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Terminal cure;Digital visions

ICT is a potent agent in revitalising a local community particularly vulnerable to unemployment

The horizontal rain, stinging in from the Atlantic on a stormy spring morning, made a walk on the promenade impossible, but despite the stay-at-home weather there were only three terminals vacant in the CyberCentre in Ayr's Carnegie Library, writes Merlin John.

With 14 computers linked to the Internet, the centre has achieved consistent success in this Scottish coastal resort 30 miles west of Glasgow. So much so that there has to be a booking policy. There are more than 1,300 regular monthly bookings (105 of them open learners) and many users are over 50.

The venture typifies local attitudes to information and communications technology. An imaginative combination of local authority, government and EC funding is promoting ICT as a potent agent in revitalising a local community particularly vulnerable to unemployment through its dependency on seasonal work. Education supplier RM, formerly better known south of the border, is making inroads in schools locally and also fitted out the CyberCentre.

If you have fallen for the cybercafe myth of nerds, trendies and cappuccino, forget it; the Ayr CyberCentre, one of three in the south Ayrshire region, reassuringly comes down on the side of the ICT-for-all merchants. "We've a lot of special needs customers, women and pensioners who use the place," says CyberCentre ICT co-ordinator Angela McCormick. "It's great. The place buzzes all the time."

Education is its central theme: "The need for new literacies and basic skills are pertinent to the ethos of the public libraries. We are here for the ordinary folk, and the public library is the natural place for this to happen."

Customers use the Internet machines for all sorts of research and groups of teachers drop in for Internet training. Many customers use the service to keep in touch with relatives overseas: "We even have tourists from abroad dropping in to pick up their email from free services like Hotmail."

Workstations are rented out by the hour and minimal charges are made for printing. And CD-Rom access (a wide range is available) is free.

* The library has collaborated with other organisations to organise and locate Web resources for schools. This will feature in the Scottish Virtual Teachers' Centre.

A project on independent learning with the British Library has resulted in a report available on the Web and in print: "Open Learning and the Internet in Public Libraries: British Library and Innovation Report 135", ISBN 0712397299.

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