A CONFERENCE ORGANISED BY UKOLN IN ASSOCIATION WITH
THE BRITISH LIBRARY, CNI, CAUSE AND JISC
9th and 10th February 1996 at the Ramada Hotel, Heathrow, UK
This account was prepared for this report by The Marc Fresko Consultancy. It is based on edited and merged versions of papers and slides supplied by the speakers.
IT POINT is about bringing the benefits of IT to the community, and to create a vision of the public branch library of the 21st century. The project involved the installation of PCs with a wide range of facilities for public use into a branch library. This paper describes the aims of the project, the implications for the public library service, and community involvement and awareness. Statistical details of usage are provided, and the paper concludes with a glimpse into the future for IT POINT and information networking in public libraries.
IT POINT is within Chelmsley Wood Library, a large branch library situated in the North of Solihull, to the East of Birmingham. It is the second largest library in the borough, serving a community of about 24,000 with a collection of some 60,000 items.
IT POINT is a part of the public library. It contains facilities for members of the public to book and pay for the use of one of six PCs to access a range of facilities. The facilities include:
Customers can use training packages to learn how to use software packages at their own pace.
IT POINT is not only a fully functioning service but also a research project funded by The British Library Research and Development Department. The research nature is illustrated by the fact that the service was originally free when opened in August 1994. Charges were introduced in October 1995, to test ways of sustaining the project, and are likely to stay. The project has been an opportunity to provide public library managers with a well-tested model which can be adapted to their own services. Its present funding from the BL R&DD ends in March 1996; the future of the service and how it can be sustained are examined below.
The project has created an opportunity to redress the imbalance of IT development in the library community where academic libraries have benefited from the development of JANET and special libraries can often call upon the finances of a large parent organisation.
The aims are to:
Early findings are described below; the final report is planned to be available in May 1996.
These IT services are managed not by library staff but by an IT expert (Gulshan Kayam). The libraryís role has been to support the project and ensure it complements the library service offered to the community. The advantages of having such a facility within a branch library have been enormous. Access to the Internet and CD-ROMs is an excellent boost to any library service.
Staff training and awareness have been fundamental to the acceptance and utilisation of these new formats. But there remain a number of challenges to using IT for information provision:
Statistics for the use of IT POINT by staff for public enquiries have not been collected, but on average there are some two or three such per week. The volume probably would increase if there were greater integration into the library service, for example if there were CD-ROM and Internet access at the Information Desk. This will come with a change in culture and with younger, more IT-literate, staff.
In addition to using IT for public enquiries, we have also used more direct methods to introduce our customers to the advantages of IT.
The greatest success has been in schools. Not all local schools have PCs and CD-ROMs, so IT POINT has provided a real advantage. We have organised an annual contest between primary schools, called the CD-ROM challenge. In this competition, groups of students race against each other to answer questions using CD-ROM encyclopaedias. We have also organised a Print vs IT challenge to encourage recognition between the different formats of information.
We use CD-ROMs with younger customers as well, in story time sessions for under-fives. This encourages parents to recognise that they may have a need to understand IT in order to support their childrenís education needs.
Using the libraryís links with the careers service has also ensured the high profile of IT POINT, as it becomes a showcase once a year when the library hosts the annual Careers Convention for the locality. Therefore, young adults and their parents have an opportunity to view and use the facilities.
Informal coffee mornings and introductory tours have been an opportunity to encourage our customers to recognise the advantages of IT and the role it has to play within the library.
All these activities have been ways of changing peopleís perceptions of libraries by ensuring the use of IT is customary within libraries.
IT POINT currently has 1,100 members. 50% of members are local, from Chelmsley Wood. A further 24% of members come from nearby neighbouring areas in North Solihull, 5% come from South Solihull and the rest come from neighbouring cities such as Birmingham and Coventry. See chart 1 below.
IT POINT's membership ranges from 5 years of age to 75. Chart 2 shows the division of men, women, boys and girls using the services.
Usage increases noticeably during the Summer months, when school children are on holiday, and make greater use of the service. For example, in August 1995 Internet usage reached 279 hours. Chart 3 shows the change in usage by month, for selected applications over a four month period in Summer 1995.
Usage of the service dropped in October 1995, which is when usage charging was introduced. The decrease can be seen by comparing chart 3 with chart 4, which shows usage for the following four months. Usage is now steadily progressing, and with further marketing of IT POINT's services we anticipate that usage will increase anew. Internet usage here includes Electronic mail, Web browsers, Telnet, Gopher and FTP.
The usage is shown above in strictly statistical terms. What impact IT POINT has had on the community, we do not know yet. This is the subject of research work in progress; it is being carried out by researchers from the University of Central England. However, we already see a wide diversity of kinds of usage:
We also see fascinated individuals who are totally taken by what the Internet has to offer and over the past 7 months we have been providing Internet awareness sessions to the community.
People attending training sessions are not necessarily members of IT POINT. Some are from the private sector. As well as aiming to raise the awareness within the community , IT POINT has been used to train internal staff to use the Internet and CD-ROMs. And not staff just from Libraries but also from the IT Department, Arts & Tourism, Careers and Housing Departments. We also have close relationships with the local Job Centre and the Citizensí Advice Bureau. We have provided awareness sessions for their staff, enabling them to refer clients with confidence having seen what we have to offer.
We see three main themes emerging:
Chelmsley Wood is eligible for European Objective 2 funding, where the aims are to help alleviate problems arising from the decline in traditional industry. One of the reasons to locate IT POINT in Chelmsley Wood was because of funding; a means of maintaining the service when the British Library Research and Development grant ends.
We have applied for European Funding namely, European Social Fund and European Regional Development Fund. We have worked with the local college, Solihull College, and together we are planning to implement a Telecollege, which has resulted as part of a successful Single Regeneration Bid (SRB). It will run for five years starting this year. The total funding from SRB, European money and Further Education would be £350,000.
All the courses offered will be accredited courses leading to qualifications. The Telecollege project will involve local firms and will build IT-based courses relevant to their skill needs. We hope they begin to make a financial contribution, in order to ensure maintenance of the service when the SRB funding comes to an end.
Taking a look at the future of IT POINT, three main issues emerge:
The immediate future will be completing the original project, specifically the research dimension. in terms of British Library Funding which comes to an end at the end of March 1996. We will also continue with the training work and the Single Regeneration Bid and Telecollege already mentioned.
In terms of value to the community and corporate objectives to the council, it is already evident that there is a need for:
The purpose of Project LISTED is to develop a dynamic cataloguing system of distance learning materials accessible from libraries. Solihull is the co-ordinating partner of Project LISTED and the project is due to start mid March. Chelmsley Wood has been chosen as one of eight test sites, the testing is due to take place approximately 9 months after the start of the project.
A number of important questions arise. Where does this leave the library service? How do libraries ensure they will have a lead role ? How does this fit in with the digital information that is being delivered by cable to the home and will there be as many public kiosks as there are telephones? We look to this sort of research to try to answer these questions.
There is now a plethora of networks. We see community networking, libraries networking, schools and higher education networking... but how can this all come together? How do we bridge the gap? The answer may be government funding through the LA millennium bid, public access kiosks and networking with cable companies and BT which is already in progress. And this is suggested by the document produced by the Local Government Management Board, called Tomorrow's Town Hall. A key passage of this report states:
"...Councils were better placed to deal with "information imbalance" in society than any other institution [...] and now an Internet service is at the heart of all its librariesí services, heavily subsidised for all and free to those on benefits or low incomes."
We fervently hope that this will happen before the year 2000.
Higher education depends on the community for its intake and context, and not just on the students currently "in the mill". All public libraries need to benefit from the Electronic Libraries Programme. They have no benevolent central funding. To conclude, what we need is co-operation and project co-ordination.
After 20 months experience with IT POINT, it is obvious that Information Technology has a vital role to play within public library provision. This should be not only for the purpose of accessing greater amounts of information with greater ease, but also to support life long learning skills in the community. However, public libraries are not going to achieve this in isolation.
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.
The primary publication medium for this report is via the Internet at URL
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Converted to HTML by Isobel Stark of UKOLN, July 1996