By Rickie Hardiman
Anyone stepping into a public library for the first time in a while might be surprised to find much more than books.
Despite the significant expansion in the range of services provided by the Local Government operated libraries, in its 2018 Budget the NSW Government cut recurrent library funding and locked metropolitan libraries out of a much-needed infrastructure overhaul.
According to industry association Local Government NSW, this year’s State allocation of $23.5 million to libraries has been slashed $5.3 million from 2017.
The 7% of the total cost for libraries contributed by the State Government in NSW is proportionally less than half of the 18% provided by Victoria and significantly lower than Queensland’s 12%.
Local Government NSW President, Linda Scott claimed the 2018 budget had swapped critical infrastructure funding “for a grab-bag of short-term sweeteners” with library funding “plummeting to record low levels”.
Inner West Mayor Darcy Byrne commented libraries are often the most well-used and valued public facilities in the community.
“The Inner West Council libraries play a very important part in our community life, serving over one million customers on an annual basis,” he said.
Cr Byrne said the Council had asked the Government to create a $25 million public infrastructure plan, so libraries will have the same priority as sporting stadiums and new motorways, and to allow NSW to catch up to the rest of the country.
“The Inner West Council is calling on the State Government to increase the subsidies for all public libraries in NSW so that the funding is comparable to, or better than, our neighbouring states,” he said.
Local action groups insist libraries provide a safe and neutral communal gathering place and that the closure of a local library deprives the most vulnerable community members access to education, recreation and companionship.
Robert Knight from Renew our Libraries said the ongoing attrition of state funding threatens the sustainability of public libraries, with closures of smaller facilities likely.
Dallas Tout, President of the NSW Public Libraries Association, observed that NSW public libraries were critical in supporting the Government’s own childhood literacy and education objectives.
There are storytime events and activities for toddlers and pre-school aged children, interactive stories, exhibitions and competitions for kids in Primary, and for older students, resources including past HSC exam papers, study guides, support groups and online resources to improve home study.
The NSW Public Libraries Association and Local Government NSW have together launched a campaign calling on the State Government to increase its allocation to libraries and deliver a sustainable funding model.
Linda Scott said library use was growing while funding declines.
“NSW Government funding has not kept up with demand and we need to ensure public libraries can stay stable,” she said.
“Each year NSW public libraries receive over 35 million visits,” said Dallas Tout. “The number and breadth of services and programmes that are offered have been on the increase for years despite the ever-decreasing contribution of funds by the state government.”