Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

Public Libraries: Partnerships, Funding and Relevance

Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

Public Libraries: Partnerships, Funding and Relevance

Article excerpt

Libraries help build social capital in their communities by various means. This paper reviews practical ways public libraries can work with children and their families to provide better learning outcomes, and promote literacy and numeracy skills in culturally and linguistically diverse communities. Examples of community partnerships from public libraries across Australia are used as discussion points. The issue of funding is also considered in the light of experiences in North America and the UK. Demonstrated are specific library programs which encourage building on the strengths of the community and working in partnership with a wide range of government, business and not for profit organisations.

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Public libraries have traditionally been seen as storehouses of books for information and leisure use. However the changes to the storage and retrieval of information over the last decade have resulted in concern about the ongoing relevance of the public library to the community. It has been argued that with the growing use of the internet, libraries will become obsolete as people access the information they require online from home. Google has made a linguistic shift from a proper noun to a verb, as more and more people google information. Despite the doomsayers, public libraries have not just survived--in many cases they have thrived. Public libraries have surveyed their communities, formally and informally, and have discovered a need to go beyond their operating budgets to target community concerns more specifically. Financial imperatives as well as the need for broader expertise has led them to form partnerships with other agencies and has opened the way for the development of services and programs which previously have not been considered as core business.

The literature from the UK, North America and Australia shows many similarities in the ways public libraries have risen to the challenge of delivering effective, accessible services to their communities. There arc some interesting differences in the way libraries have gone about funding these initiatives. This paper will look at how some public libraries in Australia are building local capacity through partnerships with other agencies, charities, government departments. It also considers the different approaches taken to funding.

Moving beyond core services

Public libraries are well placed to support children and families to develop literacy and language skills. In fact the local library is ideally positioned to complement existing education, training and career development strategies (1) as it offers longer opening hours than most educational facilities, provides easy access to information and communications technology (ICT) and is readily accessible to all sectors of the community. This is particularly true in communities where a large proportion of the population does not speak English at home. Parents are naturally concerned that their children are starting school at a disadvantage if they arc unable to speak any English. These same families often do not access preschools or playgroups due to financial considerations and language barriers. Public libraries champion the rights of all members of the community to equitable access to information and therefore usually offer resources, including electronic, in community languages. The library may well be the one place where otherwise isolated people can access the information and services they require in their own language.

However, whenever we consider broadening the reach of the library service, we must also consider funding. In too many cases public libraries arc expected to do more with less--the demands on library resources and services keep increasing but their budgets may not.

Funding

For public libraries in the US facing budget cuts of between 5%-15%, the question could to be reduced to one of public funding versus private endowments, fundraising and partnerships. …

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