Published: 12:00, 27 August 2015 |
Updated: 14:10, 27 August 2015
More libraries in Kent are failing to provide wireless internet access than anywhere else in the country.
According to a government survey, 65 of the county's 99 libraries do not offer WiFi.
It follows a warning from ministers that the lack of WiFi could fuel their alarming decline.
Nationwide, more than 700 public libraries do not have WiFi, with wireless access far more widespread in big cities while rural areas miss out.
After Kent, the next worst-hit areas are Cumbria with 46, Durham with 33, Lincolnshire with 31 and Northumberland with 30.
In contrast, libraries in 26 of London's 32 boroughs all have WiFi.
And Bradford, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester and Stoke all boast 100 per cent coverage in their libraries.
The survey, by the Department for Culture, Media and Ssport (DCMS), follows a warning to ministers that public libraries are doomed unless they offer WiFi.
That was the stark conclusion, last December, of the Independent Library Report for England, which followed at least 324 closures since 2011.
"We're at a critical moment for the libraries and if we're not careful we could lose so many" - William Sieghart
The report, written by the author William Sieghart, called for libraries to be more like coffee shops in order to attract visitors with higher expectations, offering sofas and hot drinks as well as WiFi.
Mr Sieghart described the absence of WiFi as "astonishing", saying: "We're at a critical moment for the libraries and if we're not careful we could lose so many."
The study also recommended that every library in the country be placed on a single digital network and changes to copyright laws to boost e-loans.
The DCMS carried out the survey as the Arts Council last month announced £7.1 million with the aim of delivering WiFi in all libraries that lack it, by March next year.
Grants will be given to libraries with no wireless internet connection at all and to those where current connections fall "below the recommended technical specification".
But the funding will pay only for the initial installation or upgrade, with all ongoing costs - such as monthly fees and renewals - to be met by local authorities, or partner bodies.
Culture minister Ed Vaizey said, last month: "Ensuring communities across England have access to free WiFi boosts the digital economy and enables more people to take advantage of everything the internet has to offer.
"By channelling the support through libraries, we can ensure that this opportunity to become digitally aware is available to the whole community."
A Kent County Council spokesman said: "Kent Libraries Registration and Archives is currently offering Wi-Fi in 34 of its 99 libraries.
"We are preparing a bid to Arts Council England for funding to expand coverage to the remaining 65 libraries.
"This is part of a government-funded initiative aiming for all public libraries in England to offer free public Wi-Fi .
"This provision is in addition to the computers already available in all libraries - 679 in total with internet access provided for Kent residents."
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