Victoria’s libraries are struggling to deliver services to the community because councils are failing to ensure value for money, an audit has found.
The report from the Victorian Auditor-General’s Office looked at whether councils and regional library corporations (RLCs) are delivering services efficiently and effectively, and whether councils are achieving value for money from their library services.
Local Government Victoria (LGV) is responsible for supporting councils in their delivery of library services, however, the audit found it has no strategy to do this and has not evaluated its funding contributions to libraries.
“As a result, it does not know whether state funding achieves its aim to support councils and RLCs in meeting the information needs of their communities through library services,” the report said.
The Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) has procured library management software to help the library sector find cost savings and increase shared services, however, the process has been slow.
Incomplete data on service costs, a reactive approach to community consultation and a lack of documented service plans mean libraries cannot be sure they are delivering efficient services that meet community needs.
Slow to act on recommendations
In 2016, LGV commissioned an external evaluation of Victorian libraries. The Victorian Public Libraries Review said that to achieve a positive overall cost to benefit ratio, at least half of Victoria’s council library services needed to join the statewide library management system (LMS).
Currently, only 21 Swift library services, an unincorporated group of council library services belonging to 39 councils, have confirmed they will adopt the LMS.
“Even with only Swift library services joining, the new statewide LMS achieves a total annual saving of $417,531—or 46 per cent—across the 21 Swift libraries,” the report said.
At a state level, neither LGV or MAV have taken responsibility for implementing the LMS project, the audit said.
“It is not clear who is accountable for encouraging libraries to join the statewide LMS to maximise the cost benefits,” the report said.
The Review also identified three main problems in the council library sector: the rising cost of libraries for local councils, inequity in community access to library resources across the state and lack of response to changing technology and increasing customer expectations.
Meeting community needs and expectations
The audit said that for library services to meet community expectations, councils and RLCs need to make more efficient use of their limited resources. Some councils are approaching this by sharing services with other councils or organisations.
“Sharing services makes libraries more efficient, enabling them to deliver more services to the community with fewer resources,” the report said.
“Our data analysis shows that, overall, RLCs and co-operative models deliver core library services more efficiently than most standalone council libraries.”
The audit said library services need to use accurate cost and performance information to support decision-making, consult the community and tailor services to local needs, plan actions and resources necessary to meet community needs and monitor performance and identify opportunities to improve.
“Although all audited councils have found ways to improve their service, gaps in service planning and monitoring mean they may miss opportunities to become more efficient and effective,” it said.
“Incomplete data on service costs, a reactive approach to community consultation and a lack of documented service plans mean libraries cannot be sure they are delivering efficient services that meet community needs.”
All audited councils should also improve the way they record, use and report information on costs of library services, the audit said.
“Without doing so, they cannot be confident that their decisions are based on an accurate understanding of service cost and efficiency,” the report said.
Successful NSW campaign
But the news for libraries isn’t all bad, with the NSW Public Libraries Association claiming libraries in the state are thriving as users turn to them for digital services and other resources.
President Dallas Tout says State of Our Libraries Report shows library users are now accessing an increasing range of services offered by libraries.
A survey of 1,200 users showed that people are visiting their local library for a variety of purposes. Forty-four per cent attend events or classes, 50 per cent borrow DVDs, 44 per cent access newspapers and magazines and 96 per cent borrow books.
Users also said they went to the library to use the internet, read e-books, listen to audiobooks and use email, fax and printing servies.
“While many predicted the downfall of libraries against the ever-rising tide of technology, what has resulted, as demonstrated in this report, is exactly the opposite,” Cr Tout said.
“As technology increases and the platforms we use to access information have become more diverse, public libraries have become more essential to our lives now more than ever.”
The association says public libraries in NSW faced a funding crisis in 2018 as a result of state government cuts.
However they are now reaping the benefits of the Renew Our Libraries campaign, which secured $60 million over the next three years.
Community members, libraries, councils, councillors, the NSW Public Library Association and Local Government NSW spearheaded the campaign.
“Without an increase in funding and a secure funding model, our public libraries would have struggled to continue to provide the services and resources that communities across NSW so desperately love and rely on,” the report says.
However, it recommends that further action is needed ensure adequate funding continues.
The association wants funding for libraries to be indexed every year to keep up with cost of living increases, and public library legislation to guarantee long term funding.
“These simple steps will provide a certain future for NSW libraries, and enable them to provide ongoing support to their communities right across the state,” it said.
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