Gateshead Library Service has just won the Government's first Charter Mark Award for IT Innovation, writes Mike Simons.
The library service was chosen because of its application of technology to improve the delivery of services to citizens, particularly to disabled people living in Gateshead, and for its imaginative use of media including the Internet, video, audio tapes and interactive television.
The Charter Mark awards were this year sponsored by IT services company ICL, and are seen by ministers as an important part of their drive to modernise public services.
Bill MacNaught, director of libraries, arts and lifelong learning, says, "We are delighted to win this award and I think a lot of the praise has to go to the staff of Gateshead libraries who continue to show complete commitment to improving services to the community."
The library service teamed up with cable company Telewest to provide 40,000 households with information via interactive TV covering local and civic news, social events and local history.
Gateshead provides free Internet access to anyone over eight years old, in all 18 of its libraries and also in the mobile library service. A staff member with sign language skills is employed in the libraries to help provide video conferencing facilities.
The organisation has developed thenortheast.com Web site which provides a local news service and opportunities in lifelong learning, training and employment.
Gateshead also runs a scheme called Access to Information and Reading Services. This provides a daily talking newspaper on cassette to 500 people in the borough who have difficulty reading print. This service generates £125,000 in revenue for Gateshead council and is Britain's third largest producer of transcribed material. It is is used by B&Q, BT and HSBC to provide information for their customers in Braille.
The library service also manages the council's Web site