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New Library: The People's Network

Article excerpt

Reviewed by Kay Poustie Manager Libraries, Art and Culture City of Stirling WA and Australian member of the Bertelsmann Foundation's International Network of Public Libraries

A review of New library: the people's network, a report which if implemented could transform the role, operations and funding British public libraries. The report compares very favourably with Australian reports, such as 2020 Vision

Even the most misfitting child Who's chanced upon the library's worth,

Sits with the genius of the earth And turns the key to the whole world

Ted Hughes

To say that this(*) is the most exciting report on public libraries that I have read in my entire career would perhaps seem an overstatement to the readers OF Aplis, but I must exhort Australian and New Zealand librarians to obtain their own copy. It should be compulsory reading for public librarians, local decision makers and state and federal politicians, as the message that it gives is as pertinent to Australia and New Zealand as it is to the United Kingdom.

New library has the potential to take Britain's public libraries forward to the new millennium as transformed and vibrant centres of learning and communication and as community hubs for the people to access a networked Britain. At the same time, the role of the public library as the access point for books, browsing, quiet contemplation and study is confirmed.

An appendix provides a brief literature review of what are termed `typically very high level visionary documents' from other countries including the report Networking Australia's future: final report of the Broadband Expert Services Group, from which it quotes

As a society we have choices to make. If we

ignore the opportunities [of the information

society] we run the risk of being left behind as

other countries introduce new services and make

themselves more competitive: we will become

consumers of other countries' content and

technologies rather than our own

Unfortunately, it would appear that the current Australian government has not taken its own report as seriously as Britain is taking it, and the reports from other countries that it quotes.

The impetus for New library has come from the Blair government, which is seriously embracing the concept of networking Britain through its public libraries. A quote by Tony Blair from New Britain: my vision of a young country in the introduction states

The information superhighway should not just

benefit the affluent or the metropolitan. Just as in

the past books were the chance for the ordinary

people to better themselves, in the future online

education will be a route to better prospects. But

just as books are available in public libraries the

benefits of the superhighway must be there for

everyone. This is a real chance for equality of

opportunity

If the Blair government supports the findings of the working party and implements this report, Britain will be blessed with a vital and indispensable public library service as well as being at the leading edge of investment in the skills base and education of its people. New library rates with the McColvin Report as a quantum leap forward for Britain's public libraries. It offers a vision for the `new Jerusalem' in Britain.

If 2020 Vision depressed you, take a dose of New library. I guarantee that it will excite and enthuse you about the opportunities we have ahead. Our commitment as public librarians must now be to try to get this vision across to our political masters.

Perhaps we also need a leader like Tony Blair to implement such a vision in Australia. In the current climate of economic rationalism, the development of an infrastructure such as is proposed in the British report is unlikely to happen. …