Public Libraries

Digital, Culture, Media and Sport – in the House of Commons on 11th April 2019.

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Photo of Mary Creagh Mary Creagh Chair, Environmental Audit Committee

What recent assessment his Department has made of the adequacy of internet access in public libraries.

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

DCMS invested £2.6 million to install and upgrade free wi-fi in public libraries across England. I am pleased to say that over 99% of public library buildings now provide internet access. I was delighted to visit Wakefield and see the wonderful Theatre Royal, the Hepworth gallery and the Yorkshire sculpture park.

Photo of Mary Creagh Mary Creagh Chair, Environmental Audit Committee

What a treat the Minister must have had in Wakefield. I urge hon. Members to visit during our wonderful year of sculpture which will start at the end of June.

We have lost three libraries in Wakefield, and across Yorkshire and the Humber we have lost more than 530 computers. So as the jobcentres are closing, we are seeing a digital exclusion double whammy. The disabled are not able to apply for jobs and universal credit, children in temporary accommodation have nowhere to do their homework, and asylum seekers at the initial accommodation centre in Wakefield have real difficulty getting internet access to register with the Home Office. Will the Minister look at provision in Wakefield?

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I am always happy to look at these matters, but of course the facts are that over 99% of public library buildings now have internet access, and we have invested over £4 million on innovative library projects to improve people’s digital skills, literacy, health and wellbeing. Many millions of pounds are going into that topic, but we will remain alive to those issues.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Conservative, South Holland and The Deepings

In that spirit, Mr Speaker, Marcel Proust said:

“There are perhaps no days of our childhood that we lived as fully as…the days we spent with a favourite book”.

Getting children into libraries is critically important not only for the health of those libraries, but for the development of our collective futures. Will the Minister, the nation’s librarian, confirm that he intends to begin a new initiative to bind schools and libraries together so that we can allow more children, particularly from disadvantaged homes, to enjoy the benefits of books?

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I am very flattered by my right hon. Friend’s question, and he makes an important point. The interplay between schools and libraries is a long-lasting one. It enriches lives and we want to promote it at every possible opportunity. We do that by encouraging the wide use of libraries by all sections of society, and I am pleased to confirm that libraries are used by more people across all socioeconomic groups and parts of our society than any other cultural form. He is right to quote Proust, as of course he always is.