Web Magazine for Information Professionals

The People's Library

Lyndon Pugh discusses the latest noises from government over public library networking and life-long learning.

As this issue goes to print, the response to New Library: the People’s Network [1] is awaited. At the same time, David Blunkett has recently made a statement which can only add to the interest in the topics covered by the LIC proposals.

The green paper The Learning Age [2] in some ways pulls together a number of issues dealt with in the Dearing [3] and Kennedy [4] reports and in New Library: the People’s Network. While we do not yet know what the response to this latter document will be, responses to the other publications were published alongside the new green paper. In the press release, David Blunkett referred among other things to “a programme of measures which link new, practical means of delivering learning with the mechanisms for giving individuals both expectations and choice. Building on existing expectations and excellence, we offer through the University for Industry and digital and interactive communication together with individual learning accounts a new approach to learning in the 21st century….The use of computers, the Internet and digital technology allow us to bring learning closer and more conveniently placed for the needs of the learner, at home, at work and where people spend their leisure time as well as in more traditional centres of learning, colleges and universities.” Local libraries are specifically mentioned as centres where technology will be available, and the response to The People’s Network ought to mesh with the thinking in the green paper. So what can we hope for?

On an inside page of this issue, Mel Collier goes on record with his view that the UK will soon get an integrated superhighway pulling together a public library network, Janet and Superjanet, the National Grid for Learning and other developments. If Blunkett’s vision is to be realised, this will be an essential outcome of The People’s Network, and other things will also be important.

The network is clearly going to be crucial, and it is to be hoped that the response to The People’s Network will pick up the report’s sections covering infrastructure, implementation and evaluation. The willingness to attach costs, albeit provisional, and the proposals for proper and exhaustive programmes of research were welcome aspects of the proposals, and should satisfy the technocrats and accountants.

Some focussing on the skills issue will also be important. It is a little worrying that some apparently unconventional access points will be used for the University of Industry on the grounds that they are more welcoming than colleges. Let us hope that as skills like net navigating will not remain exclusive to librarians the skills monopoly will not be lost. cartoon illustration Users will not come to information services as technological neophytes and one of the worrying things about The People’s Network was that there was little in the services detailed in the report, and in the illustrative scenarios, which could not eventually be done outside a library and without the intervention of a librarian. The press release of the 25th February indicated that most of the major recommendations of the Dearing committee would be accepted, and there was specific reference to the new Institute of Learning and Teaching. This might be a good place to start providing for the new skills librarians will need, and also to tackle the huge task of the new approaches required for training in the use of electronic sources. The People’s Network is a judicious mix of radicalism, caution and vision. It is conscious of the human dimension of technological change, and there is a section on achieving the right balance in user issues. It is to be hoped that the response will hold to this, and to the principle of free provision of information at the point of use which was enshrined in the document.

How the government reacts to The People’s Network will weave the last threads into a tapestry of proposals for opening up access to education. Information services, public and academic, conventional and electronic or digital, have a part to play which has not always been clearly articulated by all of the reports which have appeared during the last year. Nevertheless, with the Dearing Report, Learning Works (the Kennedy Report), Prospects: a Strategy for Action and the green paper The Learning Age, we have a corpus of proposals which will allow information services to play a full part in creating “fair and accessible learning opportunities …for all our people.”


[1] New Library: the People’s Network. LIC 1997

[2] The Learning Age. DfEE 1998
Press release http://www.coi.gov.uk/coi/depts/GDE/coi8169d.ok

[3]Higher Education in the Learning Society (Dearing Committee). HMSO 1997

[4]Learning Works (Kennedy Committee). FEFC 1997
Summary produced by NIACE http://www.niace.org.uk/Organisation/advocacy/kennedybriefing.htm

Author details

Lyndon Pugh,
Ariadne Managing Editor,
Email: lyndon@pewter.u-net.com