libraries now provide
access to the internet and online services with trained library
staff on hand to assist.
98. The People's Network has received significant
plaudits on its success in meeting the Government's target for
achieving universal internet access in the UK. The Network has
also been credited with reversing the decline in library visits
as well as broadening the 'user base'.
We applaud its introduction as a way of giving as many people
as possible the opportunity to use the internet and e-mail and
see what all the fuss is about. This introduction to ICT will
close the technological illiteracy gap for some by giving people
everywhere the chance to learn to use this technological tool
which has fast become so fundamental in the apparatus of learning
99. We heard one or two voices of dissent that drew
our attention to the costs of implementing the Network; the potential
for its use to be limited, in practice, to the playing of games
and swapping of gossip by young people unsupervised by adults;
and the potential disruption of traditional library activities
by the introduction of computers.
There was an overwhelming majority of opinion, however, backed
up by evaluation of the Network, that the initiative was a success
and has broadened the base of users in a majority of libraries.
There was also a majority amongst our witnesses, including the
Government's own advisory panel, that believed that the service
should be provided free at the point of use and that this should
be the subject of a national library standard.
100. We note that the following library authorities
have elected to impose a charge for this service: