UK Citizens have free access to a number of online reference resources through membership of their local public library service. These resources typically include major resources like Encyclopaedia Britannica, Oxford dictionaries and newspaper archives. These are usually available online from a home computer. Other resources such as legal and company infomation databases may only be available online from a computer in the library itself.
For an example of the depth and range of resources that are available take a look at the 'Reference Library Online' page from the Essex Libraries website.
An article in the Guardian back in may reported on (London Borough of) Enfield's work to promote
'Enfield boosts digital reference role. London borough has trained staff to increase public's use of online reference sources'. By Mark Say Guardian Professional 25 May 2011
It reported: 'Most local authorities now have a portfolio of digital reference sources, most coming at a cost beyond the pockets of the regular library user, but there is evidence that they are not widely used. Brown says that over the past five years the Enfield Library Service has built up a range of digital resources - including encyclopaedias, the legal database LexisNexis Butterworths and the Lexis Direct business information database - but several were not being widely used. In some cases there were less than 100 searches a year on resources that cost thousands of pounds, which was
poor value for money'
According to the most recent (September 2011) information held by the Scottish Library and Information Council, the 32 library services in Scotland subscribe to 32 different electronic subscription services between them; of these, 20 subscription services are available in more than one library service. The most popular/widely available of these are:
NewsStand (formerly NewsUK) - available to 83% of the Scottish population
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography/English Dictionary/Reference Online - 66%
SCRAN - 55%
Britannica - 52%
KnowUK - 47%
Three of these form part of the SLIC consortium package
The Welsh Government through its CyMAL: Museums Archives and Libraries division, currently provides all 22 local authority library services with access to online newspapers through the Newsbank subscription. This is also provided for all FE and HE libraries, the Welsh Government and the National Library of Wales.
Other online subscriptions for 100% of public libraries in Wales are Groves Art and Music and European Sources Online. The latter is also available for other libraries in Wales. There is also a subscription for the family history resource Find My Past which is onsite access in public libraries and archive/record offices in Wales. Again, this has been funded by the Welsh Government. The online access is managed by the National Library of Wales on behalf of libraries in Wales and is part of the Welsh library strategy. Access to the resources is via library-membership log-in on the all-Wales library portal http://library.wales.org/reference-resources/ or via each library service's website.
Public libraries suscribe at their own cost to a variety of other online services.
According to the most recent information held by the Scottish Library and Information Council, the 32 library services in Scotland subscribe to 32 different electronic subscription services between them; of these, 20 subscription services are available in more than one library service. The most popular/widely available of these are: