Nearly 9 million people in the UK have never used the internet before. According to Race Online 2012 4 million of those are amongst the most disadvantaged :
39 % are over 65
38 % are unemployed
18 % are families with children
Recent research has shown that four in ten people in the Gloucestershire and Bristol region do not have access to the internet. As many services and important information moves online those that lack access to the internet are becoming increasingly left behind and excluded. Job searching and applications, local housing lists, information on benefits and discounted utility bills are just a few of the things that people are missing out on. Not to mention homework research tools for children and email communication for staying in touch with friends.
Internet access and technology are an expensive luxury that are out of the reach of many. For those that cannot afford it, or do not have the confidence to get themselves online, libraries are one of the few places where they can engage in the increasingly electronic world, for free, and can receive help and support in doing so.
The Race Online campaign has recognised the social and economic importance of closing the digital divide and are endeavouring to get all of us using computers and accessing the internet. One of the ways they are trying to achieve this is with their “Give an Hour” campaign that is running from 22 October – 12 November.
With 40% of people in Gloucestershire not having access to the internet it is good to see that Gloucestershire County Council are doing their bit (see here) but we cannot help but note the irony.
Cllr Antonia Noble, Cabinet member for libraries, said: “The internet is a great way of getting information. It’s also good fun and makes staying in touch with friends and family really easy.”The county council already supports getting people online through weekly First Click courses in libraries. And around the county, library staff help around 170 people get online every day.”
Gloucestershire County Council are currently trying to dump ten of their libraries by withdrawing funding, are drastically reducing funding to others and are cutting every single mobile library in this large rural county. As jobs are lost and peoples incomes are increasingly squeezed libraries are now more important than ever for keeping people connected and engaged. Yet GCC are closing them. It is only thanks to the injunction that is in place stopping GCC from making these devastating cuts that many people in our county are still connected or can get involved in the “Give an Hour” campaign which helps them to take the plunge into the wonders of the internet.
Libraries are not just about books but have much wider social benefits. It seems that, judging by their cuts plans, Gloucestershire County Council are too short-sighted to see this. How does that saying go “they know the cost of everything and the value of nothing”.