A project to create a national digital network for all public libraries in England has begun, with a £30,000 grant from Arts Council England.
The creation of a unified digital platform for library resources, including book catalogues and IT training, was one of the recommendations of the Sieghart report into public libraries. The Society of Chief Librarians (SCL), which is leading the project, has appointed Canadian firm BiblioCommons to begin research in the project, with the first phase expected to be completed at the end of March.
The news comes ahead of National Libraries Day tomorrow, where libraries across the country are hosting events to celebrate the service. Events taking place include a Harry Potter quiz and story time at Datrford Library in Kent, to a talk by crime writer Ann Cleeves at the Central Library in South Shields.
In some areas, library campaigners are using the day to protest against planned cuts. In Cardiff, a demonstration is planned outside the Central Library, while protestors in Birmingham will form a human chain around the Library of Birmingham.
The new digital network announcement follows on from the SCL's creation of an internship programme for young people in libraries, based around the successful TeachFirst scheme.
SCL president Ciara Eastell said: "Libraries are powerful and free sources of information and knowledge. They can and do change people’s lives, and this project is the next step on an important journey for public libraries in making all that information available at the click of a mouse. We hope this first stage helps secure the investment needed to deliver the project fully."
In William Sieghart's report into the library service, he called for government funding for a national digital resource for libraries, incorporating free Wi-fi as standard and envisioning a single library catalogue with national library cards.
Brian Ashley, director of libraries at Arts Council England, said: "Creating a strong, national digital platform for libraries is crucial. It needs to find new ways to engage people in discovering the extraordinary range and breadth of library services. So we are very pleased to be funding this important project with Society of Chief Librarians and BiblioCommons."