Letter: Library without walls - or money

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The Independent Online
Sir: The concept of the "library without walls" (Network+, 15 April) is doomed in the UK unless government policy on freely available networked information is radically altered.

From my desktop in a university, I have free access to the computer catalogue of the Library of Congress, plus all the other good things such as the "American Memory" database touched on in your article. When I investigate similar access to the holdings of the British Library, I encounter several stumbling blocks: front-end software (PC only - not Macintosh) is required to access the system even on a trial basis; the software installation is not straightforward on my alternative Windows 95 machine; it most definitely is not free. Result: the trial is abandoned.

Unfortunately, this is typical of the way in which national institutions such as the British Library and the Meteorological Office are forced, through lack of funding or the need to be self-funding, to charge for what should be freely available.

What is the point of digitising material when the general public doesn't even have free access to basic catalogues?



West Sussex