How the People's Network continues to transform libraries: Main photo above - Slough Central Library pre-People's Network; Inset left - library computers c2002. Inset right - Slough libraries' computers present day.
Twenty years ago a newly published report sowed the seeds of what was to become the People’s Network (PN) of computers in libraries. The project was part of the government agenda to equip the UK for the information age.
Since this time we’ve seen how libraries have developed their services to deliver on this vision, integrating ICT provision into their day-to-day operations. Digging into the archives of Government reports and drawing on the memories of our library customers and Lorensbergs’ staff, we explore what has been the UK’s biggest publicly funded and most successful ICT initiative of its kind.
People’s Network timeline
In October 1997, the Library and Information Commission (LIC) published their report ‘New Library: The People’s Network’. Set up two years previously, LIC had been commissioned by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to produce the report. It made the case for all UK public libraries to be re-equipped and for staff to be reskilled, declaring:
“Libraries must be repositioned as the communications backbone of the information society if the UK is to be a dynamic and competitive force into the next millennium.”
Libraries were considered to be the ideal vehicle to ‘foster the spread of vital new technological skills among the population’. It was stressed that libraries’ values and ethos would not change – technology would simply provide the means to continue in their role.
In April 1998, the Government responded announcing an IT-based public library network would be in place by 2002. The New Opportunities Fund (NOF) was established with £100 million of lottery funding, and by 2001 library authorities were making their bids to bring the PN to their branches.
Reflecting on the early years
The PN roll-out years were witnessed by Lorensbergs’ Richard Terry, netloan Product Manager, while working for Essex Libraries...
To read the complete article, please download the full text available here: The People's Network - 20 years on.
This article first appeared in the Information Professional, November 2017.