Plymouth libraries are 'desperately in need of WiFi', council is told
PUBLIC libraries desperately need to move into the WiFi age, experts have told Plymouth City Council.
Young people would be sad to see libraries disappear – but their needs are changing, a council panel heard yesterday.
With budgets under increasing pressure and councils around the country closing libraries, Plymouth's library service faces tough challenges.
Cllr Ian Tuffin, the group's chairman, said: "We are looking at long-term solutions and the possibility of involving partner organisations."
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But he said the Labour group on the council had made a commitment not to close libraries.
"Our remit is to find ways of getting the footfall up in libraries – and not expensive ways."
Dan Thomas, commercial manager for South West Trading Routes, which runs a café at the new St Albans library in Devonport, told councillors: "I.T. is key."
He said WiFi was essential, especially in deprived areas of the city.
"Most people have smart phones, but whether they have WiFi at home is another thing.
"Plymouth libraries desperately need WiFi. Free WiFi in libraries would allow those people to go in and use it."
And he said the council should consider providing tablet devices to encourage teenagers to come in.
Sarah Heffernan, Youth Worker and co-ordinator for the UK Youth Parliament in Plymouth, said a survey had found that only about half of teenagers use public libraries.
Some said their school libraries were more useful, and others stuck to the internet.
"They have been brought up in the digital age and society is moving towards ebooks," Ms Heffernan said.
"Some young people felt libraries and books would not be around when they are adults. Some felt that would be a big shame."
She said one girl had heard a rumour that libraries were going to get Wiis and X-Boxes, and she was upset because she wanted them to be places of peace and tranquillity."
Sue Benjamin-Fast, business development manager for Cornwall Libraries and a co-opted member of the panel, said it was common for teenagers to seek quiet in libraries because of crowded homes.
Cllr Glenn Jordan (Con, Plympton Chaddlewood), a panel member, said: "Young people need somewhere quiet where they can sit and do their homework, away from their screaming brothers and sisters at home."
He said the city could revive the idea of Sunday morning clubs in libraries.
Jane Gosling, who runs Plymouth University's library, said the way students use the library had changed radically.
The days of totally silent libraries were a thing of the past. Although the university has quiet areas, many students work together and are allowed to bring in food and drink.
"It's very noisy," she said. "This generation is used to multi-tasking.
"Our aim is to try to provide services anywhere, any time to as many devices as possible.
The university library is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It has 1,100 study spaces, WiFi, and power points for every study desk.
"Increasingly, our policy is to go digital first."
The university library is open to the public, who can also pay to join as associate members.
Plymouth Central Library is hosting a "Love Your Library" day on Saturday to celebrate National Libraries Day.