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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 June, 2004, 19:55 GMT 20:55 UK
Upturn in visits to UK libraries
A library
Longer library opening hours are helping to attract new visitors
The number of visits made to UK libraries has leaped by almost five million in a year, a report reveals.

The increase in visits between 2001-2 and 2002-3 - to 323 million - was the first rise since official records began in 1995, and accompanied a record 1bn investment.

The lottery-funded People's Network project also brought free or low-cost internet access to all libraries.

The research was carried out by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA).

"It is good to have some good news," said Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) board member Bill Macnaught.

"There is still a lot of work to be done, but for the first time in a really long time there is a sense of optimism about the future of the library system."

He said libraries were now working together "at a national level" to decide what services they should be offering, whereas they had suffered in the past from working in isolation.

Information age

He added: "As the internet took off people saw libraries as being less relevant. People are beginning to see that libraries are properly equipped in the electronic information age.

"We are also doing a lot of exciting work to encourage people to rediscover the pure enjoyment they can get from reading a good novel."

Spending on books went up by more than 5%, from $95.68m in 2001-2 to 100.7m in 2002-3.

Expenditure on audiovisual media, including talking books, language packs, CD Roms, videos, and music, increased by almost 11% from 20.2m to 22.4m.

The People's Network project has installed 32,000 new computers in libraries - they are free to use at 90% of sites.

An MLA report on the project's first year says 25,000 people have completed a course or gained a qualification online, while 8,000 people have found jobs.

Some 50,000 have also used the computers for projects to help their local community, the MLA report says.

The CIPFA report is based on information from 205 local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales.

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