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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 4 March, 2003, 10:10 GMT
Libraries to offer free internet
Personal computer
All libraries will have online access
A major project to bring free access to the internet and online services across Scotland has been launched.

The 11.5m scheme signals the most radical shake-up to the country's public libraries in their 150-year history.

All 557 libraries in Scotland will be linked online and offer free internet access by the end of March.

It forms the final part of a UK-wide scheme called the People's Network.

We need to make sure that everyone benefits from this technology, that no-one else is left behind
Dr Elaine Murray
Deputy culture minister
Under the scheme every library north of the border will have at least one computer.

Some 8.5m hours of free internet access will be available across the network.

The launch coincides with the Library Service in Scotland's 150th anniversary celebrations.

Deputy culture minister Dr Elaine Murray said the demand for digital technology extended to all corners of Scotland's communities.

"We need to make sure that everyone benefits from this technology, that no-one else is left behind," she said.

"The People's Network will reach into all areas of our communities, linking them together, and offer online learning and research, communication tools, and the everyday benefits of having internet access - free of charge from the local library.

Book lending

"It is fitting that on the 150th anniversary of the public library services in Scotland we can reflect on the continuing importance of libraries in the provision of access to information and learning, so vital if we are to offer everyone the opportunity to participate in the life of the country and achieve their full potential."

Evidence from existing PCs in libraries shows there is good demand, with Aberdeen reporting that computers are in use for up to 80% of the opening hours.

But librarians insist the move is not the death knell for book lending, which has suffered a downturn.

They say about 40% of their new visitors come for the technology, but go on to join the library.

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