Public Libraries Playing Crucial Role In Bridging The Digital Divide
The key role of public libraries in opening up free online access and providing support to help people get online is highlighted in a new research report.
A new survey has highlighted the extent free internet access is available to the public in libraries throughout England, during the day, in the evening and at weekends. The research, conducted by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) highlights the crucial role public libraries play in supporting the delivery of the national digital priorities set out by the Government and the Digital Champion, Martha Lane Fox.
Heads of library service, library managers and IT specialists from 112 local authorities in England took part in identifying the extent of available internet access; support for people to get online; and digital training of library staff.
The report, prepared by CFE on behalf of the MLA, confirmed that 79 per cent of library services in English Local Authorities do not charge for internet access at all and a further 12 per cent do not make any charge for the first hour (91per cent in total). There is an average of 762 hours of internet access available across all libraries in a Local Authority area per week. Nearly all Local Authorities (98 per cent) provide this access in the evening and at weekends with over half (59 per cent) providing internet access on Sundays.
Nearly three-quarters (72 per cent) of library services have provided digital training to their frontline staff to support them in their core role of providing both one-to-one and group support to library users to help them get online.
Library staff members provide most of the one-to-one support. Three-quarters (75 per cent) of English Library authorities offer one to one support from frontline staff. Third parties are used by four in ten (44 per cent) local authorities and volunteers are used by one-third (34 per cent) of local authorities.
Respondents estimated that they offer an average of 121 average hours for both group and one to one support.
Library services are particularly skilled at supporting older people to get online who are offered one-to-one support to get online by an estimate of 64 per cent of Local Authorities.
People are also supported to get online in libraries to improve their employability – 86 per cent of library services report that they provide support to the unemployed to get online with 76 per cent supporting online job-searches, 71 per cent supporting through CV writing and 63 per cent offering short courses that help the unemployed their ICT skills.
MLA Chief Executive, Roy Clare said: "The 24/7 public library service is with us now and is growing steadily; people want to be able to order books and acquire information at times that suit their busy lives. These results confirm that neighbourhood libraries are helping people improve their confidence and develop their digital skills; this is particularly of benefit to the 15 million people without internet access in their homes. Free internet access is provided by all ‘best practice’ library services. Training and guidance is available too, often in conjunction with UK Online, our professional partners. MLA is committed to assisting library services to develop their capacity in the field of on-line and digital technologies.”