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I’ll do it, but only if you’ll help

Pledge “britishlib”

"I will write to my MP asking for free Wireless Internet access in the British Library but only if 20 other people will pledge to write to their MP to ask for it too."

— Tom Steinberg, director of mySociety

Deadline to sign up by: 5th July 2005
34 people signed up (14 over target)

Country: United Kingdom

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Wireless internet access at the British Library is an absurd four pounds fifty an hour. Even in the more free-market US, WiFi is free in public libraries - that's why you go to them, for free access to knowledge. Lack of wireless actually makes research at the libraries harder and slower, anyone who's done research in the last few years knows how important it is to use the net to find references to hard-copy books and journals . makes it incredibly easy to write to your MP to ask them to change this. I am convinced that if 20 of us use it to write to our various MPs we can get this silly situation changed for the better. Sign up now and we'll get a better, more useful national resource.

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Comments on this pledge

  • The relevant section of my letter to my MP is as follows:

    I'm writing to ask you to help convince the British Library to offer free wireless (WiFi) access to the internet. Currently, the Library do allow people to connect to the internet while inside the library, but charge a rather high rate of £4.50/hour. While the Library is a
    (perhaps the) superb place to garner knowledge, it's good to supplement that knowledge with that available on the internet, and libraries are the best example of the government's drive toward better free public education. The New York Public Library (in its significantly more
    free-market-biased economy!) offers free WiFi access to visitors to the library, and I'd like to see the British Library follow suit; it leads the world in most areas of free access to knowledge, and it would be a shame to see it falling behind in this one thing.
  • Here's mine...

    I am writing to ask you to lobby for the elimination of fees for
    wireless internet access at the British Library. Wireless access, more
    often known as WiFi, is an increasingly ubiquitous way of getting
    access to the internet and the British Library's decision to charge is
    both against the interests of library users, and the library itself.

    In the USA WiFi access is free across most public libraries, despite
    the more free-market nature of that economy. This is because the
    library system there understands that the provision of this very cheap
    facility makes libraries hugely more useful to users, whether they are
    researching academic work or simply visiting for pleasure. Furthermore,
    it proves an extra reason for people to make a trip to their library,
    and so increases libraries' roles as hubs of civic activity and meeting
    places for members of a community.

    The British Library has chosen an opposite and misguided tack from the
    US example. It offers wireless access at £4.50 per hour, an
    astonishing amount of money given the facilities cost at maximum of few
    hundred pounds to run for an entire year. When provided free, WiFi
    actively attracts more users - visit Foyles cafe on the Charing Cross
    road if you need to see an example of how free wifi is part of
    enlightened self-business interest. It is always filled with people, at
    least a few with laptops; people who would certainly not have been
    there buying coffee and cake had WiFi not been available.

    There are two fundamental misunderstandings on the part of the library
    in relation to WiFi. The first is to view it as some sort of executive
    luxury, rather than as a major value adding service for nearly any

    The second misunderstanding is the idea that this is a promising
    revenue generation model. It is not - the 'WiFi bubble' has already
    been widely identified as a business dead-end: the only really
    successful examples of revenue generation using WiFi result from
    companies like Foyles getting people to buy other goods and services
    whilst supplying internet access for free.

    It is my guess that the decision to charge was made by delegated staff
    on behalf of the senior management who almost certainly don't
    understand how it is not only damaging the usefulness of the library
    for researchers, but also almost certainly costing the library
    considerably in forfeited revenue from other services.
  • There's an additional point not mentioned in either of your letters. Apparently there are always insufficient computer terminals in the library, for doing core library things like looking up in the catalogues. Providing free wifi is the cheapest way to provide more of these computers (people's own laptops), and take load off the public terminals so they can be used by those who do not have laptops.
  • ...
    My second concern is the provision of Internet access in the British Library. As a member, I cannot understand why there is a charge for the use of the wireless Internet service in Britain's foremost research library when even normal public libraries in the US provide free access. The Internet has become an indispensable tool for researchers worldwide, and to make access to it an additional cost for library users seems unfair and outmoded.
    FJ, 14 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
  • Have written to Susan Kramer (Richmond Park), via - but have just shut that window without copying it or printing! Sorry...
    Simon, 14 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
  • I was a bit shocked when I got home today to find a house of commons headed letter waiting for me - my MP Paul Goggins for Wythenshawe and Sale East has written to the Minister for Culture and will let me know what his reply is. It's even signed by him, not a secretary type person.

    Will post any more responses I get.
    Ewan, 14 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
  • As the original creator of this pledge I had a lot to say. Here's the content of my letter but if you want the full story visit my website:
    Dear Malcolm Rifkind,

    I am writing to ask that you lobby for the elimination of fees charged at the British Library for wireless internet (WiFi) access. WiFi is a cost-effective means of providing library users with access to electronic resources. The British Library's decision to charge for this service goes against the interests of library users and the library itself.

    A public library has a mandate to make its collection available to as many members of the public as possible. If you have ever been in the reading rooms of the British Library, it is quickly apparent that the number of terminals the BL provides to access electronic resources is woefully inadequate to meet demand. It is both costly and burdensome to provide the necessary hard-wired computers to meet the needs of the public. The only remedy is to provide wireless access so those with their own laptops can access the material themselves, freeing up the Library’s computers for those who need them most. This saves the Library money in the long run as it doesn't have to provide as many internet access points and it is for this reason that American public libraries provide WiFi access for free.

    The British Library charges £4.50 per hour for its wireless access; a usurious amount given that it only costs a few hundred pounds to run the system for a year. What is even more appalling is that the bulk of this money doesn’t even go to the British Library but to a private company that is taking advantage of the BL’s lack of services to charge its users high rates.

    Increasingly, knowledge is now accessed electronically such as online journals, catalogues, websites and data services. The library does not charge for accessing hard copies of books or journals, so it is unfair to charge users for accessing these documents online especially when users are providing their own resources, namely their laptop computers.

    The way the British Library took this decision to charge is also cause for concern. There was no public consultation or survey done seeking input on the various methods of providing WiFI service. Why didn’t the library follow the route of American public libraries? The United States WiFi market is very mature and provides the best experience of what works and what does not. Even most for-profit businesses have realised that WiFi is not a legitimate revenue-generator. You can go into most cafés, even in the supposedly ‘backwater’ states South Carolina and Georgia, and find free WiFi access. Meanwhile, our country’s foremost public library has adopted an antiquated and unworkable business model.

    There was no procurement or tendering process for this provision. John de Lucy, the BL’s Head of Estates & Facilities stated in his letter to me 25 January 2005 that this was because ‘no monies are paid to a supplier’. However, library users are granted no such luxury and will be paying the cost of running this system many times over to a private company.

    When it became clear that the BL had granted such a monopoly provision to a private company, I made a request 21 October 2004 under the previous Open Government Code for the contract. The Library refused my request citing an exemption of commercial confidentiality. On 2 January 2005, I made this request again under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. This time I asked that if the contract was again refused on grounds of confidentiality that I be given the confidentiality agreement and minutes and correspondence where this contract was discussed.

    The British Library subsequently released a redacted version of the contract, though it omitted details on how much revenue the BL actually receives from its arrangement with BZ. The Library also didn’t supply minutes or written correspondence related to their decision to implement the charging scheme, stating that no minutes were taken and the contract was agreed verbally.

    This is a poor and unprofessional way to conduct the public’s business. The British Library is one of our most precious resources and the wealth of knowledge it contains should be available to as wide an audience as possible. Instead, the British Library is reneging on its commitment to provide wide public access to its resources. If the BL is determined to use WiFi as a revenue generator in this way then perhaps it should stop claiming it is a public institution and stop taking the public’s money. I look forward to your input on this matter.

    Kind Regards,
    Heather Brooke

    Enc: Open Government Request 21 October 2004 to British Library
    British Library Response 15 November 2004
    FOIA Request 2 January 2005
    British Library Response 25 January 2005
  • I sent off a fax to Andrew Dismore MP - and got an email back the next morning saying that he's writing to the BL. I'm amazed by this efficiency!
    Leigh Webber, 14 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
  • I work in IT and study part time, doing research at the BL.

    I agree with all of the above, the web browsing PCs are better dedicated to the library's own electronic resources.

    I don't see how they can justify the £4.50 per hour as unless you are watching live TV you will never generate anything like the bandwidth that would cost the BL much on their existing comms budgets. IMO
    Richard Tilbury, 14 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
  • Here's my letter, bits culled from other comments hope you don't mind (I did do a bit of original research!).

    Dear Tim Boswell,

    <private bits cut here>

    All politicians claim to be the guardian of education, recognising that it is key to the prosperity of the nation. As such most libraries offer free internet access and some offer free WiFi (wireless internet connections). Free access to knowledge.

    The British Library is one of the world leading scholastic and research repositories, the reading rooms having 500,000 visits per year.

    It also has an active policy of 'Digitisation', creating digital copies of non digital works (e.g. paining, manuscripts, sound recordings etc). In addition the Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003 (not yet in effect) places a legal requirements on the Library to:

    * It enshrines the principle that electronic or e-publications and other non-print materials will be deposited in the Library
    * It ensures that these publications can be saved as part of the published archive, and become an important resource for future generations of researchers and scholars.

    The work the Library has done thus fare results in over 6 million 'hits' to the electronic collections per year.

    Most researcher and academics utilise computers to aid in the gathering, collation and preparation of their notes, as such the Library allows laptops in to many areas of the Reading Rooms. Lack of wireless actually makes research at libraries harder and slower and so the BL has provided a WiFi connection.


    I find it absolutely incredible that the British Library charges our academics and researchers £4.50 per hour to access this electronic information from their private laptops.

    Not only does this stifle research but this is an extortionate amount given that it only costs a few hundred pounds to run the system for a year. What is even more appalling is that the bulk of this money doesn’t even go to the British Library but to a private company that is taking advantage of the BL’s lack of services to charge its users excessive rates.

    Yet even more incredible is that the BL had no procurement or tendering process for this provision. John de Lucy, the BL’s Head of Estates & Facilities stated that this was because ‘no monies are paid to a supplier’. However, library users are granted no such luxury and will be paying the cost of running this system many times over to a private company.

    The BL has granted a monopoly provision to a private company, without any formal process nor public consultation.

    The British Library 'Service' Agreement, released under the FOIA can be found here

    I strongly believe that is the UK is to encourage learning then the British Library should follow the New York Public Library and provide free wifi access.

    Yours sincerely,

    Philip Shipley
    Phil Shipley, 14 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
  • Yesterday I received a letter from my MP Sir Malcolm Rifkind:

    "Dear Ms Brooke
    Thank you for your letter with regard to fees charged by the British Library.

    I can understand your concern and I have written to the Chief Executive of the British Library and asked her to comment on the points you have raised. I will let you know as soon as I hear from her."

    Who says MPs aren't responsive?!
  • Hello Library fans,
    Please join my new pledge to set up a British Library Users' Group. The WiFi incident shows the need for a users' perspective within the British Library administration.

    Currently, some Library administrators place more emphasis on the needs of private companies. See this interesting article on Hewlett Packard's website 'BL Wifi Leads the Way':

    "As well as being a success in its own right, the WiFi service helps reinforce The British Library’s image as a progressive, technologically aware organisation. With the help of HP’s technology, we shall continue to build on this service," concluded (BL's Head of Estates, John) de Lucy.
    Heather Brooke, 14 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
  • I thought you would like to know. you can hook up to free wi-fi at all london borough of haringay public libarys which I helped set up, I thought it would be usefull to know.
    a.spielmann, 13 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
  • As of today, the British Library is still charging for wifi access I would like to here from the original pledgers whether it is worth restarting this pledge?
    Matt Bourne, 13 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
This pledge is closed for new comments.

Current signatories (Green text = they've done it)

Tom Steinberg, the Pledge Creator, joined by:

  • Etienne Pollard
  • Ian Ross
  • Ewan Leith
  • Stuart Langridge
  • David Deans
  • Frank Jordans
  • Seb Wills
  • Chris Sharpe
  • Anne Rooney
  • Heather Brooke
  • Milica Howell
  • Peter Price
  • Dom Collier
  • Suneil Setiya
  • Sam Smith
  • Vaci
  • Robin Lee
  • lilly evans
  • Tom Roper
  • Sean Dodson
  • jason scrutton
  • Ben Little
  • Josh Blacker
  • Leigh Webber
  • Richard Tilbury
  • Brad Shepherd
  • Phil Shipley
  • Dr Dennis Low
  • Tim
  • Max Glaskin
  • 3 people who did not want to give their names

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