WA govt moves to ensure sustainability of public libraries

The Western Australian government is looking to create a stronger and more sustainable public library system, with an emphasis in digital infrastructure and connectivity.

A five-year draft strategy has been released as a joint project between state and local governments, centred on the three themes of strengthening communities, digital inclusion and valuing public libraries.

The Public Libraries Working Group is leading this work on behalf of state and local government and is currently seeking feedback on the draft strategy from community members and people and organisations working with communities in the state.

Culture and the Arts Minister David Templeman says the local public library is “the hub” for many in the community.

“Libraries are one of the few places where someone can stay all day and can both learn and be entertained for free; they are truly egalitarian cultural treasures,” he said.

“Public libraries foster connections – between members of communities and between individuals and the information they need to live their lives.”

Essential community asset

The dart strategy identifies public libraries as one of the most valuable forms of public investment, with every $1 invested delivering a net economic return of more than $47.

However, it says current measures of library performance are failing to demonstrating the social impacts and don’t take into account the economic return from improved literacy.

“Optimising and increasing the value to the community of targeted investment in public libraries requires better data and research on libraries and their communities,” it says.

As a solution, the draft strategy suggests using library metrics to measure their impact, and engaging with stakeholders and researchers to inform the public about the social impact and economic return of library services and ensuring sustainable library services.

Universal access to computers

The working group says it would like to see libraries harnessed to empower West Australians to participate in a digital society and economy.

According to the draft strategy, libraries have the capacity to support the delivery of The Digital Strategy for the Western Australian Government 2021–2025, which aims to ensure no one is left behind due to barriers to digital inclusion.

“Digital technologies and services are an essential part of everyday life,” it says. “Digital literacy ensures that people have the skills and confidence to access and use digital technologies.”

It’s calling for every library in the state to have the appropriate digital infrastructure and connectivity to ensure there is universal access for the community to use computers.

“Libraries are one of the few places where someone can stay all day and can both learn and be entertained for free.”

David Templeman, Culture and the Arts Minister

This should be made possible through a connected state-wide system to ensure that library users have single-card access to library collections and services regardless of whether they are in the state, the draft strategy says.

It also wants libraries to act as local agents for digital inclusion by providing training programs and resources to help build digital literacy in the community.  

Strengthening communities

The draft strategy would like to ensure that library services reflect the local needs of a community.

“WA public libraries are universally accessible, well-used and much-loved. Collectively, they are a cornerstone of an informed, productive and democratic society,” it said.  

“Individually, they are vibrant community hubs that engage, inspire and reflect the unique characteristics of their local communities.”

It is proposing that the community should lead and shape development of library services, collections and programs and for libraries to act as knowledge centres empowering Aboriginal people and preservation of Aboriginal language and culture.

There are currently 232 local public libraries throughout the state, with the previous year seeing more than seven million in-person visits and three million online visits to libraries.

Last year, Western Australians also borrowed more than 16 million books, electronic books, audiobooks, magazines, DVDs and other items.

The draft strategy will be available for comment until April 8.

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