Investing in Australia's Future through Its Public Library System: Why, Who, How
Friends of Libraries Australia
A position paper prepared in January 2008 by Friends of Libraries Australia (Fola) following the election of a new Australian federal government committed to an educational revolution for the nation. It aims to assist with the strategic positioning and funding of Australia's public library system within a whole of Australian government--national, state and local--and a national educational context. It may be accessed at www.fola.org.au.
Australia now has a comprehensive and very heavily used public library system. This has developed in only the last 50 years, largely through state/territory and local government partnership. However Australia still invests sparingly and unevenly in that system. Some children, young people, adults and older adults in Australia have ready access to public libraries with modern spacious buildings and good staffing, resources, services, programs, technology, websites, levels of innovation, and hours of opening. Many others do not. At the current level of investment in the system, some never will.
Public libraries have a unique multidimensional capacity to benefit people educationally, socially, economically and culturally from 'cradle to grave'. Communities also benefit from the learning, information, recreation, life quality, community connection and social capital they provide. The effectiveness of the public library system impacts on the policy areas of at least seven of the new Australian government's ministerial portfolios, and a similar number in the eight Australian states and territories.
International research shows a public library return on investment of between $4 and $6 for every dollar invested. Twelve million people in Australia, or 60% of the population, are users of its public library system, and make over 100 million visits to libraries a year. One third of those users are children, school and other students. In the world of work Australia will increasingly need to compete in a changing economic climate at the high value segment of the market. It makes educational and economic sense for it to invest in all of its libraries. Yet in 2006 Australia invested only $743 million in its public library system of 1560 libraries, $630 million of it from local government and the balance largely from state and territory governments. This was $36 per capita, 9.8 cents per Australian per day, 0.07% of Australia's GDP, half of the annual budget of a large university with just 30,000 students, and the equivalent of 2% of the national investment in school education. The school system receives 50 times the funding of the public library system. This is despite the much broader user age range within the public library system; that it has four times the number of users of school education; that it supports preschoolers; that one third of its users are children and students; that it complements school education; and that about 130 public libraries are now combined with school and other educational libraries as joint use libraries.
Other countries invest more than Australia per capita in their public library systems--Denmark, for example, over three times as much. Australia as a whole has the wealth--and the literacy, educational, economic, lifelong learning and equity of opportunity incentives--to emulate them. For this to happen requires
* agreement by all three levels of Australian government--national, state/territory, local--about the need for their partnership in improving Australia's public library system
* their commitment to an Australian Public Libraries Strategic Framework and Action Plan
* their involvement in an Australian Public Libraries Summit to identify the priorities and how they should share and coordinate responses to those priorities.
Pervasive national educational change and improvement will not be achieved or sustained without greater investment in the Australian public library system. …