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Science
CONNECT - Libraries
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How are libraries keeping words alive in this technological age?

Wednesday 21 August 2002, 9.00-9.30pm

The role science plays in everyday life often goes unnoticed. A visit to the museum, the dentist or even the fridge exposes us to breakthroughs in the lab that have spilled out into the real world. In Connect Quentin Cooper examines the technologies that make an impact on us all and finds out whether they are helping or hindering.

Modern Library

We all know that libraries are supposed to be about books - but over the past decade their image and their use has changed out of all recognition. No longer are they the fusty, dusty places we may remember from our childhood; with science and technology becoming more important in our daily lives, they are fast becoming the focal point in many a city all over the world.

The library is one of the last free spaces left where people can stop, relax and reflect. But in order to survive, libraries have to be much more, to more people than they used to be: they have to be part of a bigger idea. For example, after the old library in Norwich burnt down, they built a brand new £63 million pound library housing perhaps the most spectacular hall of books in Britain. Every book has its own unique radio frequency and the public can use electronic "finding posts" to pinpoint their route to the exact shelf position of books by any author, or on any subject. In Scandinavia their libraries are using technology to allow them to stay open 24 hours a day, which means the public can - and do - use their facilities at all hours of the day and night, unsupervised by library staff. All around the world new libraries are being planned and built - and far from technology replacing libraries and books, it is enhancing them by becoming more of a melting pot of help, advice and information.

In this edition of Connect Quentin Cooper examines the way that libraries have changed and are keeping words alive in this technological age.

They are not only about borrowing books, they have become centres for education and life-long learning. Public libraries are the cornerstone of the government's plans for a society with high-tech access to training and education, hence the allocation of £200 million of NOF lottery money to the New Library Network which aims to link all public libraries to the internet by the end of the year. But libraries are also about culture and history - giving people the chance to investigate who they are and where they came from.

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