Headlines: March 2nd, 2005

Public library staff across the UK have been given ICT training and are using new skills to improve library services, according to a study by the Tavistock Institute. It looks at the impact of the training on all 40,000 staff.The twenty million pound training programme has been carried out as part of the People’s Network, the national project set up to link all 4,200 public libraries to the Internet. The Tavistock Institute study says this has led to what it calls ‘a paradigm shift for public libraries’ driven by the introduction of new technology.

The report highlights the way the Network has helped to shape new professional roles for library staff and new possibilities for the future of libraries. It says that while the current library service focuses on the individual and the transmission of information with the user is a consumer, new technology offers the chance to extend libraries’ role as a broader social exchange mechanism. ICT, the study says, can be used as a tool in e-government services, life-long learning initiatives and civil society.

It believes these changes will have a profound impact on the library workforce, who will need a range of skills and capabilities in the future if they are to be effective. ICT training is just one step towards the changes that are needed but, says the study, it is already having an impact on both on staff and library users. The authors say the training has led to a marked increase in staff self-confidence and the sense of professionalism. Staff are passing on the benefits of the training, helping public library users to understand and navigate the Internet and providing access to a range of online services. The study says staff now provide one-to-one assistance to users, run user IT training and taster sessions, create publicity materials, respond to reference enquiries, and run homework clubs and reader development activities.

Chris Batt, Chief Executive of the Museums and Libraries Association, said the People’s Network had been a catalyst for change in the way libraries served their communities, and staff were at the heart of that change. The training was part of a major transformation for libraries and as the vision and values of library services evolved, a degree of cultural change would also be necessary.