Arts Council England (ACE) has announced a £3.4m fund to get the next phase of the "single digital presence" (SDP), a long-planned national website for all public libraries, off the ground.
The work will be conducted in partnership with the British Library, which is developing the new platform. The SDP aims to improve public access to the collections, exhibitions and online events of libraries around the country, and was first suggested in William Sieghart’s 2014 Independent Library Report.
However, with collaboration needed from around 150 local authorities to make it work, the project has taken time to get going. Earlier this year, news that Oak National Academy had launched a new virtual library in partnership with the National Literacy Trust, led to some criticism of the SDP's own slow progress.
The first phase of the project took place from 2018 to 2020, involving extensive research into international models of similar projects, and consultation with libraries and members of the public to explore how a digital platform might work and the resources that would be needed. This next phase will see a public-facing version of the platform developed and live-tested, with £1m of the funding ringfenced to help libraries in England upgrade their IT capabilities to be compatible with the platform.
Darren Henley, c.e.o. of ACE, said: “This investment will enable the British Library to build the next stage of a national platform for libraries across the country. It will host library-curated content and services, promoting two-way traffic with local library websites and giving national visibility to local events and collections. As well as benefiting the whole country, this exciting new resource will be available to global audiences, so it will have both national and international significance.”
Liz Jolly, chief librarian of the British Library, added: “We warmly welcome this funding, which will build on the success of British Library and public library partnerships, such as the living knowledge network and the business and IP centre national network to develop a digital platform which promotes and supports public library services across the UK. This initiative marks a new phase of commitment by the British Library and ACE to work together strategically to support, strengthen and transform the public library sector.”
This phase of the programme is funded for three years, with launch of the new platform expected in the second year. During that time the British Library will investigate how the platform can be improved to make sure it continues to address the needs of library users in years to come.
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