People's Network

This webpage is a shortened (c.50%) version of the original. Several sections have been removed. Librarians, students and others who need a comprehensive insight should read the original page. In early 2004 this achieved a 'page one' ranking on GOOGLE - it was listed as the top entry out of more than 300,000 under 'people's network computers'! For early feedback about the original webpage see what library professionals have said. Further developments in the 'PN saga' will be chronicled elsewhere.


The People's Network in the UK is an old idea in library circles and predates the introduction of public access Internet computers. Nevertheless, in contemporary usage the term has become synonymous with public access to the Internet, social inclusion, broadband and Lottery largesse. Some of the information in this section has been adapted directly from the relevant websites http://www.peoplesnetwork.gov.uk and http://www.nof.org.uk.

Project cost: 130 million will be used here as the total cost of installing some 30,000 computers in over 4000 public libraries by the end of 2002, inclusive of initial staff training.


The New Opportunities Fund - early days but lots of money!

The People's Network 'computers for all' project may be traced to the launch of NOF It was created to award National Lottery grants to health, education and environment projects across the UK. The Budget speech of March 1999 fired the starting gun http://archive.treasury.gov.uk/budget/1999/speech.html

At the outset, 300 million was made available for "healthy living centres", but with no firm idea of what might be achieved where decades of health education had so clearly failed.

"We are looking for a variety of projects which will promote good health in its broadest sense. Projects are envisaged to include a wide range of facilities, including health screening facilities, dietary advice, employment, training and skills schemes, ........ and childcare. Local community participation in these schemes will be fundamental to their success."(Presumably, the emphasis on 'broadest sense' was so that the benefits (if any) from the centres could never be measured accurately)

Furthermore, it was claimed in the initial press release: "Projects which are funded will establish a core network of healthy living centres across the UK." Any blame for failure could of course be laid at the door of government since "The New Opportunities Fund is responsible for distributing grants ..... determined by the Government."

The NOF announced three programmes worth 1000 million in January 1999. For comparison, the Dome cost just over 1000 million and was subjected to intense scrutiny.


Community Access to Lifelong Learning - a snip at 200 million.

The Community Access to Lifelong Learning scheme (CALL) was launched with a budget of 200 million, 100 million of which was earmarked for People's Network (PN) computers in over 4000 libraries.

The Millennium Dome (R.I.P.) was famously characterised by a surfeit of spin over substance, and with protestations almost to the end that it had been a resounding success and with incalculable social benefits having been delivered. It eventually cost just over 1000 million. Given the outcry over the Dome and the waste of money it represented, it is surprising that the NOF has to date not attracted more scrutiny. A special report on the Dome is at http://www.guardian.co.uk/dome/0,2759,223661,00.html.

Whilst an argument can be made against charging for (most) library books, the Internet offers such endless opportunities for ultimately useless amusement and trivia that some control may need to be introduced to limit what otherwise might prove to become an inappropriate drain on library resources. This appears not to have been addressed by NOF. Many authorities had installed computers in libraries well before NOF got involved. Some experience of user demand was therefore available, and showed that even small hourly charges reduced demand significantly. There exist, buried in all the press releases, several examples of an upsurge in demand as soon as machines were made free of charge.

Some authorities already impose high charges. For example Cambridge charges 50p per 10 minutes for email or use of MS Office at one of its learning centres! More details from http://www.camcnty.gov.uk/library/charges.htm#comphire. However, access to the Internet for information searching is free. 

There are data from other areas. Many years ago Government bodies that were centrally funded used to give away mountains of free leaflets. When cost controls were introduced   leaflets containing invaluable information were charged at a token 20p or 1. Demand from the public fell sharply. The essential point then and now is that if a service is made free people will use it relentlessly.

A token charge of 50p per computer session would be an interesting experiment. If each of 30,000 computers produced only 1000 annually the total income would be 30 million - a welcome addition to the reported 87 million total income of all public libraries in 2000/01 (LISU Loughborough University). For a printed summary of UK library statistics, email: mailto:lisu@lboro.ac.uk or try http://www.lboro.ac.uk/departments/dis/lisu/lisuhp.html. In fact, there are already signs of disquiet over the implications of long term 'free for all' use of library computers, especially for non-core purposes. For example, in the Devon Library Plan for 2002-2005 (http://www.devon.gov.uk/eal/docs/alp.pdf ) it is noted:

there is a conflict between the County Council's expectation that the Library Service should generate some income towards sustaining the service, and the national imperative to provide free access to communication and information for all.

Moreover, in a tacit admission that the machines may be used primarily for email and other short term tasks, it is noted:

the majority of users find the half-hour sessions adequate for their needs

It might have been more accurate to say that most users would happily accept whatever free time is allowed and are not sufficiently interested in 'lifelong learning' to wish to pay anything towards it. What may prove to be the final nail in the coffin is alluded to in two juxtaposed statements in the Devon Library Plan. In discussing the future roll-out of services to be offered on-line:

growth will continue to accelerate and the processes of development, exploitation, and promotion of the technology have hardly started.

The need to help provide a part of e-government (but perhaps with little money to do it properly) is noted further down the same page:

The key role for the Library Service in contributing to the targets of the County Council's e-government strategy brings an important extension of the current role for library staff and the ICT support team. New directions for central and branch libraries will need a depth of technical support. 


NOF is wonderful - we say so and you had better believe it.

Extracts from press releases extolling the expectations and claimed successes of the PN and other NOF projects are given below. The claims for success in libraries were made at a time when in reality, staff had not been properly trained, the computers and their myriad software control faults were proving a drain on staff time (to the detriment of other library work) and it was already clear that major uses for the machines, at least in some areas, were likely to be for emailing and surfing shallow websites.

Perhaps not surprisingly, many claims read as though they were taken straight from a Party manifesto - promises without any guarantee of delivery but with lashings of social inclusion, community involvement, partnership, and political correctness. Whilst there is much self- praise for what is about to happen, there is no suggestion of any proper monitoring of benefits, perhaps in terms of real jobs created assessed against the total expenditure.

Stephen Dunmore, NOF Chief Executive said: "Disadvantaged groups are centre stage in this massive technology network that links community to community. UK online centres will be joining the nation together; and by focusing on groups with disabilities or from deprived areas, the Fund is ensuring this is an inclusive scheme: everyone will have the chance to gain new learning opportunities. That is why it is so important."

In the East Midlands, a former mining community was given a UK online centre. "Single parents, long-term unemployed as well as the elderly and disabled will be able to get to grips with computer technology. For a lot of adults here it will be a starting point for developing their future learning. With the loss of mining in the area, there is now greater demand for people to retain (sic) into the tourism and leisure sectors."

"With this project we can add a digital online dimension to the Soundroom's position as a potential all-round community cultural creation centre. We want to encourage people to become producers rather than consumers in the digital world."

the 370,035 allocation for local libraries would benefit the whole community and especially the elderly who need to catch up with the latest news and develop their life skills. The libraries involved will open up a whole spectrum of learning and social possibilities where people can improve their own personal skills.

Lord Evans, Chairman of Resource, commented: "It's almost impossible to over-estimate the importance of the People's Network.

"Case studies will also be used as the basis for features in a number consumer and special interest publications (ranging from Best and Woman’s Own to Saga magazine). In addition, we’re planning on a ‘big splash’ towards the end of January (2003). This should provide a photocall event at which ministers and possibly some celebs can celebrate the success of the People's Network".

A recent report from the National Audit Office has reemphasised that UK Online computers tend to be used primarily for email and leisure purposes, even by older people. At least for the moment, they appear to have a strong preference to discuss public services face-to-face, rather than to adapt to e-government. The NAO website is at http://www.nao.gov.uk. The full report is at http://www.nao.gov.uk/publications/nao_reports/02-03/0203428.pdf and takes some time to download (pdf and 770kB). A shorter Executive Summary is available at http://www.nao.gov.uk/publications/nao_reports/02-03/0203428es.pdf.


Small questions about large sums of money

One of the interesting questions is why the whole PN exercise was so expensive given that it was known at the outset that only a fraction of the machines could probably ever be used for any type of structured learning courses involving formal training on (for example) advanced word processing or web design packages - simply because they had to be squeezed into any available space in already crowded libraries. Few of these had (or have) available any spare rooms that could be turned into dedicated learning suites. In any case, installation of the hardware was completed well before library staff were trained to even a basic level of computer literacy. There is no funding guaranteed to secure the high level of staff competence and training that would be necessary to make full use of the computers, even assuming that most users were interested in anything more than gaining an introduction to the Internet. Indeed, the case studies of people who have benefited from the People's Network and On-line centres bear this out.

The one example of a girl who went on to take a word processing course that enabled her to find a job includes the revelation that she did so at a local college. Of course, in any project involving roll-out of technology to hundreds of thousands of users, a few examples can be found where there were real benefits. That is why in late 2002 NOF were casting around all UK public libraries looking for examples of 'case studies' that they could use to help 'celebrate' the PN project. They will find instances of genuine benefit, much as one can find buried treasure if one looks often enough and far afield. A few dozen of the more photogenic and 'socially inclusive' examples will be used to help justify the entire project. They will not represent a worthwhile level of cost-benefit analysis - as is easily confirmed by reading the first official report on the PN scheme. Entitled 'A turning point for public libraries' it is available at http://www.resource.gov.uk/information/publications/00pubs.asp. Copies by post can be obtained by telephoning Resource on 020-7273-1458. (Country code for the UK is +44). Initial comments on this report are given below at 'First Findings'

In reality, it seems likely that most of the machines in libraries will remain under-utilised in technical terms until they are deemed to have become 'obsolete' when another tranche of Lottery money will (perhaps) be provided to upgrade them. However, by that time, the cost of second-hand Internet-capable machines will have dropped to around 15, enabling any but the most severely disadvantaged households to own one.

Using the global figures given above, the average installed cost per computer was as high as 5000. This is five to eight times the 'free market' cost of comparable machines. It is also 50 to 100 times the cost of 'obsolete' computers that would have been adequate to enable most people to gain a solid foundation knowledge of Internet usage and word processing, these being two of the prime objectives. The future market may be confined largely to a transient population (tourists, students) and to those (few) people who are both seriously financially disadvantaged and yet do not own a home computer.

Much of the explanation of the high cost may lie in the rush to provide 'broadband' or other high speed Internet connections and, thereby, easier access to the range of 'digital learning' resources being assembled. Also, the PN network is seen as a 'key driver for broadband implementation' and this is (perhaps) needed if the aims of e-government are to be realised. Lottery money may in effect have been used to help fund a part of the infrastructure for e-government. Libraries may have been used as a cheap means of deploying some of the technology and without sufficient thought to either the knock-on effects for front line staff (or library users) or longer term funding.

It has been predicted that museums will close and that their collections will be warehoused only a few years after hundreds of millions of pounds of lottery cash was spent on providing new facilities and buildings. The government dismissed the story as 'unduly alarmist' - but without saying quite why the calculations were wrong. More details at http://society.guardian.co.uk/lottery/story/0,8150,459071,00.html. A similar point is made in the April 2003 issue of 'Update' the magazine of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals. Discussing the future of 'social inclusion' and UK Online, they say:

Some NOF projects funded under the Capital Modernisation Fund face closure in January 2004, when their one year of revenue funding runs out. 'If UK Online centres are forced to close, it is not clear whether there will be sufficient resources to set up a replacement in the vicinity', says NAO (National Audit Office report http://www.nao.gov.uk/publications/nao_reports/02-03/0203428es.pdf.)

However, the promise of 'computer access for all' must be seen against the backdrop of a desired (NOF) rate of provision of 0.6 computers per 1000 population and with several Authorities (including Devon) managing only around 0.4 per 1000, because of lack of available space in libraries.

Illustrative calculations can be done using a median figure of 0.5 per 1000, or 1 computer per 2000 people. Amongst the core assumptions must be that many experienced computer users would be expected to make use of library facilities simply because they were free and would offer (for many home users) a faster connection. Also, amongst people who were learning, regular use would be essential if any real progress was to be made. Using a computer for half an hour once a month, and with some element of extra travel often involved, might not be a viable route to building a substantial base of knowledge.

If, for example, only 20% of the population were ever to make use of the machines (which may be too low a figure), this would imply a provision rate of one machine per 400 users. Each library computer could be made available for (typically) 70 half hour sessions every week. Actual usage might fall to (say) 50 per week to satisfy demand from 400 active users. This implies an average of one session every two months! Given that many experienced 'surfers' are already claiming sessions almost on a daily basis there is no prospect of the machines ever being able to fulfil core social expectations. One alternative route would have been to provide far more emphasis on interactive digital television services.

In any case, widespread deployment of a technology just because it has become feasible is not in itself logical. Nor is the supposition that people will learn anything more worthwhile just because vastly more material is made instantly available. Indeed, 'information overload' can itself introduce an extra hurdle to genuine learning. Availability of so much material on-line can reduce (for example) writing an essay to a mechanistic procedure involving no more thought than 'click, cut and paste' and playing with a mouse. Experience of 100+ television channels bears this out. Resource have said:

"The UK Government has made very clear the importance it attaches to the role of learning in all its guises as the cornerstone of people's lives, and has set out its thinking in a series of key policy documents. Furthermore the Government sees universal access to ICT and its use as a delivery mechanism for learning opportunities as the catalyst for change. A major element of this is the People's Network, a 170 million project to create ICT learning centres in all 4,300 UK public libraries by the end of 2002. 50m of this funding is for NOF-digi as a major contribution to on-line resources complementing National Curriculum materials."

Not everyone seems to be convinced about the potential for 'real learning'. In the Devon Action Plan it is noted that out of over 50 static libraries, only 4 have specially designed and equipped ICT training suites. The others offer only computers dotted around often in busy areas of the main library.

Listen also to Anne Fine, a celebrated author of children's books writing in the Jan 2003 edition of Update, the CILIP magazine:

We cannot be Luddites and pretend this (computers) is not the future. Manifestly it is. But before sitting quietly by as the powers-that-be continue to starve the bookfund to pay for it, we must be confident it's all worthwhile......And there is simply no point in having brilliant new means of communication if there is little or nothing of true value to communicate. How many of us have sat in children's libraries and been unable to suppress the thought that those who are hunched at the machines are absorbed in what, in earlier times, we would call simply 'a waste of time'?.... Dismal enough, when nothing but time is wasted. But what if what is wasted is the talent of others? When something else has to be sacrificed, to make the space or release the money?

One of the Great Promises of the People's Network, trotted out by Devon Library Services (and a few others) is the Pure Approved Thought:

"and it won't mean less money for books!!"

But what if the new technology had been properly thought through and costed utilising accepted principles of marginal cost-benefit analysis? Would then Devon have been permitted to spend at least half its Lottery windfall on new books and the other half on providing just as many computers but with less emphasis on broadband, video streaming and all purpose command and control systems?

The full text of Anne Fine's address to the IFLA conference (Glasgow 2002) can be found at http://www.ifla.org/IV/ifla68/papers/165-218e.pdf . If this direct link does not work try http://www.ifla.org/IV/ifla68/prog02.htm#8 to get to the appropriate index page.

Contrast Anne Fine's heartfelt beliefs with the mechanistic government-speak used by a senior delegate from Resource at the same conference. For this, see http://www.ifla.org/IV/ifla68/papers/161-123e.pdf .


The impact upon libraries

It was inevitable that the Internet would take over libraries to some extent. What seems not to have been thought through is the interaction between the old and the new (the quiet of the reference library and reading areas competing with the clatter of keyboards) or the need to retain traditional standards of privacy and freedom when changing (merely) the method of delivery of information. The prime 'serious' use of the Internet in libraries is sometimes cited as being a source of reference material. Yet a recent MORI poll showed that 88% of people would prefer to talk to someone about a query rather than connect to the Internet. The figure fell slightly to 83% for people who were experienced in using the Internet.

Of course, the Internet offers many new possibilities - emailing one's friends about a day at the seaside, looking for a cheap weekend, on-line banking. Whether these functions should immediately assume a dominant position in libraries that were never designed for the computer age is debatable.

However, the disruptive impact of computers in many libraries is only one example of what has happened as they have tried to become more 'socially inclusive' in an arguably misguided attempt to appeal to more people in the face of falling usage. Listen to Anne Fine again:

We may say it is the library's job to provide what people want. But people are plural, and the library user is, as we must keep reminding ourselves, an individual. Hanging about in a library in the north east, I watched a boy of 12 trying to do his homework with his fingers in his ears to block out the noise as the ladies at the desk laughed and chatted with local people who, in this depressed area, were using the library as a cheerful social centre.

Looking up, he caught my eye and said, embarrassed: "The problem is, I can't find anywhere quiet to work." In a library! Yet I recall, a couple of years ago, visiting a library in New Zealand, where a dozen teenagers were quietly sitting at tables, studying. Surely this is a more important provision by a library than social cheer. A library is not the Citizens' Advice Bureau, the nursery, the bingo hall or the coffee bar. It was conceived and endowed as something greater, so that people who chose could become something richer and deeper.

To which we might add only that a library may be no place for an Internet cafe where the computer equivalent of free phone-cards and postage stamps are handed out at the public expense. Nor should it be a place in which disadvantaged children eager to learn can no longer escape the bedlam of constant television, pop music and computer games in their own (often crowded) homes.

Perhaps the lasting impact will be deeper. In its determination to press ahead with the New Big Idea of e-government, libraries have suddenly become loved by central government, the reason being perhaps that they have agreed to accommodate a key element of the infrastructure - computer access for all - at no cost to the Treasury.

Yet libraries have agreed this apparently without any guarantees of funding for staff in the long term and already central library 'reserve funds' in some areas have been raided to provide extra hours of front-line staff time. Automation of book issue systems to enable DIY for borrowers may release staff for PN duties, but when and who will pay? The bookfund perhaps, as witnessed already by irate borrowers wanting to know why the latest books were not available and had to be requested (at up to 2 each) from a distant library and with a waiting list. And yet there is (obviously to the layperson) no lack of money for people playing for free with computers. This seems at odds with published claims by (for example) Devon Library Services that more ICT broadens the library service "and does not take place at the expense of the book".


What was really needed?

Any proper analysis of what could have been provided and how much it should have cost has to start with the cost of a simple computer, suitable for Internet, email and word processing using a reasonably up-to-date package. The People's Network was not installed 'cold' with no previous experience. Many libraries had had computers for years and had built up a data base of usage. These would show a preponderance of simple e-mail and web browsing, as would be expected in the absence of (in many areas of the country) any facilities for structured learning of complex packages.

It is also true that people simply do not need the latest machines or software (or a broadband or other high speed connection) to learn the basics of computing and e-commerce. This can be done on machines that are five and more years old, and the knowledge thus gained can readily be updated if and when required. The only real reason for faster and faster machines being sold is that they are 'necessary' to run the latest games or complex CAD or similar packages. These have no place in libraries.

Yet even this does not explain why machines cost around 4000 each installed - and for models that could be bought off-the-shelf with a range of software for 1000 or less. Part of the explanation must lie in the trendy obsession with broadband or equivalent networked connectivity and the rest probably in a desire to implement 'command and control' and snooping systems. Arguably none of these have a place in libraries that are starved of funds for books and buildings' maintenance. For a discussion see for example total_info_aware_system.htm.

The point is that 30,000 machines entirely adequate for most purposes could have been purchased for around 6 million including (often) slightly out of date software. Alternatively, 20-30 million would have equipped all libraries with 'stand-alone' new machines, leaving the remaining 80 - 90 million spent on the People's Network project to be available for providing (for example and on average) 20,000 per library for employing a dedicated computer literate person to look after the computers and teach newcomers on a part time basis for 4 years (c. 5,000 pa).


Centralised procurement: an effort to save money?!

Some effort has been put into comparing the procurement by different Authorities. The results from an initial study of different purchasing consortia can be downloaded as a PDF report from the People's Network website at: http://www.peoplesnetwork.gov.uk/future/procurement.asp.

50 million of the 170 million is for the NOF-digitise scheme whereby organisations are given grants of typically 150,000 each to produce digital information packs on a vast range of topics and that will be made available, free of charge, to users of the People's Network and the National Grid for Learning (http://www.ngfl.gov.uk. and  http://www.nof-digitise.org/grants). About 150 grants have been awarded so far with amounts ranging from 14,000 to 4 million. The output is envisaged to contain "over a million images, tens of thousands of audio and video clips, innumerable pages of text and many hundreds of new learning packages on topics as diverse as biscuits, migration, football and music." More is not necessarily better, and if ten million people each view one of these contributions, each may be viewed once and once only, on average.


Resource Celebrates People's Network Success - by spending yet more money on computers whilst many buildings are crumbling and the book stocks are dwindling.

Resource is a government organisation that provides "the strategic leadership, advocacy and advice to enable museums, archives and libraries to touch people's lives and inspire their imagination, learning and creativity." The website is http://www.resource.gov.uk/. In September 2002 it appointed Public Relations consultant Harrison Cowley to deliver a PR campaign marking the completion of the People's Network - the UK's biggest publicly funded ICT initiative of its kind.

Boasting that "through the People's Network project, the UK's 4,000 public libraries will have 30,000 new computer terminals successfully installed by the end of December 2002, offering free or low cost internet access to all", it hails as a success "this six-year project, which has been funded by the New Opportunities Fund and managed by Resource" (This seems premature, the project has been running only for 3 years).

Jo O'Driscoll, Resource's Head of Communications, has said: "The People's Network is an absolutely fantastic achievement, which we all want to celebrate.  Public libraries have so much to be proud of in delivering this project on time and in budget and we should shout about this success (and on and on....).

"Half of the UK's population already use their local libraries (do they really? The number of registered borrowers is 35 million out of a population of 60 million, but only a fraction of these are regular users) We'd like to see even more people joining, and want everyone to know about the difference that People's Network is making to the whole library community. Harrison Cowley will help us communicate the real difference that the People's Network will make to people's lives." (There is a slight problem here. Some libraries are already stretched to breaking point dealing with user enquiries about PN machines. If yet more people are encouraged to use them (or indeed merely to experiment and play), more money will be needed for front-line staff and perhaps on a continuing basis).

Back in the real world, as reported in The Independent on 17 May 2002, libraries are characterised by falling usage, poorly maintained buildings often in areas where there is no longer sufficient demand for the services they offer, falling expenditure on books and shorter opening hours, presumably all to save money.


Brief comments on 'First Findings' - the first official report into the PN scheme, written by Prof. Peter Brophy of Manchester Metropolitan University (previously Manchester Polytechnic).

Many reports consist of nothing more than a random assortment of politically correct phrases and buzz words liberally sprinkled upon the finest quality paper. Part of the trick is to realise that because so many glossy reports are now produced by local and central government, there is little chance of anyone actually reading a copy. (Sadly, the same is true for websites.)

Forewarned is forearmed, and we can now examine briefly Professor Brophy's 23 page beautifully presented report on People's Network computers. However, the main congratulatory paragraphs revolve around the following data and assertions. Comments are in purple.

1. "The People's Network is a project to bring the internet and on-line services to the whole UK population". It can easily be shown that the network is so thinly spread that only a tiny fraction of the population could ever use it on a regular basis.

2. "By the end of December 2002, 68.5 million hours of internet access per annum will be available, and that most of it will be free at the point of use. Overall utilisation of this capacity is already above 50%." The human brain is hopeless at distinguishing 600,000 hours from 6 million from 60 million. This is because scaling factors of up to about 7 can be accommodated and peoples' perception of 'hours' is limited to about 8 or 10. The data would be better presented normalised 'per machine'. Thus 68.5 million divided by 30,000 computers yields 2283 hours per year or 44 hours in an average week. The actual time a computer will be available may be less, because of changeover times, system faults etc, and a figure of 40 hours may be a good maximum estimate. Assuming one computer per 2000 of the population, and assuming 75% utilisation (say 30 hours rather than 40) and assuming that AT LEAST half the time will be taken up by a few 'regular users' leaves 15 hours per week spread amongst (say) only 750 casual users. The availability is therefore ONE HOUR PER USER EVERY YEAR. This seems ample for the purposes of e-government!

3. "Statistical data has been analysed alongside individual case studies to provide a picture of a quiet revolution taking place across the UK". Does this refers to the seething discontent of some library staff? I never cease to be amazed how many 'academics' try to pull the wool by saying they 'analyse' data when the quality of the raw material is so poor that hardly anything could be done with it. But maybe it keeps them in gainful employment.

4. "People are finding new ways to communicate, across countries and continents, lives are being enriched, social barriers breached and learning opportunities grasped." How moving - and what a poetic way of describing sending an email instead of a letter.

5. "The People's Network is moving beyond connectivity into community engagement, to make the transformation to a wired society a positive experience for all." Count the buzz words, admire the social inclusion and despair that 'good cause' lottery money is spent producing this sort of drivel.

6. "That users appear to be coming in significant numbers from among disadvantaged groups in our society is an added accomplishment." At a time when the gulf between rich and poor is growing ever wider, it must be comforting for these unfortunate people (heavy purchasers of lottery tickets) to know that they are, on average, likely to be able to have one hour every year on a computer.

7. An on-line discussion list is maintained at www.jiscmail.ac.uk/lists/peoplesnetwork.html . Why bother?

8. "The range of users is extremely wide, from schoolchildren to 90 year olds". This represents the fraction of the population able to walk to a library and is a great surprise.

9. "Detailed analysis of libraries' returns suggests that reasons for using the People's Network can be categorised as follows: Learning, Finding work, Personal identity, Community enrichment, Social inclusion, Culture and creativity." How much 'detailed analysis' was necessary to produce this predetermined list? Who cares? It is all so predictable. Just look up the past press releases of Resource and the People's Network and you'll find all the stock phrases there, waiting to be recycled.

10. "In a three month period, 25,000 users undertook IT get started courses, 30,000 did an Internet Taster course, and 10,000 embarked on an office software course". Fantastic. In three months 30,000 computers could be used about 800 times each. So about one in every 400 users did something seriously educational, the rest emailed, surfed and played about - but I guess we suspected that already!!

11. "A survey of 10 library authorities logged over 85,000 uses of email over a three month period". Statistics are so meaningful when presented in total isolation! How many computers in the 10 authorities? How many total log-ins? Where is the perspective?

12. "There is no conclusive evidence that the People's Network is attracting individuals from social grades D and E (semi and unskilled manual workers, casual or low grade workers)." Oh dear me, better ask library authorities to make a special effort to look out for these people, ask them for a few anecdotes, and in the final report all will be well.

13. "A high proportion of unemployed people of all ages using the service for job related purposes." Revelation!!

14. "We have our own computer but rely on the library for Internet access." Entirely in line with expectations. Seasoned users, who know a good thing when they see it, will make full and regular use of the broadband lines, for example to collect dubious emails and visit sites that might transmit viruses, thus protecting their home machines. Once more people start doing this, the spare capacity for the poor D and E social groups will be zero, and e-government for the masses will be a distant dream. 'Twas ever thus.

15. "Of non-library users who have tried the computers, no less than 40% have joined the library." Yes, but did they read a book or borrow a video?

16. "NOF have commissioned the Tavistock Institute to undertake a two year evaluation of the People's Network. Preliminary findings are due in Spring 2003." I can hardly wait. Maybe this too will need translating into Plain English.

The paper copy of the report can be obtained from Resource on 020 7273 1458 or downloaded from http://www.resource.gov.uk/information/publications/00pubs.asp.


Questions that the Minister (Tessa Jowell) may refuse to answer.

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