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Public libraries: Everyone's getting wired

If it weren't for the tappety-tap-tap of computer keyboards and the clatter of cameras at the inevitable star-studded photocalls, you could almost call it a quiet revolution.

The lottery-funded People's Network has successfully masterminded the installation of more than 30,000 internet-connected terminals in 4,000 public libraries throughout the UK. Which means that, in theory at least, the entire population is now "wired".

To coincide with the latest expansion of the project, last week saw the publication of an initial report in which Professor Peter Brophy hints at a glorious new future for libraries as centres for community learning.

And while die-hard traditionalists mutter that libraries are supposed to be about books, and that it was bad enough when they started lending out CDs and videos without now turning themselves into glorified internet cafs, few could argue with the main thrust of Professor Brophy's findings.

Citing examples of nonagenarians who came to sneer but stayed to surf, he concludes that "the People's Network is reaching into parts of society which have until now been bypassed or at the very least under-represented as far as internet access and the use of computers is concerned".

Case study reports suggest, he adds, that once people become users, "leisure interests turn into learning experiences, which in turn point the way towards new learning and new leisure pursuits".

The power of computers to transform learning into a "fun experience" is now a given, and Professor Brophy notes that many libraries report "a large increase in young users, particularly boys" as a result of offering free internet access.

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