Library scheme promises ICT skills for all

A multi-million-dollar nationwide rollout is planned

The public library-run People’s Network project, which is designed to teach the public basic computer and internet skills, already has some possible sources of funds, says Graham Coe, CIO of the National Library, which is driving the project. A multi-million-dollar nationwide rollout is planned.

Coe declined to go into further detail but indicated that the potential sponsors are private companies “involved in the computer industry in one way or another.”

The network has received an initial grant of $576,000 from the Community Partnership Fund, as part of the government’s Digital Strategy funding scheme. This will fund a pilot project and will see 120 thin-client machines installed in ten libraries in four local authority areas.

The total rollout is likely to involve about 2,000 desktop machines and is expected to cost more than $4 million. It might take two years or more to roll out the full network, “but that’s a top-of-the-head estimate,” says Coe.

“We might not have been expected to apply for this kind of funding, being a government agency, but we’re facilitating this on behalf of the public library sector,” he says.

A project manager has been appointed to lead development of the network. He is John Truesdale who currently works for Christchurch City Council. Truesdale will take up his new post full-time in December.

It’s hard to say in advance what capabilities the People’s Network will be able to provide for users, says Coe. “The public libraries will have the main say on that.”

However, a similar project in the UK began with teaching people basic tasks, such as word-processing and how to send emails, it then moved on to how to conduct business transactions online. It also taught people how to search government websites to see if they were entitled to social welfare other payments.

“Down the track, we expect to see people using social software [to set up blogs and interest groups]”, says Coe.

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