Public learning institutions are to get cheaper access to the Internet. Public libraries, Further Education Colleges and Citizens Advice Bureaux will all benefit from a scheme announced by OFTEL. Telecom operators BT, Kingston, CWC, Telewest, NTL and Energis have all agreed in principle to provide cheaper access. Schools already benefit from lower rate tariffs.
This is a particularly important development for libraries which received 343 million visits in 1998 – an average of six for every member of the population. In a move to further the learning society 270 million pounds is being made available from the New Opportunities Fund to create a Public Libraries IT Network.. The first Â£20million will go on training library staff in IT skills, so that they can offer support and guidance for those who are unfamiliar with the technology. Another Â£50million will be spent on creating new software packages and digital services specifically focused on learning.
A further 470 million pounds from the Capital Modernisation Fund will assist with refurbishment and other costs for establishing IT learning centres, many of which will be in or next to libraries.
By 2002 all libraries are due to be connected to the National Grid for Learning. The Public Library IT Network will complement this service with material focussed on “lifelong learning”. It will enable all public libraries to communicate with each other and with schools.