Mov­ing li­braries into the dig­i­tal era

Cambridge Edition - - CONVERSATIONS -

I love vis­it­ing our lo­cal pub­lic li­braries. Th­ese com­mu­nity spa­ces have an at­mos­phere of en­thu­si­as­tic learn­ing and al­ways a friendly face to help me find what I’m look­ing for. We’re lucky to have such well-re­sourced and well-sup­ported in­for­ma­tion hubs.

But glob­ally, pub­lic li­braries are un­der pres­sure. In­creas­ing ac­cess to eBooks and re­duced de­mand for printed ma­te­ri­als puts fu­ture fund­ing into a quandary. Aus­ter­ity mea­sures have closed many UK li­braries and with­out flex­i­bil­ity, we aren’t im­mune to changes here. Hav­ing re­cently spent six weeks trav­el­ling around South Is­land, I wit­nessed some of the dif­fi­cul­ties our li­braries face.

Ian Lit­tle­worth, Chair of The As­so­ci­a­tion of Pub­lic Li­brary Man­agers states that ‘‘pub­lic li­braries sit at the heart of lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties’’ and new poli­cies ‘‘firmly place li­braries in the dig­i­tal era’’.

Ten years ago, a sig­nif­i­cant step was taken to­wards bring­ing li­braries into that dig­i­tal era. Gov­ern­ment fund­ing cre­ated the Aotearoa Peo­ple’s Net­work Ka­haroa (APNK) – a free na­tional in­ter­net net­work en­abling es­sen­tial ac­cess to knowl­edge. Crowds hud­dled around li­braries, day and night, surf­ing the web, is now a fa­mil­iar sight.

A fur­ther $1.5 bil­lion in­vest­ment is promised for mak­ing ul­tra-fast fi­bre-op­tic broad­band avail­able to 75 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion by 2021. This will ap­par­ently de­liver 100mbps down­load and 50mbps upload speeds. About 57 per cent of ru­ral New Zealan­ders should have ac­cess to broad­band speeds of 5mbps by next year with most ru­ral pub­lic li­braries and schools in­cluded.

My ex­pe­ri­ence in South Is­land shows there is a long way to go be­fore easy in­ter­net ac­cess is achieved na­tion­ally.

Phone re­cep­tion and 3/4G data sig­nals are of­ten in­ter­mit­tent and un­re­li­able.

Wi-fi is se­verely re­stricted (even when pay­ing). I made use of the APNK where pos­si­ble, but li­braries were of­ten in­ad­e­quate or in­flex­i­ble.

In one li­brary there was nowhere to study. In an­other, li­brary rules dic­tated no de­vices could be charged (ap­par­ently this pre­vented thought­less ‘tourists’ from re-charg­ing their tooth­brushes).

With a gold coin do­na­tion to the nearby op shop, I could ac­cess the APNK and work. But I won­dered how the li­brary’s dig­i­tal era could evolve with­out al­low­ing ac­cess to power.

How peo­ple in­ter­act on­line has changed be­yond imag­i­na­tion. Free Mas­sive Open On­line Cour­ses en­cour­age learn­ers’ in­ter­ac­tion in vir­tual class­rooms.

Pub­lic li­braries are a log­i­cal, com­mu­nity-cen­tred place for con­nec­tiv­ity.

But poli­cies need to be joinedup and the qual­ity of ser­vice needs to be fair and con­sis­tent for all New Zealan­ders.

HAVE YOUR SAY

Cam­bridge Edi­tion wel­comes letters and opin­ion ar­ti­cles to the Con­ver­sa­tions page. Letters must be around 200 words and opin­ion ar­ti­cles around 400 words. Please send your con­tri­bu­tions in by noon, Fri­days, to re­porter Emma James: emma.james@fair­fax­me­dia.co.nz

Ur­sula Edg­ing­ton

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