Arts Council England announces £7.1million fund to ensure all public libraries in England will offer free wifi access by March 2016.
From today local authorities can apply through the Arts Council application portal for free wifi funding. Libraries currently without free wifi access will be given priority and libraries that currently have wifi provision below the recommended technical specification will also have the opportunity to upgrade.
This announcement builds on a number of achievements by the Leadership for Libraries Taskforce, which was set up by DCMS and the Local Government Association.
The announcement also highlights a new partnership between the Leadership for Libraries Taskforce and the Tinder Foundation which has launched a £100,000 Library Digital Inclusion Fund. The fund enables libraries to bid for resources to help people learn basic digital skills and help them get online. The initial pilot will run from 1 October 2015 to 31 March 2016 and will look to fund up to 15 library services across England.
Culture Minister, Ed Vaizey said: “These funding programmes are a vital part of expanding the digital offer in libraries in England. Ensuring communities across England have access to free WiFi boosts the digital economy and enables more people to take advantage of everything the internet has to offer. This Government is committed to enabling everyone who can get online to do so, and the Tinder Foundation funding is another step on that journey. By channelling the support through libraries, we can ensure that this opportunity to become digitally aware is available to the whole community.”
The taskforce aims to provide leadership for libraries, implement the recommendations of the report and help reinvigorate the public service in England. They have set out aims of sharing best practise between councils, promoting the role of digital and shaping a workforce for the future.
Further achievements for the Taskforce include the launch of the BT and Barclays ‘Wifi in the community’ scheme. The two-year pilot will provide wifi installation and training in 100 libraries and community centres. This includes guidance and digital training from BT Digital Friends and Barclays Digital Eagles volunteers.
Brian Ashley, Director Libraries and Midlands, Arts Council England, said: “Libraries are excellent community hubs that bring people together and we hope that free WiFi will encourage more people to use and enjoy their local libraries. This is an exciting opportunity to increase the digital offering in all public libraries in England, develop partnerships between them and build a strong and sustainable library network across the country for the future.”
Kathy Settle, Chief Executive: Leadership for Libraries Taskforce, said: “As I’ve travelled around libraries, I’ve seen how popular the provision of WiFi is and how it has helped libraries to offer more services to their users. Many libraries already provide digital access to e-books and other on-line resources, as well as digital skills training. This funding will ensure that all libraries in England have the same level of access and - alongside the Tinder Foundation’s Digital Inclusion funding for libraries also announced today - will provide more support for those users who need it to get online.”
Helen Milner, Chief Executive for Tinder Foundation, said: “I’m excited for us to continue working in partnership with the Society of Chief Librarians and the Leadership for Libraries Taskforce to support digital inclusion activities in libraries. There are so many great library services within the UK online centres network that are having a huge impact on improving people’s skills, and this action research pilot will ensure the best digital inclusion activity can be captured, shared and scaled. Libraries are perfectly positioned to provide digital inclusion support to their communities, and by running this project alongside the drive for better WiFi in libraries will mean we can have an even bigger impact.”
Councillor Ian Stephens, Chair of the Local Government Association’s Culture, Tourism and Sport Board and joint sponsor of the Leadership for Libraries Taskforce with the Minister, said: “These new schemes are part of councils’ wider efforts to help our residents and businesses to boost their digital skills and get online, with all the extra economic and social benefits which these bring.
“The £7.1 million WiFi fund in particular will be essential for libraries’ increasingly important role as community hubs, where local people can use a wide variety of services ranging from homework clubs to public health and business advice.
“A number of councils have already invested in WiFi for their public libraries and this new partnership with Arts Council England will help provide access to the Internet to many more members of the community.”