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Associations and InstitutionsAnnual 

64th IFLA Conference Logo

   64th IFLA General Conference
   August 16 - August 21, 1998


Code Number: 006-106-E
Division Number: III.
Professional Group: Libraries Serving Disadvantaged Persons
Joint Meeting with: -
Meeting Number: 106
Simultaneous Interpretation:   Yes

The contribution of public libraries to higher education opportunities for the socially and economically deprived in rural societies

Joe D Hendry
County Heritage Services,
Cumbria, United Kingdom


This paper considers the role of public libraries with regard to higher education oppportunities for disadvantaged groups in rural communities. Cumbria is one of Britain's most isolated rural areas and developments in information and communications technologies have the potential to significantly reduce such isolation. This paper discusses the Genesis Project, a recent initiative which in harnessing these technologies, is seeking to develop a new community-based method of providing life-long learning at every level


Cumbria's Genesis Project is, we believe, a Visionary, Community based, Life-Long Learning Process. It adopts a Holistic Approach to the Educational, Economic and Social Needs of one of the most isolated regions of Britain: CUMBRIA. In particular it seeks to provide a University for one of England's most deprived rural areas.

In United Kingdom terms Cumbria is geographically very isolated. Long distances separate its communities and over 40% of its population lives in settlements of less that 10,000 people. Many of these communities face severe disadvantages as the normal facilities, expected as part of life in the last years of the twentieth century, are available only in the larger towns, which are often a considerable distance away.

The county covers 6,000 square kilometres. It has a population of 492,000, which is growing in Eden and South Lakeland Districts, and declining in West Cumbria and Barrow-in-Furness. Its workforce is approaching 250,000.

Its economy is dominated by high and medium level technology manufacturing, especially on the West Cumbria coast. This is complemented by tourism, which provides relatively low paid jobs to a predominantly female workforce in the rural setting of the Lakes. Much of the West Coast's economy suffers from a legacy of industrial dereliction and poor infrastructure which hampers attempts to foster economic development. Elsewhere in Cumbria the rural economy is under threat with perhaps 4,000 jobs likely to disappear from agriculture during the remainder of the 1990's.

Not only are Cumbria's communities isolated one from another because of the sheer physical mass of Cumbria and its internal geography, Cumbria is also isolated from much of the rest of Britain, and even more so from mainland Europe, yet is a Unique Region in both the United Kingdom and Europe. In part, because of this very remoteness, it is regarded by many as a Special Place. One of outstanding natural beauty where the natural and managed landscape has blended over the centuries of the present Millennium. It inspired the Romantic Revival, with its enormous impact on English Language and Literature. At this time it has leading world industries in Energy and Marine Engineering. It is home to the Lake District National Park and a World Heritage Site at Hadrian's Wall, which was built from 122AD onwards and illustrates Cumbria's heritage, not only in the last 1,000 years, but also in the first Millennium.

The Cumbrian ways of life and traditions are still reflected in its individual communities, it history, social geography, and its dialects.

For all of these circumstances, Cumbria is unique. It faces major challenges in maintaining its ways of life and traditions, in educating its young people, in re-skilling and training its population, in communicating between individuals and communities, in and outside Cumbria. The decline in its traditional industries and its poor physical infrastructure of road, rail and air links hampers attempts to foster economic development.

In no area of Cumbrian life is this more apparent than in the field of education and learning. There are a large number of small primary schools with limited teaching resources and which have difficulty in covering the full range of the national curriculum. In secondary education, in many areas, it is not possible to provide a full range of subjects to give Cumbria's young people real opportunities for their future. Many rural secondary schools have no Sixth Form, and therefore no opportunity for their pupils to obtain `A' levels, other than by transferring to other, more distant, secondary schools. These 'A' levels are the qualifications young people need to gain in order to secure a University place. Further Education faces similar difficulties and challenges with numbers of students often insufficient to justify commercially the range of courses wanted by local people.

Higher education developments remain very limited. Recent years have seen the establishment of a small University Campus at Carlisle, as an outpost of the University of Northumbria at Newcastle. This Carlisle Campus specialises in Management Studies. Its location at Carlisle, however, makes access to it extremely difficult for many Cumbrians. Other Higher Education opportunities have been provided by outreach courses in Further Education Colleges, with mentoring and support in the main from the University of Central Lancashire at Preston. Almost invariably these courses require attendance during the second and third years in an institution in another part of Britain. This is not a realistic option for many students as financial constraints increasingly impinge on the Higher Education Sector.

Similar problems exist in the provision of related Public Services. Traditional and conventional solutions will not provide these opportunities in Cumbria. Nor does Cumbria have the critical mass of population and population density to make it commercially viable for the international telecommunications industry to invest in an electronic communications infrastructure, such as a comprehensive Broadband Network, to allow Cumbria's industries, education services and communities to be able to participate in the evolving Information Society of the next millennium. Cumbria now needs a solution to these disadvantages by developing a new, community-based method of providing Life-Long Education at every level: the Genesis Project, which will prepare Cumbria, its people and its industries for the challenges of the twenty-first century and beyond.

At this point, I think it would be helpful if we place the development of Genesis within the wider framework of the Emerging Global Information Society of the twenty-first century.

The invention of the printing press - the Gutenberg Revolution as it is sometimes described - has been, arguably, the most significant event in this Millennium which is now drawing to a close. It brought about the Reformation - which was in itself a Revolution. It stimulated the Renaissance, and it spawned the Industrial Revolution. I suppose it is an understatement to observe of this wonderful world of ours, that the place has never been quite the same since.

We now find ourselves looking towards a new Millennium. And standing at the threshold of a new Revolution that promises to be as profound and far reaching in its consequences as was Gutenberg's moveable type.

The Electronic Transmission of Information will create a new and very different society to any that we have known. The following quotation is from The Bangemann Report, published in May 1994,

And whether we like it or not, we who work in Educational Institutions and in Public Funded Libraries are being forced to recognise that that resource : Information, is a marketable commodity. As a result many of us who work in the traditional public funded sectors of library and information management may be suffering a range of feelings and emotions. Feelings that range from being uncomfortable and ill at ease, to something close to real fear or grief at the erosion of the Public Service Ethos. To which many of us have committed our Adult lives.

For example, the Ethos of the Public Library Service for the last 150 years has been based on the Principles of Free Access to knowledge and information, for the individual, at point of contact with this community resource. A resource which provides opportunities for Life-Long Education, paid for by the Community for the benefit, even the intellectual enrichment of the individual.

How does this long-held Ethos square with the dogma of the Market Economy, Information as a Marketable Commodity, Competitive Tendering of Services, and the syndrome first developed in New Zealand as `User Pays'.

How profound the importance of this Emerging Information Society will be, is reflected in the following,

There are not the words of an Academic, or even of a political `spin-doctor'. They are from the European Union's White Paper on Competition!

We in the Public Sector are faced - confronted is probably a more appropriate word - by an Information Revolution driven by the Market Forces of the Private Sector.

In practice, how will this effect our Society, our Community, our family? This is what the British Labour Party had to say, in its 1995 policy document, Communicating Britain's future,

Clearly, then, we live in times of rapid change both in our local communities, and in the emerging Global Society of the next century. These changes have the potential to bring remarkable opportunities : to enhance our economic growth, the creation of wealth and jobs, the ability to make available life-long Education, in the most liberal sense of that word, the People's University, and to retain and renew the fabric of our local communities and traditions. These opportunities range from enhanced Participatory Democracy to Electronic Commerce for Small and Medium sized businesses (SMEs). Perhaps then, we should pause for a moment, and ponder the words of Francis Bacon, Shakespeare's contemporary. Words whose sound advice echoes down the centuries to us now, thanks to Gutenberg,

Remember that the Victorians intended that the Public Library for example, was to be the Working Man's University. When Andrew Carnegie performed the Opening Ceremony of the Elder Library, Govan, Glasgow, in 1903, he was in no doubt as to its purpose. And why he was spending so much of his fortune providing the English Speaking World with Public Libraries, he said,

This mirrors almost exactly the substance of a speech by Sir John Potter, Lord Mayor of Manchester, when in 1852 he opened the first Free Public Library as a result of the Public Libraries Act of 1850. Supported on the platform by the Radical and Liberal Establishment of the time: such as the Earl of Shaftesbury, Charles Dickens, William Thackeray and John Bright, Sir John Potter, was clear that this provision was:

I provide these quotations to remind us of the historical context in which many Public Funded Libraries have developed, and their original Ethos. And that these Libraries are not only about the provision of Information, but about Education in all its aspects. About opportunities for training, re-skilling, life-long learning in all its diverse and liberal forms.

I would contend that education and training have a critical role to play in underpinning the move towards a global information society. This role is not only Informational. It is Inspirational: in raising awareness and skill levels across all sections of the population and workforce, and in continuing to support lifelong learning in line with the rapid evolution of Information Technology and its potential applications.

And so, as I have indicated, the world is in the throes of a technological revolution that can make distance and geographical location a factor of the past. Developments in Information Technology and Computing can now give people in local communities access to knowledge, learning, education and information without this being dependent on the particular physical location of people and premises. Instead these can be accessed through new communication systems that will network to other people, and to this knowledge and information, in other parts of Britain, and throughout the world. Those in the future who are committed to a process of Learning will no longer need to travel distances to particular locations. The new and rapidly developing Information Technology Systems can provide Cumbria with the opportunity to use this technology to overcome distance and sparsity of population, in providing a unique process of Life-Long Learning.

The philosophy central to Genesis is to build a relationship with the people of Cumbria such that it creates a Sense of Identity with local people, and enhances people's lives. Because of Cumbria's particular circumstances it is especially well placed to develop this Project. It is unfettered by many of the academic traditions of the past. Therefore, it has a special opportunity to develop a process of Life-Long Learning, including Higher Education, that will be pivotal in providing a new kind of learning in society. Its significance will be international and community based.

This philosophy is derived from a series of research projects in recent years whose findings have highlighted the problems facing Cumbria. These findings cam be summarised as follows:

Figures for Mandatory Awards (HE) made by Cumbria County Council in subsequent years show no significant change to those for 1993/94.

The solutions to change and improve Cumbria's circumstances are detailed in our Genesis Project.

Genesis will:

  1. Link local schools together across Cumbria improving the quality of education and the ability to teach in new and innovative ways.

  2. Network all existing colleges of Further and Higher Education and go on to link these with Cumbria's local schools, thus providing access to educational opportunities at every level, irrespective of the location of the academic institution or school.

  3. Enable all Public Sector Agencies to share and disseminate information so that a service can be provided effectively to all communities in a way that is not possible at present. A direct result will be that Cumbrians will have greatly improved information about services available to them. They will have the ability to have their questions answered and their problems dealt with, without leaving their local area.

  4. Network existing Services to Business and Commerce to provide better and more readily accessible information and advice. This will assist these businesses to develop and thus provide enhanced job opportunities. This process would allow businesses to access advice and support not only from Public Agencies such as the Training and Enterprise Council and Business Link, but from the resources of Further and Higher Education throughout Cumbria.

  5. Provide the means to develop new opportunities for Higher Education delivered on a Distance Learning basis from existing University outlets within Cumbria, new outlets developed as a result of the Project, and from academic institutions outwith Cumbria, whether in other parts of the United Kingdom or elsewhere in the world.

  6. Create an opportunity for Cumbria's Tourist Industry to provide a network of information throughout Cumbria, and which can then be accessed world-wide via the Internet. This information would relate to accommodation, attractions, amenities, other places to visit and their accessibility. It would thus allow immediate electronic booking facilities in a way equivalent to that currently used by the international travel industry.

  7. Deliver a Digital Library facility which would, initially, provide access to all books and publications in all the institutions forming part of the Network. Eventually, technological advance would also create a `paperless' library with access to information being gained through electronic means.

  8. Offer commercial opportunities to sell capacity on the Network to businesses wishing to promote their products within and beyond Cumbria. This would provide on-going finance to ensure the long-term viability of the Network. It would also establish an international Electronic Commerce facility for Small and Medium Sized Cumbrian Enterprises to compete in international markets.

  9. Utilise schools, colleges, libraries and village halls as community facilities for continuous learning in a way that, at present, is simply not available. Future developments would also provide complementary access to people's homes.

This vision is shared by others nationally and internationally. At a National Level, the Higher Education Funding Council, in April 1995, issued, Exploiting Information Systems in Higher Education. An Issues Paper. The Joint Information Systems Committee of the H.E.F.C. stated in this paper that the opportunities where Information Systems have much to offer are:

In summary, the Committee concluded that `the next decade will be subject to greater competition for funds and students. HEIs will be efficiently run with a clear academic and business focus. There may be fewer institutions, with some aimed at specialist and niche markets. Students will be more demanding and will require flexible training designed to enhance career potential. The HEI of the future will seek a foundation in challenging learning and research programmes and will be closely integrated into the local and regional community and often with an international dimension. This will mean that the next ten years will be a period of great change both organisationally and in terms of external links. Change demands flexibility and a clear focus. There are many opportunities to be explored and this paper will now concentrate on areas where information and information systems can be exploited by institutions to ensure they thrive in this new climate.'

Genesis will place Cumbria in the vanguard of the dramatic economic, social and cultural changes which the new Millennium heralds, and which will impact on all of developed society: in Britain, in Europe, and throughout the world. This Life-Long Learning Project will address the challenges of the next Century. World Society will have the pressures of population growth and its impact on the environment; the social and economic processes resulting in a widening gap between rich and poor; and the need to develop a highly educated, skilled and adaptable workforce.
Cumbria will do so by developing its strategy for Life-Long Learning, by means of Distance Open and Continuous Learning and through the development of Information Technology. This will be a partnership between Business and Industry, Local Communities, Local Government, and Cumbria's Education systems of Colleges, Schools and Libraries.

The Genesis Project will therefore be realised by the development of this process of Life-Long Learning, under-pinned by the incremental development of an advanced, broadband electronic communication and IT infrastructure which will support those Economic, Educational, Public and Social goals in a combined, seamless manner. Such an infrastructure will not only secure the effective re-generation of Cumbria's economy, dramatically improve its educational opportunities, and provide co-ordination and access to public services, it will encourage partnership and collaboration, enhance external communication, and allow the rural and urban economies and community life to flourish, by permitting Cumbria to communicate simply and effectively in itself, and with the rest of the world.

We are acutely aware too, that while the Information Revolution has the potential to bring remarkable benefits, it also has the capacity to widen dramatically the gap between the Information Rich and the Information Poor: in local communities, within nations, and between the Developed and the Developing World. In Cumbria at least, we are determined that this will not happen.

The Market

To provide a sound basis for planning the Genesis project, a substantial survey of local opinion has been commissioned. This household survey was undertaken by the market research organisation MORI. Other aspects of the research were supervised by the Market Research Society (MRS).

The market research had four specific aims:

Key findings

The household survey undertaken by MORI allowed reliable estimates to be made about attitudes and experience of individuals of different ages and social classes.

Since we were concerned to take into account the views of individuals living in all parts of Cumbria, the sample included a cross section including those living in towns, villages, and those in more remote locations. 1500 individuals were surveyed by MORI.

Opportunities for Young People

Previous research has highlighted the enthusiasm amongst young people for IT based projects and the belief that these will be useful and can improve the quality of people's lives (IT for All, Read all about IT, December 1996).

The MORI research showed that four in five families thought it was likely that their children would benefit from GENESIS facilities. There was considerable enthusiasm from children and young adults for the GENESIS project aims.

Reaction of Specific Groups

Access to opportunity

National research carried out in the UK by Motorola has pointed to the development of a nation of IT have's and have nots which mirror existing social divides. Although the MORI work in Cumbria has confirmed this danger it has also pointed to an enthusiasm to avoid the dangers of dis-empowerment and to make use of services being offered through GENESIS.

Training, awareness and confidence raising

Although many people were confident that they could make good use of emerging technologies, and wished to learn more about their potential, the cost of the equipment purchase is currently restricting access significantly.

Getting the Services Right

The GENESIS Programme identifies a range of business, community and lifelong learning services which it is anticipated will be used by the citizens of Cumbria. The services were included from experience gained by public demand in a range of agencies including Libraries, information centres, council offices, Business Links, schools, colleges and the TEC. We have been able to gauge needs further by use of the MORI Household Survey and the GENESIS Road Show. Results from both of these have confirmed that our original proposals were accurate, with a potentially significant take-up of each type of service offered. Whilst the MORI Household Survey enabled people to consider a wide range of issues concerning IT and information services, the GENESIS Road Show enabled direct public access to a wide range of information and learning services using different IT devices including touch-screen access and video-conferencing. This confirmation that our proposed services are in demand had!

Led us to draw up a schedule of our planned Phase I Implementation Strategy. This will consist of 140 Access Points on 20 sites throughout Cumbria. It will include eight Public Access Touch Screen Terminals in partnership with BT (British Telecom) and will be launched in January 1998.

Genesis has the potential to become the Flagship for Cumbria's Educational and Cultural Industries, and to establish knowledge-based industries as a major employer and wealth creator in the next century.

In summary, this is what Genesis aims to achieve:

The most recent development in our thinking, which again is part of the holistic approach which we have tried to adopt consistently in the Genesis Project, is to establish a Tourist Information Strategy, which will run on Cumbria's Broadband Network to direct many of the tourists who come to Cumbria and who are attracted by the central Lakes area which is termed the Lake District National Park, to other more peripheral parts of North and West Cumbria and the Furness Peninsular. The use of the Broadband Network has several major advantages:

And, in part at least, this next quotation, is the Reason why Genesis and schemes like it, are so important. It's a poem, originally written in the old language of Scotland, the Gaelic. It describes a rural community, a village on the small Hebridean Island of Raasay. Which died. As a result of a combination of the effects of the Highland Clearances, poverty and lack of opportunity, and a failure to adapt to changing economic circumstances. The poem was written by Scotland's finest Gaelic poet, Sorley MacLean. I hope its message is relevant to all the isolated, and peripheral regions of Europe. It is called, HALLAIG.

"Time, the deer, is in the woods of Raasay"