Colocated Rural Public Libraries: Partnerships for Progress

Article excerpt

Some small rural communities in Queensland, as in other parts of the world, are experiencing population stagnation, decline or changes and facing economic and viability issues because of bank, medical practice, retail, agency, and school cuts or closures. Other rural communities are experiencing growth. Its public library may have a critical iconic and practical role in sustaining a community facing these challenges. Examined are models for colocation of libraries with a variety of service providers. These models have aimed to retain financial and government services, develop heritage and tourist facilities and extend library services. Edited version of a paper presented at 'Places and spaces. public libraries for the 21st century in Australia and New Zealand' Adelaide South Australia 31 March-1 April 2006

**********

During the last 10 years the building of standalone libraries has become a rarity in rural Queensland. This is not to say there has not been healthy activity in library building. In fact, of the 100 local governments and Indigenous councils, which serve populations of less than 16,000 people, 80 per cent have built, extended, or refurbished one of their libraries since the mid 1990s, or are in the process of doing so. More often than not, though, these new and refurbished libraries have been colocated with other service providers, sharing a building, a site and often staff. Of the 80 library building projects undertaken in rural Queensland in the last 12 years, only 15 have been standalone libraries.

This colocation growth has been acknowledged in the 2004 revision of the Guidelines and standards of Queensland public libraries, (1) last year's second edition of the Library Council of NSW's People places (2) and particularly in the NSW government's Inquiry into the joint use and colocation of public buildings. (3)

This paper describes some of the manifestations of this colocation phenomenon in small communities, looks at the effect of colocation on library services, and briefly at the part played by these facilities in community and economic development. I have surveyed a number of libraries to inform my discussion of these issues. The survey responses will help to flesh out a picture of the current situation and test some of the popular wisdom about colocated facilities.

Libraries in rural Queensland

In discussing rural Queensland I am primarily referring to library services operating with the State Library of Queensland's Country Lending Service (CLS) which is a partnership between the State Library and local governments serving between 290 and 15,774 people. They receive a grant in kind from the State Library in the form of collections and regular rotations of their stock as well as training and other support services.

The larger local government libraries not participating in the CLS receive a cash grant for purchase of collections. While they do have branches serving small communities, they are largely located in urban and regional centres, so they will not feature in this discussion.

What constitutes a small community? Using the Australian Local Government Association's Australian classification of local government, most of the local governments I have looked at fall into the categories Small to medium rural agricultural and Extra small to medium rural remote. Most local governments involved have populations ranging from 300 to 6,000 with an average of 4,145. The towns involved had populations of less than 2,000 people, with an average of 697.

The focus on colocation has been narrowed by ignoring joint use facilities with schools, partly because they have not been a big part of the Queensland public library scene, certainly not to the extent they are in South Australia. Of the 165 public libraries in small communities, there are only 4 libraries in schools and at least one of these is looking to colocate with a rural transaction centre (RTC). …