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Libraries Are Busier Than Ever by Mark Reedman

Libraries are no longer places you only visit to borrow books.

In addition to books, you can borrow DVDs, CDs and magazines. There’s free computer use and free wi-fi. There are video game consoles. There are local history resources. There are meeting rooms. There are mobile libraries. There are home delivery services. There are online services where you can download books, magazines, audio books and all manner of research. And these days libraries run a wide variety of events: story times for littlies, holiday programs, activities for people with disabilities, computer literacy for seniors, author talks, arts and crafts groups, exhibitions and guest speakers covering a range of subjects.

In 2014/15, NSW public libraries loaned 43.6 million items. There were over 35 million visits in person and 11 million visits to online services. There were also 74,000 events attended by 1.6 million people which averages out at about 22 people per event.

In 2013, the Australian Library and Information Association commissioned an independent report which found that for every $1 invested in public libraries there’s a benefit of nearly $3 for the community.

“The benefits of public libraries are wide ranging and encompass the value delivered to library users directly and indirectly including:
- The services and programs made available to users by public libraries
- The social interaction facilitated in public libraries
- The sense of place and enhanced local amenity afforded by libraries
- Environmental savings generated through continued re-use of library collections
- Public library contributions to language and computer literacy
- Public library facilitation of improved education, career development and health
   outcomes.”

Originally the state government paid half the cost of public libraries in NSW. By 1980 this had dwindled to 23.5 per cent. Now it is less than 8 cents in every dollar with councils picking up nearly 93 per cent of the bill. In 2012-13 local government spent $344.7 million on libraries while the state government spent only $24.5 million. In 2016/2017 the NSW government’s spend increased to $28,322,000.

Information on the NSW Public Libraries Association campaign to further increase state government funding to libraries can be found at www.nswpla.org.au

Photo: Fairy Poppilina School Holiday Activity at the Upper Hunter Regional Library - Muswellbrook Branch. Photo courtesy of the library.