Well funded public libraries

The issue

Public libraries are busier than ever. Not only are people going in to borrow books, they're taking advantage of the PCs and free wifi; using the study areas and community lounges; attending storytimes with children; learning new skills through special workshops; seeking the help of the staff with all manner of enquiries; using the resources to find and apply for jobs.

There are some 1,500 public library service points across Australia, including mobile libraries, and figures for the 2012–2013 financial year showed:

  • There was one public library service point for every 15,000 people in Australia.
  • Almost 174 million items were lent to 10 million members of Australia’s public libraries.
  • Library customers made more than nine million visits to public libraries per month.
  • The total expenditure on public libraries was $1.02 billion, which worked out as $44.44 per person.

Between 2011-2012 and 2012-2013, there was an increase in the number of library locations, but funding per capita dropped and there were fewer people employed in libraries. It is clear that usage has remained high but without the necessary investment to support it.

Except for the ACT and Tasmania, public libraries are funded by both territory/state and local governments. Over time, the territory and state government proportion has shrunk, until now, in some places, it is less than 10% of the total where once it was nearly half. This cost-shifting has increased the burden on councils and left libraries struggling for the cash that is needed to run them.

Our position

Public libraries are clearly a valued and valuable community asset and we believe state governments should recognise their importance and provide the funding to enable them to offer the services that are so badly needed.

What we are doing

We support the Australian Public Library Alliance, a group within ALIA, which campaigns for funding for public libraries. In 2013, we commissioned an independent report found that for every $1 invested in public libraries, there is a benefit of nearly $3 for the community. It showed that libraries are a better investment than gold.

We have also successfully campaigned for investment in local libraries, notably at Rockdale and Goonellabah in NSW.

What you can do

The most active campaign at present is in New South Wales, in the run up to the state election in March. Be part of it, follow the link for a Fair Deal for NSW Public Libraries.

Share your story

Do you want to tell us a story about a wonderful local library or a story about a library under threat? Have you or your family and friends been helped or inspired by your local public librarian? Please drop us a line or post your story on our Facebook page.

Also if you have used one of our tools or suggestions, tell us the results of your actions. For example, if you have written a letter, made comment in the media, or received a response on a issue, please let us know and then we can keep the FAIR community informed via our newsletter.