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Broadband in libraries

Greater access to high speed broadband for the public in libraries across England is now possible thanks to an agreement brokered by the MLA.

MLA is working with JISC and JANET(UK), who respectively fund and operate the JANET education and research network, to give public libraries access to a wider range of high quality online learning resources and the option of a faster internet service.

To give some idea of the potential improvement, JANET connection speeds are 1 gigabit per second (1Gbit/s) – up to ten times more than existing typical bandwidths at central libraries in England, which in turn can be ten times more than home connections.

MLA chief executive Roy Clare said: “People and communities using public libraries across the country are set to benefit from faster broadband speeds and more digital capacity.

“Local authorities can now choose to switchover to JANET, a high quality network that is already widely available in schools, colleges and universities and a case study in Shropshire shows that the step is highly beneficial for the public and cost-efficient to achieve.

“This is the biggest digital advance for public libraries since internet services were introduced through the People’s Network.

“The MLA is pushing ahead with further developments in its range of digital resources for users of public libraries. We urge all public libraries to speed up their internet connections and actively promote their existing 24/7 on-line services.”

The initiative has been welcomed by representatives of the Society of Chief Librarians, CILIP and other prominent bodies.

Other initiatives the MLA is working on to meet the digital challenge for libraries are:

  • Strengthening the Reference Online programme which delivers world class reference sources to libraries at affordable rates by adding a wider range of resources
  • Brokering relationships between e-books suppliers and library services and working to engage publishers and manufacturers of e-book readers to provide a positive environment for the development of e-book services in libraries
  • MLA has published research into new ways of delivering library services through a national online book loan service
  • Developing policies on digital inclusion, digital life skills and media literacy as part of a national consortium on digital participation and as part of the cross-government digital inclusion working group
  • Encouraging ‘best practice’ library authorities to market their 24/7 on-line library services, which already enable book ordering and provide other resources to people in the comfort of their homes

MLA Chair Sir Andrew Motion said: "This announcement marks a major development in the provision of library services, at once extending and confirming their value to all our lives. I'm delighted that the MLA has been able to play such a central role.”

Endorsements for the JANET initiative

Fiona Williams, president of the Society of Chief Librarians, said: "We welcome this initiative as fast connection speeds are essential to how people use the internet.  Libraries all over the country are rapidly developing their e-services and responding to user need.”

Bob McKee, chief executive of CILIP, said: "Partnership between the People's Network and JANET makes good sense. This deal is great news for public libraries and their communities."

Professor Michael Thorne, chair of Advisory Council on Libraries, said: "The MLA has shown visionary leadership in identifying and securing an affordable way for public libraries to enjoy state-of-the-art online content and facilities.”

Jennifer Holland, head of Norfolk County Council Library and Information Service, said: "We're always looking at ways that we can make our services better and more efficient.   Faster broadband speeds that allow library visitors to make the most of their time in our libraries are important to them and to us."

David Ruse, director of Libraries and Culture Westminster City Council, said: "This is very good news for library users.  With the increasing amount of digital content available in bandwidth-hungry video or interactive formats, the higher speeds available through the JANET network should remove those frustrating pauses as files buffer and load, and allow our users to focus on the content, rather than the IT.  We will certainly be considering the cost-benefits of this in Westminster.”

John Newbigin, chair of Culture 24, said: "Bringing together the long-established network which is our library service and the newly established networks of high speed broadband in this way gives greater value to both - and opens up the possibility of brilliant new services for communities."

Professor Jon Drori, director of the media and education consultancy Changing Media Ltd, said: "This huge leap in speed should give library users a much happier experience and with imagination, it should enable libraries to offer exciting new services."

Jane Finnis, publisher of the Culture24 website, said: "Free access to online services was always a very natural extension of library culture. This new faster service is great as it will improve the user experience and open up opportunities for all kinds of new social activities."

Notes to editors:

  1. The MLA is the government's agency for museums, libraries and archives. Leading strategically, we promote best practice to inspire innovative, integrated and sustainable services for all.
  2. A gigabit per second is a unit of data transfer rate and is equal to 1,000 megabits per second.
  3. JANET (UK) manages the operation and development of JANET on behalf of JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee) for the UK Further Education and Higher Education Funding Councils. JANET®and JANET(UK) ® are registered trademarks of the Higher Education Funding Councils for England, Scotland and Wales. The JNT Association is the registered user of these trademarks.

Case study: Shropshire Libraries connect to JANET

As a forward looking authority, Shropshire Council is always searching for more efficient ways to deliver services. Technology plays a huge role in taking those services out to communities in a largely rural county, so it is vitally important for the People's Network in Shropshire’s libraries to provide a fast and reliable route for local people to get online.

During 2008, Shropshire’s ICT Department monitored usage of the entire county network and discovered that it was using almost all of its bandwidth capacity. Options for bandwidth improvement were considered and one of those options was JANET. JANET is the network dedicated to the needs of education and research in the UK. It connects the UK’s education and research organisations to each other, as well as to the rest of the world through links to the global Internet.

The Head of ICT, Kevin Malone said: "We had been aware of the potential of JANET for our libraries for a number of years through our work with a number of Universities within the region. We knew about the huge bandwidth available and the valuable learning resources that JANET hosted.”

Shropshire held meetings with JANET representatives and discovered some surprising facts. For instance, JANET had been unable to provide high bandwidth at an affordable cost to some 6th Form Colleges in Shropshire through its own network, but saw a way of doing so through Shropshire Council’s wide area network.

Kevin: "It very quickly became clear we were looking at a win/win situation. JANET provided bandwidth, and Shropshire Council could host a Sub-Regional Point of Presence from which JANET could provide the final network links to some of our local colleges. It was also clear that our public libraries would immediately benefit from being part of this learning network. The final consideration was how much this would all cost.”

Remarkably, the costs of increasing bandwidth by around twenty times came out less than Shropshire’s previous ISP service arrangements. This meant that the quality of the People's Network was dramatically improved and at a reduced cost.

Kevin: "We have an excellent working relationship with JANET and they have been incredibly helpful throughout the whole transition process. The migration from our old network to JANET went really smoothly with few hiccups. When people use the People's Network in Shropshire, they are using JANET. Shropshire Council remains in control of content filtering and our library users agree a Shropshire Acceptable Use Policy.”


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