FREE wifi hotspots have been introduced in all Capital libraries as part of an ambitious bid to transform the historic buildings into modern seats of learning.
The wireless upgrade to 28 city libraries comes just months after a £5.3 million overhaul of Edinburgh schools saw all classrooms get connected.
By the end of 2014, all of Edinburgh’s train stations will also provide free wifi access – most currently have a paid-for service.
No longer restricted to static desktop units, from today library users will be able to log into an online portal before surfing the web on smartphones, tablets and laptops. They can download e-books and connect to the wide selection of online library services, including language learning and driving theory test practice.
Councillor Richard Lewis, the city’s culture and sport convener, praised the “vital role” of libraries as a lynchpin of the community and said the city was “committed to taking the service forward into the 21st century”.
He said: “With over three million visitors to our libraries last year, the service is going from strength to strength and by offering free wifi we are adapting to user demand but also improving access to the extensive catalogue of services on offer.”
It is understood around 8500 e-books and e-magazines are downloaded from Edinburgh City Libraries each month and the figure is likely to soar once free wifi is introduced.
Willie Black, of anti-poverty group North Edinburgh Fights Back (NEFB), welcomed the move, which he said would encourage less affluent residents without home web access to join the internet revolution.
And he hoped community centres would be the next public venues to become equipped.
Mr Black said: “NEFB has a property charter and free wifi was the kind of demand we have asked for from the council in order to bring it to the masses and those who cannot afford it.
“Much of the city centre seems to be wifi enabled but why isn’t Pennywell Road? Why not the outlying areas as well? Obviously this is a welcome development and we would support it, but I think if we are talking about free wifi generally then why not have it in other areas where people may go.”
As well as the wireless upgrades, the Evening News revealed in June that every library in the city is set to deliver flagship blind and visually impaired services under new plans that will see the closure of the only dedicated centre in Edinburgh. The Central Library Resource Centre had been the sole hub for partially-sighted users since it opened in 2000, but plummeting numbers have forced a shake-up that will see £60,000 invested in rolling out the service across the Capital.
Meanwhile, solar panels are set to be fixed to 25 public buildings – including libraries – in the coming years.