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). There are more libraries sharing premises with rural transaction centres than with schools. The other reason schools have been left out of this discussion is to focus on the newer models of colocation.

Also ignored is the traditional small council situation of a room in the council offices as the library, often serviced from the general counter. Many of the newer colocated facilities have moved from this situation to an expanded facility. Where new facilities are located away from the local government's main town, a council subbranch is often included in the suite of services offered.

The libraries surveyed were almost equally divided between those areas experiencing population growth and those in population decline. This corresponds in regional terms to the difference between eastern and western Queensland. To generalise even further we can differentiate between those communities under threat of population decline which are looking at strategies for survival, predominantly in western regions, and those in areas of population growth which are looking to get their slice of the sea change and tree change pie, predominantly in eastern regions.

What are libraries colocating with?

There is a variety of colocation situations in rural Queensland, which tend to fall into three categories.

Government service delivery

Tourist facilities IT/training/business support service

Government service delivery

The government service delivery model is usually delivered through the rural transaction centres and the Queensland governments agency program (QGAP) programs. Through these programs a variety of information and actual services is made available from federal and state government departments as a one stop shop.

These centres usually offer banking and insurance agencies and sometimes post office services. They often include meeting or consultation rooms for visiting professionals. In Queensland there are currently seven libraries colocated with RTCs, 20 per cent of the total RTCs in the state, and 6 QGAP sites. Sometimes RTCs and QGAP sites are located together. The RTC program has been looking at opening centres in Cape York and Torres Strait. The State Library has also been focusing on this area and developing Indigenous knowledge centres with Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islander communities, so there have been plenty of colocation opportunities.

There are several libraries sharing facilities with health services. At Julia Creek, the library was relocated from the council building into a building vacated by Primac. The new complex includes a medical centre with a full time doctor. The RTC at Rolleston provides facilities for visiting health professionals including a doctor twice a month, a baby clinic once a month and women's health service annually. At the Moonie RTC, there are visits from a massage therapist and kinesiologist as well as a doctor.

Tourist facilities

Partnering the library with tourist facilities has often been as simple as making the library a tourist information centre. This is very common and acknowledges a role that libraries have always played as trusted sources of information. In Richmond, north western Queensland, I visited a very impressive dinosaur museum with coffee shop, souvenir stall and accredited tourist information centre. Over the road is a modest little library. Despite the official tourist information centre, visitors still came to the library for tourist information and to research the local area and dinosaurs. Libraries have a great store of trust as information sources which attract tourists. The smart libraries build on this by inviting visitors to check their email and download their photos.

The library can be a tourist attraction itself. It might be located in a heritage building, constructed as a tourist destination, sometimes housing an attraction for sightseers. There has been a long history of colocating libraries with galleries and museums and the new facilities are often incorporating these into larger, more integrated centres. The centre may also provide an outlet for local and artists and craftspeople.

Some of these facilities are located in established tourist destinations, like Birdsville or Normanton. More often they are located on tourist routes and are part of a strategy to get visitors to stop on their way to their ultimate destination.

IT/training/business support services

Public libraries often provided the first public access internet services in rural communities and they remain the leading, if not the only, place in town for residents to experience the latest computer technology. The State Library first distributed computers and provided training for this purpose through the online public access in libraries (Opal) program in 1997.

One chief executive officer of a small western Queensland council told me he believed one of the key roles of the library was to give people the chance to sample the latest and best information technology, both on a 'try before you buy' basis and on an ongoing free public access basis.

Computer access has become central to public library work, and this is particularly so in small remote communities where the digital divide can be seen in geographic terms. So it is not surprising that when designing a new centre, many councils take the opportunity to provide a computer suite for IT training, which also bolsters the available public internet access points when the suite is not in use for training.

Libraries have always provided business support to commercial entities as well as to individual and community groups. Traditionally this has been with the provision of information and photocopying. This role has expanded to include scanning, laminating, brochure folding, photo downloading and even office supplies. The library may also provide meeting rooms or offices to meet with visiting professionals.

Injune case study

Most colocated facilities will provide services and facilities across these three categories of government, tourist and business support services. Some provide most of the services mentioned. Injune Library provides an example of such a facility. Injune is the main town in Bungil Shire. The shire has 1965 people and the town 350. It is a donut shire surrounding the regional centre of Roma and the council offices are in Roma. It is the last town on the southern approach to the Carnarvon National Park which, despite its remoteness, is one of the most visited national parks in Queensland.

As part of a strategy to take advantage of the flow of visitors through Injune, the council built a combined tourist information centre and library in 1999. The library had formerly been located in a small room in the old community hall.

The two facilities were separate and had half the building each. The visitor centre was staffed by volunteers but the library staff would sometimes assist if needed. The visitor centre provides tourist information, tea and coffee, sells local arts and crafts and handles bookings for the caravan park.

In 2001 the library joined the Queensland government agency program. It provides access to a variety of federal and state government agencies including

Medicare Queensland Transport Public Trustee Births deaths and marriages Liquor licensing

There are also agencies for Suncorp Metway, NRMA and QBE insurance companies. The only local access to any of these services previously available was to Queensland Transport, which was handled by the police.

In this example, we can see many of the reasons local councils take on these projects.

Benefits to the library

* improved access by extending opening hours. Injune went from 12 hours in 1998 to the current 25 hours per week.

* the 'get 'em through the door' effect. Government services clients will become new library users given the opportunity to see inside the library and look around while waiting. Membership has increased from 115 in 1998 to the current 367.

* part of the attraction of locating a government agency in the library is the existing competencies of library staff. These competencies are further developed with training for the agency work. They become even more effective information providers.

* the resultant increase in library usage can be gauged by the growth in circulation from 3,770 in 1998 to 6,928 items in 2005.

Benefits to the community

* improved local access to services.

* savings in time and fuel by not having to visit Roma, an hour away. For most people this means a day to travel and conduct business. This is particularly important to business people who appreciate avoiding spending time away from their businesses. It is also felt that people prefer to deal with locals.

* enhancement of the lifestyle the community has to offer as an attraction to new residents and investors. Apart from the direct economic benefits new residents bring to a community, their role in bringing new ideas, optimism and creative, innovative approaches in developing community resilience has been emphasised by Ian Plowman and others in their Innovation in rural Queensland: why some towns prosper while others languish. (4)

* the economic benefits of visitors spending longer in Injune.

This has been a key strategy of the Injune revitalisation project being driven by council and community groups and which seeks to improve facilities to make Injune a better place to live, attracting new residents and businesses.

Survey findings: the impact on library services

There were 17 responses to a questionnaire requesting information about

services offered the funding and administration of the building staffing impact on library usage impact on the community

Some conclusions to be drawn from responses to the survey questions are

Funding of library buildings

* over half the respondents were colocated in new buildings. With one exception these have all opened since 1999. The test were moved into renovated buildings, including premises of banks which had closed.

* the majority of the buildings were funded by local governments. The federal government provided some funding for rural transaction centres, with council spending on the library portion of the building subsidised by the Queensland Department of Local Government and Planning through the governing bodies' capital works subsidy scheme or the rural living infrastructure program.

* a variety of other funding was used in various projects, including

** heritage trails network

** centenary of federation

** Arts Queensland millennium arts fund

** a local bequest

Library jobs available

* in every library except two, the library staff were involved in providing nonlibrary services. Councils paid all wages for both library and nonlibrary work, although some service delivery generates income.

* in every library but one, introduction of a colocated service had resulted in additional job opportunities. For example, staffing changed from

** 1 part time to 2 full time

** 1 part time to 2 part time plus a trainee

** 2 to 5 part time

* there was an average doubling of FTE staffing.

* many of the libraries employ trainees, but this does not differ from libraries not operating in a colocated environment.

Library opening hours

* with the exception of three libraries, all increased their opening hours in the new facilities. The most dramatic increases were at the RTCs at Rolleston which increased from 6 to 37.5 hours per week and Agnes Water, from 6 to 27 hours per week. The average increase was 13 hours per week.

* the Dogwood Crossing@Miles centre, where the library shares the building with a gallery, heritage centre, IT centre and tourist information, opens seven days a week, a rarity in rural libraries, especially in local governments of less than 3,000 people.

* in two of the centres providing tourist facilities in the Gulf of Carpentaria, where visitation is extremely seasonal, the hours vary between seasons. Normanton goes from 24 hours per week in the wet to 42 in the dry and Georgetown from 36.25 to 52.25 hours per week.

Library membership

* all libraries have experienced increases in membership, in most cases greater than could be expected from natural growth. The most dramatic was an eleven fold increase at Blackbutt, but this did involve a move from a tiny room on the verandah of the CWA hall, operated by volunteers, to a substantial centre with RTC and QGAP facilities. It is interesting to note that Blackbutt is not remote and has experienced tree change population growth. The quality of facilities like the library centre plays a part in peoples' choice of which rural community they will move to. The average increase in membership, excluding Blackbutt, was 100 per cent.

* all libraries offering other services to the local community reported that colocation had resulted in increased awareness of the library by nonusers. Typically, people come for government services, banking or insurance. While they are waiting, they have a look at the magazines, newspapers, internet, the reference section, find books they like and join the library. Often they had been unaware that a library existed, or what was available from it. They wander in and say 'I didn 't know there was a library here'--extract from a survey response.

This effect is amplified by word of mouth. One library reported an increase in membership of parents whose children had already been library users.

* the Miles Library also noted a 'waiting room effect'.

'People having their car serviced will visit the gallery, then stay in the library and read a book while they're waiting.'

Library usage

* anecdotal evidence from the survey responses suggested that some of the most significant increases and changes in library usage were with inlibrary use of resources. Comparative visitation statistics are not available, but lending statistics do give some indication of increased activity.

* there were several instances where library issues more than doubled. The average increase was 67 per cent.

* changes to patterns of library usage noted included

** increased usage of newspapers, the reference collection and computers by people waiting for other services.

** increased local and family history research by both locals and visitors.

** increased school visitation using IT facilities, with school groups also using other facilities like galleries.

** 'people stay longer, look more thoroughly, meet and chat'.

* increased usage by tourists checking emails.

At Normanton Library, four terminals are in continuous use during the dry season.

Negative impacts on the library

* the majority of respondents said there were no negative impacts, they were just busier.

* two respondents felt they did not have time to run the programs they would like to, because of the demands of providing government services and that the library sometimes had to take a back seat.

* another felt the library had become such a comfortable attractive place, that the number of unsupervised children had increased.

Broader impacts on the community

Already noted has been the increase in employment and training opportunities provided by these centres. The general economic benefits of library services are not focused upon, but obviously these are increased by the improvements to the library service outlined, particularly improved access with increased opening hours and opening up of the service to new users.

One of the major benefits in centres providing government services is the time and fuel saved by avoiding a trip to a bigger centre to transact business. These were usually not much more than an hour away but it was noted how valued the ability to transact locally was, particularly by seniors and business people. The ability to bank locally was noted as of particular assistance to business people.

Conducting government, banking and insurance business locally also means that people are more likely to shop locally. Local business have also benefited by centres offering services to visitors, resulting in

* increases in overnight stays

* catering opportunities for bus tour groups

* increased business for newsagents, cafes, food stores, butchers and craft outlets.

The future

The future of colocation is in the development of entirely new library services. Already mentioned has been the efforts to establish RTCs with Indigenous knowledge centres in Cape York and Torres Strait. In most of these communities, there has been no previous public library service.

All the libraries surveyed had moved from an established library service to a colocated service, except Moonie, which was the third branch of Tara Shire Council's library service. There had been no library in Moonie until it was set up with the RTC in 2004 as part of its community development strategy. We will probably see a growth in the number of new library services as well as a continuation of the reinvention of existing libraries as councils see the potential for expanded service delivery models.

Barcoo Shire Council has envisaged a new library service as part of the Stonehenge Community Centre. Barcoo Council is based in Jundah, 218 kilometres south of Longreach There are library branches in Jundah and in Windorah, another 100 kilometres further south on an unsealed road. The Windorah branch is shared with a craft centre, was previously located in the school, then in the post office, so the council is no stranger to shared facilities.

The third town in the shire is Stonehenge which is just 151 kilometres south of Longreach. Stonehenge has a population of 45 people, a pub, a hall and a caravan park. The community has been trying to develop a library service for many years. In 2004 council appointed a community and development manager who worked with the Stonehenge action group to develop plans for the Stonehenge Community Centre.

These plans propose a building that will house

* a library

* meeting rooms

* shop

* internet cafe

* tourist information

* Royal Flying Doctor Service clinic

The project proposal identified 10 expected

benefits to the community

training and education

enhanced levels of literacy and numeracy

enhanced social and emotional wellbeing of the community

retention and growth of population

access to new services

ability to attract new services

development of industry

showcase cultural heritage and history job creation

support for community and economic development

This proposal gives an indication of why these colocated facilities have become so prevalent in small communities. They represent hopes for growth, development and a prosperous future. It is hoped that the proximity to Longreach will make the facility a regional training and meeting hub as well as a tourism gateway to south western Queensland. A further extract from the Stonehenge proposal illustrates how important these centres are as places, and the role they play in building social capital.

   At present the only place for social interaction is the hotel
   which is not a family friendly environment. The
   establishment of a library and centre that can provide a
   neutral place for people and families to meet will assist in
   maintaining the emotional, mental health and wellbeing
   of the community--especially during times of high stress
   ie drought.


(1) Guidelines and standards for Queensland public libraries Library Board of Queensland Revised 2004

(2) People places: a guide for public library buildings in NSW Second edition Prepared by Heather Nesbitt Planning in association with Bligh Voller Nield. Sydney, Library Council of New South Wales 2005

(3) Inquiry into the joint use and colocation of public buildings, final report New South Wales. Parliament. Legislative Assembly. Standing Committee on Public Works. Sydney 2004 committee.nsf/0/3D0B64778B3D0AB7CA256F640 00CF48D

(4) Plowman, I, Ashkanasy, N, Gardner, J, Letts, M Innovation in rural Queensland: why some towns prosper while others languish Brisbane, University of Queensland and Queensland Department of Primary Industries 2003 au/business/14778.html


Blueprint for the bush. discussion paper Queensland Government with AgForce Queensland 2005

Jones, D Critical issues in public library planning: the New South Wales experience The Australian library journal 53(4) alj/53.4/full.text/jones.html

Jones, D Inquiry into the joint use and colocation of public buildings: information paper prepared by the State Library of New South Wales. Sydney, State Library of New South Wales 2004

Bruce Monley Senior Consultant Country Lending Service State Library of Queensland

Bruce Monley is senior consultant Country Lending Service State Library of Qld. He has worked with the Country Lending Service since 1989 and is currently engaged on a regional interlibrary loans/union catalogue project with 51 local government authorities in Queensland. Email


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