There is currently no standardised criterion for providing, regulating and managing web access.
Instead, each UK library or local authority sets the boundaries for what it deems to be an acceptable use of the internet.
Now, however, a new project aims to develop, test and distribute best practice advice.
The project at Loughborough University will specifically examine how libraries could better serve people currently excluded from the digital age, as well as those struggling to cope with 'digital by default' Government services, such as online benefits application or driving licence renewal, as well as personal activities such as online job applications and access to health information.
It will also explore how measures to restrict access to 'acceptable content' can impact on the ability of citizens to take full advantage of all that the Internet has to offer in terms of e-services and access to knowledge.
Project lead, Prof Louise Cooke, said: “The fellowship will enable a programme of work in the field of public access to digital information, exploring how alternative models of community spaces and service delivery can better serve those currently excluded from the digital age.
“The ‘digital by default’ government strategy offers considerable benefit to both government and the citizen in terms of cost-savings, accessibility, democratic participation and environmental sustainability.
“However, for those without home internet access, or who lack the relevant skills and confidence to conduct transactions online, this strategy can lead to a self-perpetuating loop of disadvantage and deprivation.
“Drawing on experiences from contemporary examples, including those from other nations, as the basis for exploration, the research will identify recommendations for models of community digital provision and support to overcome some of these barriers.
“In doing so, it will aim to make an original contribution to theoretical knowledge in the domain of social, economic and digital exclusion.”
Figures released by the Office of National Statistics last year show that 2.7 million of households (6.5 million people) do not have access to the internet.
Of those, 1.3 million people felt they lacked the skills needed to use it.
The new fellowship aims to bridge the skills gap by observing local authorities, mainly in deprived communities, to see how their services are structured, what services they provide, and how they manage their Internet resources.
The team will also look at current practices related to public internet management in other European countries, as well as in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the US and South-East Asia.
A key outcome will be the drafting of national guidelines which will also inform international standards which it is anticipated will be adopted globally by the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA).
The £5,000 study began on February 1, and is due to last for six months.