HC Deb 16 February 1998 vol 306 cc749-50
7. Ms Moran

What plans he has to develop information services in public libraries. [27591]

Mr. Fisher

We are currently considering a report from the Library and Information Commission, which recommends the development of information technology in public libraries. We will respond to the report's recommendations soon.

Ms Moran

I welcome that response. Will my hon. Friend take into account the fact that, in some areas, access to libraries is the only access to information for many households? For example, Luton central library in my constituency was lucky enough to receive the largest grant from the Department, and grants from the Wolfson Libraries Challenge fund and Vauxhall Motors to secure access to information and information technology for households for which access to books, let alone computers, is severely limited. Will he use that as a model to ensure that resources are targeted to those in greatest need, so that there is the widest possible access to the national grid for learning?

Mr. Fisher

I would have thought that hon. Members on both sides of the House would agree that one of the greatest problems is the growing gap between the information-rich and the information-poor. The public library service can probably act most readily as a mentor to bridge that gap.

Mr. Evans

Does the Minister agree that the introduction of information technology to libraries would be a new lease of life for some of them and would attract some people who would never have dreamt of going into a library before? Will he also pay due regard to rural libraries? It is important that we make IT facilities available to them, as many of my constituents cannot afford the £1,000 to £2,000 to buy the equipment for their homes. We should not create an IT subclass, in rural areas or elsewhere, and we should not deny people the enjoyment of junk e-mail or of the world wide web, which could provide communities with additional learning facilities.

Mr. Fisher

Mr. Matthew Evans's commission recommends a public library network, which will meet many of the hon. Gentleman's points.