University libraries should open their doors to the public and, in return, could be funded by cross-sectoral grants covering all libraries in their region.
In response to a report published last year by the Library and Information Commission, arts minister Alan Howarth and minister for lifelong learning Malcolm Wicks pledged their support for greater collaboration between libraries and education in a bid to boost lifelong learning.
The government said it would set up working groups to identify funding and training needs and fund pilot studies into how libraries and education institutions could cooperate.
Tim Owen of Resource - successor to the LIC - said that university libraries had for too long been focused only on their students and researchers. He said all libraries, museums and archives should be considered learning resources for everyone, irrespective of who funded them.
University library services and buildings are already stretched from the rise in student numbers, according to Toby Bainton, secretary of the Standing Committee of National and University Libraries. However, he said:
"We are keen to help with this initiative and to see in what ways we can help independent learners." Sconul has set up a task force to look at access issues and will be on the government's steering group.
Sunderland University, the City of Sunderland College and the city's libraries have been part of the Learning Access Sunderland Scheme for several years. Library ticket holders have access to any of the libraries and their services. Jeanette Doull of Sunderland University Information Services said the university library was well used by both schoolchildren and independent learners, but they had limited access to online materials. The university's students have priority, but Sunderland hopes its visitors will prove to be students of the future.