Charging and Networked Services
By Ian Everall, Walsall Library & Information Services, and Sarah Ormes, UKOLN, on behalf of EARL, the Library Association and UKOLN
Why is charging an issue for networked services?
Networked services are a recent development in public libraries and, consequently, are not covered in the 1964 Public Library and Museums Act which states which public library services must by law be provided free . However, the 1989 Charging Regulations  do not prohibit charging for computer-based services except for access to the library catalogue. This has led to a situation where individual authorities are making different decisions about whether to charge or not for networked services. Therefore, there is considerable inconsistency across the country in the provision of networked services.
The situation is further complicated by New Library: The Peoples Network  which is committed to the principle of equity of access across the country. This principle is not matched by a consensus in charging practice at the moment.
Charging is a confusing issue and needs to balance the reality of limited funds, the aspirations of equitable access, and differing local circumstances. Similarly, there is a lack of clarity in demonstrating the relationship between network costs and charges, and benefits to end users of the services.
For most library authorities, this issue has emerged in the context of charges for access to the Internet. However, as information services develop the issue will need to be addressed across a wider range of services as libraries subscribe to reference databases, electronic journals, and other services. This means that, in the medium term, libraries may have to develop a strategy which preserves equitable access to resources while returning appropriate revenues to providers. They will also need to develop access models for this material, addressing, inter alia, issues surrounding authentication of users, charge collection, site licensing models, and so on. While we are aware of this wider context, we limit our attention here to the immediate question of charging policies in the current environment.
Which networked services are currently being charged for?
The most recent statistics show that
Public access to the Internet is the networked service which is most typically charged for. Charges for Internet access can be calculated from per 15 minute period to per hour. Other library authorities may provide the first hour of access free and then charge for any additional time. Additional charges may also be made for printing, downloading material and using e-mail services. The cost to the end user of these additional services again varies greatly with some authorities providing them free.
The current national policy context
In 1997 New Library: The People's Network detailed a public library network to which all public libraries would be connected. Public Libraries would provide a considerable number of services over this network and through it would connect to the Internet. This vision was widely accepted in the profession and further explored in Building the New Library Network, , the follow up report. The Creating Content section in Building the New Library Network was written to advise the New Opportunities Fund (NOF) on the priorities for the £50 million content creation programme which public libraries qualify to apply for and the eligibility criteria for individual projects funded under this programme.
The guidelines for applying for this programme make it clear that any content created with New Opportunities Fund resources should be made freely available at the point of use and not charged for. This will make charging for networked services even more confusing as a blanket fee for all networked access will become increasingly difficult to maintain.
The report also encourages the development of value-added services which may be charged for. Section 17 of Building the New Library Network, outlines potential third-party revenue opportunities, and identifies charges on the user or provider of the service as one potential source of such revenue, alongside others such as advertising.
Appendix 12 of Building the New Library Network outlines network service specifications to meet the New Library requirements. This sets out a typical service specification that includes e.g. definition of terms, service specifications, service-level agreements, charges and staff requirements.
In respect of charges it says:
Building the New Library Network recognises that charges are a legitimate element of the funding model for value-added services and promotes basic free access to resources at the same time.
The Government is also committed to delivery of the New Library and the wider contribution it sees public libraries can make to its vision for a lifelong learning society. It is committed to an inclusive society and therefore strongly endorses the principle of equity of access. The resources the Government is making available to create the New Library underpins this commitment. However, it has made clear the issue of access (and therefore the issue of charging) is an issue that must be determined locally . The challenge to public library authorities therefore is to create a charging framework that supports delivery of the New Library rather than constrains it. This is further explored in A Framework for Charging, later in this paper.
Arguments for and against charging
The following section looks at some of the arguments for and against charging for networked services. An excellent reference source in this area can be found in an article by Peter R. Young .
REASONS TO CHARGE
Decreasing revenue budgets
Charging fees increases public recognition in the value and importance of libraries
Provides consumers with flexibility to choose
Fees help to sustain the service
Fees help to regulate consumption
Fees encourage a better understanding of the financial limitations of local government
REASONS NOT TO CHARGE
Libraries are a public good
Equity of access
Social costs of failing to communicate information
Maximises options to position the role of the library within the vision for a lifelong learning society
Free service is public libraries unique selling point
Short term gains = long term losses
A framework for charging
Irrespective of whether a public library authority chooses to charge for networked services it is important that it has developed a charging policy. This policy must be justifiable to the librarys users and be informed by the developing national policy context.
The following framework for charging is a suggested tool which can be used to help develop these policies. It draws heavily on the use of Public Library Plans which were introduced by the Government in 1998 as a tool to help oversee the delivery of statutory library services and to provide access to structured information to assess how local library services are doing nationally against broader objectives. These plans provide a natural framework around which local charging policies and practices can be developed.
The following proposed framework is therefore rooted in the Public Library Plan. It considers how it could be applied to inform local approaches to charging and how this may be shared and disseminated to the wider public library community. By answering the questions raised in the nine key areas identified in the framework an authority will be able to develop an informed charging policy.
Charging policy framework
Setting local charging policy within the above framework would produce:
If library authorities were prepared to place this work in the public domain via the Networked Services Policy Task Group web site, then the opportunity exists nationally to create:
This issue paper has endeavoured to provide a current overview of the issue of charging and networked services. The situation is extremely confusing and not easy to resolve. What is important is that each authority is both able to justify its current charging policy for networked services and is aware of the national policy context in which it operates and which may significantly impact upon the way it provides networked services.
 1964 Public Library and Museums Act
 Section 154 of the Local Government & Housing Act 1989, Charges: Library Services
 Library and Information Commission (1997). New Library: The Peoples Network. Library and Information Commission: London. Available at
 Batt, C. (1998) Information Technology in Public Libraries. Library Association: London
Networked Services Policy Taskgroup Survey
Library and Information Commission (1998). Building the New Library Network. Library and Information Commission: London. Available at
 Reponse by Mark Fisher M.P., then Minister of the Arts, to a question on charging and networked services asked at the WM Regional Library Telematics Conference, June 1998.
 Changing Information Access Economics: New Roles for Libraries and Librarians, Peter R. Young, Information Technology and Libraries, June 1994, pp.103-114
Other relevant resources
Further information, including feedback from an EARL seminar on charging held in Westminster in February 1999, is available to EARL Partners at
EARL networked services policy taskgroup web site