Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

Widening Client Horizons: Joint Use Public Libraries in the 1990s

Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

Widening Client Horizons: Joint Use Public Libraries in the 1990s

Article excerpt

Despite sometimes justified professional reservations about them, since the early 1970s there has been a steady increase in the number of joint use public libraries in Australia and New Zealand. There are now 112 in Australia and about 50 in New Zealand, mostly, in schools. The Australian figure represents eight per cent of the 1500 Australian public library outlets. The libraries are usually more appropriate in rural areas with populations of up to 3,000 which may be unable to sustain a professionally staffed standalone public library. There are many, rural areas of Australia now ,served by mobile libraries or small public libraries without professional staff which could be better served by a properly funded and accommodated joint use library employing at least one professional librarian. The funding issues faced by Joint use libraries emphasise that hard cash--rather than specious reports--is required, and justified by all public libraries to achieve their potential.

One of the largely unresolved challenges for free public library provision worldwide is how to provide quality access for rural communities in terms of resources, services, technology and professional staffing--and at a cost rural community decision makers can be persuaded, or are able, to accept. This economic imperative, by one partner or all, has often been the primary consideration in the initiation of joint use libraries, whether rural or urban. That consideration has tended to he complemented by an emphasis on the advantages that synergistic joint use libraries should present, such libraries being defined as outcomes of formal agreements between two or more separate authorities which provide two or more groups of users with equitable access to facilities and services.

History

School housed public libraries date back over 100 years, one having operated continuously in New Hampshire in the US since 1906. They are to be found in North America, Europe and elsewhere, with the largest number possibly in rural Canada, particularly in Alberta. The first South Australian `school community library' dated as far back as 1856 when James Wiltshire, the school master at then rural Sturt, unable to interest the local population in a subscription institute library `made his own books available and opened the school room in the evenings as a library'.[1] The earliest formal Australian proposal for a system of school community libraries was made by the Queensland Department of Public Instruction in 1909. That proposal failed `partly because the department, in approaching the schools of arts, was looking for a way of building school libraries cheaply'.[2] The reverse was to be the case in the 1970s. Proposals for school community libraries usually derived from state agencies or local authorities seeking to develop public libraries on the back of federally funded school library development.

During the first half of this century, where school libraries existed and public libraries did not, their resources were sometimes made available to parents and the general community. However, organised and professionally staffed school libraries in the first half of this century were as rare as free public libraries. Munn and Pitt, in their survey funded by the Carnegie Corporation in 1934, could not find a single secondary school library `even in the largest cities, in which all of the elements of satisfactory service exist'.[3] This situation was to prevail until the 1960s. In states, such as Western Australia, which commenced statewide provision of public libraries in the 1950s, the possibility of a conjunction of rural school and public libraries did not present itself due to the lack of rural school libraries and qualified teacher librarians. States, like South Australia, which commenced public library development later, had a possibility of the conjunction due to federally funded school library development from the late 1960s. Munn and Pitt had hinted at such a combination with their idea that `in smaller towns and rural areas branch libraries might be placed in a shop, the school or even in a farmer's house'. …

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