Conference logo Networked Information in an International Context


9th and 10th February 1996 at the Ramada Hotel, Heathrow, UK


PHILIPPA DOBSON Public Libraries Network Adviser, LA/EARL/UKOLN

This account was drafted for this report by The Marc Fresko Consultancy. It is based on notes taken during the presentation, slides used, and a paper supplied by the speaker.


For over one hundred and fifty years public libraries have been providing information to citizens in a friendly, open door environment. The new superhighways have accelerated technological change and development of new and exciting information resources. To help citizens to take advantage of the consequent opportunities, public libraries need investment from the private and public sectors to create an infrastructure of a Millennium Citizen Information Network. As a first step, the Library Association has put forward a proposal to the United Kingdom Millennium Commission for funding for the initial development of a nation-wide infrastructure so that public/private partnerships can support national resource sharing and content creation. Project EARL, a consortium of public libraries developing Electronic Access to Resources in Libraries, is a key partner in the bid. With the aim of supporting lifelong learning, business development and community, cultural and government services, the Library Association and the EARL projects seek to empower the Millennium Citizen to participate fully and actively in the emerging technological democracies in Great Britain, Europe and beyond.


The Millennium Citizen Network will be a virtual, rather than physical, monument to the Millennium - but in providing equality of access to information superhighways for every citizen in the twenty-first century, it will have a very tangible and lasting impact.

The project will be initiated by the development of resource sharing and network services between public library authorities.


Public libraries are used by more people more of the time than any other comparable institution. It is estimated that over 60% of the population of the United Kingdom are regular library users. As Ken Worpole put it in Towns for People (OUP 1992):

"... the central library remained the key cultural institution ... where one could find a genuine cross-section of people by age, class and ethnic origin."

This, backed by a hundred and fifty year tradition of providing free access to information services - with, now, publicly available print and electronic resources - puts public libraries in an unparalleled position to give universal access to knowledge.

That universality will necessarily involve access to resources of all libraries. The major obstacle to this goal is in the level of electronic interconnection. Survey findings in the Public Libraries Review revealed that:

"53% of all public libraries have some kind of Internet connection, but this is a very limited form of connection, both in terms of penetration and type of access" (Library and Information Commission Public Library Internet Survey, UKOLN, 1995).

The position is exacerbated by local bias. Again, the Public Libraries Review reported:

"... many library authorities drew attention to innovations they had pioneered or developed as a "flagship" service, (but) there was an apparent reluctance to take up initiatives they had not initiated."

Millennium project funding would be directly channelled to counter this low level of interconnection and low use of network services.


The Millennium Commission intends to support at least a dozen very major projects across the United Kingdom. Up to £50 million per project will be made available, but this will have to be matched pound-for-pound by funds from public and private sectors or from other funding bodies, such as

Another potential source would be by generation of revenue, though in its Final Report, the Review of the Public Library Service in England and Wales, undertaken in 1995 for the Department of National Heritage, notes that:

"About two in five users tend to favour charging, but it is worth noting that the combined totals for council tax, a special library fund and income tax or VAT exceed the proportion favouring charging. In other words, public sector sources taken together attract more support than charging."

Other possible sources within the libraries sphere, although they can be given a direct value, are not strictly allowable as matched funding. They include the creation of assets with national content and statutory provision of sources. Qualification for funding will also require evidence of long term viability of the project.


The deadline for the completion of the Proposal Form was December 8th 1995 and the Application Form has to be submitted by 12th February 1996. An appraisal from Technical/Financial/Commissioner viewpoints by the end of April 1996 will lead to a long listing. This gives a strong indication that, subject to technical adjustments, the project will be accepted, but it obviously does not guarantee success.

The next step is a detailed appraisal, followed by shortlisting. Final acceptance will lead to the payment of the requested grant.


The initiative is an umbrella project (using SUSTRANS as a model) controlling many projects for the national co-ordination of public libraries networking.


The infrastructure has to take into account:

It has, as a guide, the observation by the Public Libraries Review that:

"Infrastructure investment should be made to link central, branch and mobile public libraries and new access points throughout England and Wales to the information superhighways through broadband cable on Integrated Services Digital Network ISDN connections. The links should provide rapid access to on-line databases and regionally based CD-ROM collections."

Accordingly the infrastructure will have to support:

British Telecom Model

A typical type of interconnection would be that of the British Telecom connected rural/urban model to link the County of Norfolk and the City of Birmingham, to provide information on data, traffic, applications, addresses telephone numbers and opening hours.

It is based on SMDS switched multi-megabit core technology to establish seamless automatic connection, on a "virtual" network, at the speed of the slowest link, so that any library in any authority will have access to all of the resources of any other library in the designated areas.

The backbone of the network consists of 0.5Mbit/2.0Mbit/4.0Mbit/10.0Mbit/SMDS access points. Links from the libraries will be via ISDN2 (Integrated Services Digital Network) or Kilostream; links within libraries will use an Ethernet LAN.


The principal participants are:

EARL, Electronic Access to Resources in Libraries, was the first public libraries networking initiative, demonstrating a bottom-up approach to infrastructure. It involves 41 public library authorities and is funded by subscription and by the British Library Research and Development Department. It encompasses:

Further information is available from


The project will support Public Library Authority development. Its EARL and UKOLN derived framework and linking initiatives will promote:


Essentially this covers the short term, February to April 1996, ensuring that the project is prepared with:

Finally, the Public Libraries Review once more encapsulates the way forward that the project represents: "Library authorities should retain the option to levy charges for new added value services. However, we believe that there is a case for allowing uncharged access to Internet or World Wide Web sources that are essentially free - that is, available at no more than the cost of local calls to telecommunications nodes."

The importance of universal access to knowledge for the citizen of the twenty-first century cannot be overstated. Nor can there be a better monument to the Millennium than the means by which it can be created.


Further information is available by e-mail from

British Library R&D Report 6250
© The British Library Board 1996
© Joint Information Systems Committee of the Higher Education Funding Bodies 1996

The opinions expressed in this report are those of the contributors and not necessarily those of the sponsoring organisations.


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It may also be purchased as photocopies or microfiche from the British Thesis Service, British Library Document Supply Centre, Boston Spa, Wetherby, West Yorkshire, LS23 7BQ.

This report of the conference was prepared by The Marc Fresko Consultancy Telephone +44 181 645 0080 E-mail

Converted to HTML by Isobel Stark of UKOLN, July 1996