It’s only a few weeks to go now until we reach an important anniversary. October 15th marks 20 years since a proposal for providing a network of public access computers was first published in a DCMS commissioned report: New Library: The People’s Network.
Today, public libraries the length and breadth of the UK provide a total of over 40,000 PCs for their customers’ free use. It’s an essential piece of infrastructure that millions rely on each year for getting online. While it may have lacked wider recognition over recent years, its users and the staff that support it regard the People’s Network as a vital public service, and one that many would be quite lost without.
In our recent customer research which surveyed over half of all public library authorities, 80% agreed that the People’s Network is an ‘essential’ resource, with the rest rating it as ‘very important’. 70% of libraries reported stable or increasing public PC usage in 2016.
While these statistics are useful for evidencing the continuing importance of the People’s Network, they don’t provide the insight for really understanding what it’s all about. For this you need first-hand accounts from the library staff themselves. This is what we’ve gathered together in our book Short Stories from the People’s Network which comprises 10 public library authorities’ experiences of providing computers to the public. To download the ebook version, please click here.
Thanks to CILIP’s support, we were able to publish and launch the book in July at their annual conference. The book received a warm reception for highlighting the importance of this national resource and has prompted a very positive response. For example, at Wakefield Libraries, print policy has been altered to enable jobseekers to print their CVs free of charge. As covered in one of the book's chapters, jobseekers are using the libraries' computers supported by a careers advisor from Next Generation youth and community organisation. They had been printing their CVs elsewhere but can now enjoy free CV printing in the library and so save valuable time.
Since the book's publication, the body of evidence on the continuing importance of library computers just keeps growing! Not least, the upcoming anniversary has given us all the opportunity to reflect on how the People’s Network has changed libraries – and people’s lives – with some new and inspiring input (and photos!) from a number of library authorities. A big thank you to everyone who has taken part.
The photo at the top of this blog is from Slough Libraries Authority, taken last decade soon after introducing the public computers to their main library - thank you for digging this out! And here's an account from Simon Warren, Services Team Leader, at Staffordshire Libraries. Simon was involved with the initial roll out of the People’s Network at Staffordshire and recollects how the new service was first received. He also describes what it means for customers today. To read Simon’s account, please click here.
Watch this space for further ‘stories’ on what the People’s Network represents for library users and their communities in this important landmark year. And wishing you all the best in your preparations and plans for national Libraries Week, taking place 9 – 14 October.