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Net begins to spark library revival

A "QUIET revolution" is gathering momentum in public libraries as free internet access opens up lifelong learning opportunities, a report published this week shows.

It reveals that around 40 per cent of people who visited libraries for the first time to use information technology went on to join the library.

Peter Brophy, professor of information management at Manchester Metropolitan University, studied the first six months of the People's Network, set up in public libraries by the New Opportunities Fund. And he concluded "lives are being changed for the better in many different ways .

. . ordinary people are being given the opportunity to participate actively in the information society".

Some library authorities reported "a modest increase" in book loans though not yet enough to turn around the longstanding decline in book borrowing.

More than 4,000 of the 4,488 branch libraries in the UK were connected to People's Network by the end of 2002, around half with broadband.

To launch the almost-completed network, library users can vote online in the WH Smith People's Choice Book Awards until February 11. More information about the People's Network is available on www.peoplesnetwork.gov.uk

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