Better Wi-Fi connectivity, alongside hot drinks and comfier seating, could be the key to saving Britain’s libraries
A government inquiry has called for a “complete reinvigoration” of the UK’s library network, including plans to make the facilities more welcoming by offering free Wi-Fi and hot drinks.
Providing fast and reliable Wi-Fi access was named as one of the key actions to draw more people away from cafes and coffee shops, which often prove popular venues for flexible working, and into libraries, alongside plans to offer more comfortable seating and hot drinks.
The inquiry found that a third of libraries do not have Wi-Fi, a “shocking” statistic, according to report author, William Sieghart.
“So they’re slated for closure while everyone’s in the Costa opposite, where there’s a loo, hot drinks and internet access,” he said.
“A marked increase and improvement in digital technology”, including rolling Wi-Fi out to every library in the country, was need to ensure that customers began using libraries more and ensure they become “vibrant and attractive community hubs”.
Salvaging the library network “starts with, rolling Wi-Fi out to every library in the country,” the report says. “The Wi-Fi connection should be delivered in a comfortable, retail-standard environment, with the usual amenities of coffee, sofas and toilets.”
The recommendations come courtesy of a report commissioned by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Communities and Local Government, which found that the future of libraries in Britain could be at risk unless action is taken.
324 libraries have closed in the UK since 2011, the report found, thanks to a combination of funding cuts and dwindling attendances, with the, saying the country was at a “critical moment” for libraries.
“We’re at a critical moment for the libraries and if we’re not careful we could lose so many,” Sieghart told The Independent. “I and a lot of people think it would be an absolute disaster.”
The report’s recommendations were welcomed by some of the UK’s major network providers, who hailed the need for libraries to evolve with changing consumer habits.
“The role that the library plays in society is now more important than ever, and they must continue to preserve and enrich modern culture,” said Roger Matthews, commercial director at The Cloud.
“However, today’s report shows just as culture and society continue to evolve, so too must its libraries. People expect to be always on and connected. The fast uptake of mobile devices, combined with advances in networking technology, are at the heart of this expectation and this is true when people walk into a library. Wi-Fi can be used for educational tools and collaborative sharing as well as providing internet access while people relax. Digital connectivity can and must co-exist with traditional libraries if people are going to reap the full benefits that both have to offer.”
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