Public libraries statewide are highlighting the social and economic benefits they bring to the community - and hope to bring in future. EMMA D'AGOSTINO explores the value of Goldfields Libraries.
FOR every dollar invested in Goldfields Libraries, the community receives $4.50 worth of benefits.
Those benefits extend far beyond the resources housed in the corporation’s branches and agencies, chief executive Mark Hands said.
“Today’s libraries are about services and programs as much as physical collections,” he said.
“No other institution offers the same personal help, equal and free access to information, social engagement, and sense of safety and belonging.”
Public libraries and the life-changing services they provide was the topic of a discussion at Castlemaine Library this week, featuring Mr Hands and author Christie Nieman.
The event served as the central Victorian launch of the Libraries Change Lives campaign, an initiative of Public Libraries Victoria and State Library Victoria.
On a statewide level, the campaign seeks to attract community support and additional state government funding for Victoria’s 272 public libraries.
Locally, Mr Hands was hopeful it would encourage people to explore the services available to them and consider the benefits they would like their libraries to provide in future.
Goldfields Libraries tallies 1,144,00 visitors a year.
“From local history talks and Tech Savvy Seniors programs, to Story Time sessions for preschool children, public libraries offer an incredible breadth of services to support community members at every state of life,” Mr Hands said.
But people aren’t just visiting the region’s libraries to learn.
“Libraries are the living rooms of communities,” City of Greater Bendigo community partnerships manager Steven Abbott said.
“They’re spaces that allow people to learn, connect and collaborate.”
He said the library corporation was one of Greater Bendigo’s success stories.
About 40,000 Greater Bendigo residents have a library membership, according to Mr Abbott.
More than 33 per cent of the community attends library programs, and wifi usage in the municipality’s libraries has significantly increased.
“Compared on a range of indicators, it's one of the most efficient library services in Victoria,” Mr Abbott said.
Statewide, every dollar invested in public libraries generates $4.30 of benefits.
Goldfields Libraries generates $27.4 million in net benefits to the community.
The City of Greater Bendigo invested $27.63 per resident in library services in the 2017-18 financial year.
Those services aren’t only delivered in libraries.
About 400 people have expressed interest in attending a discussion in Bendigo on Thursday featuring former Human Rights Commissioner and author Gillian Triggs.
Focusing on principles at the heart of any democratic society – truth, justice and accountability – the free event has been shifted to a venue larger than the Bendigo Town Hall to enable more people to attend.
Goldfields Libraries is partnering with the Loddon Campaspe Community Legal Centre and Melbourne University Publishing to bring Professor Triggs to the city on Thursday to share her insights.
It’s unlikely to be the only Talking Justice session the library corporation is involved in, having partnered with the Loddon Campaspe Community Legal Centre this year to deliver the series.
“There’s no doubt the topic ‘Speaking Truth to Power’ and Gillian’s profile would have been a key draw card in generating so much interest in this session,” ARC Justice executive officer Hayley Mansfield said.
She said the Talking Justice series had also gained a profile in the four years since it was established.
“However, I believe a critical factor in achieving the highest bookings ever for a Talking Justice session has also been due to our new partnership with the library to deliver this session,” Ms Mansfield said.
“The library has been critical in promotion of the event and it has meant more people in the community are aware it is occurring.”
She said the library’s involvement also meant more people were able to participate: “This partnership has enabled us to make the sessions free, which I believe increases accessibility for many community members.”
“Libraries are critical in our community for social engagement and providing free access to information.”
Mr Hands said the Libraries Change Lives Campaign sought to focus not on what public libraries do, or provide, but on how they affected people’s lives.
“Is what we are doing the best we can do to empower and enrich our community?” he said.
He was hopeful raising awareness of what the library corporation offered would give people an opportunity to make an informed choice about whether it had things of use to them.
Early years literacy, from birth to preschool, is one of the library corporation’s focus areas for the future, as is enabling digital connections.
These are goals Public Libraries Victoria shares, with network president Joseph Cullen identifying a need for libraries to bridge the digital divide in a state where one in eight households did not have internet access.
“We can also do more to support early years’ literacy. More than 15,000 preschool children and their families attend Story Time at a library each week,” Mr Cullen said.
“That’s a great start, but we know we can do more by reaching out to disadvantaged communities.”
He said libraries were facing escalating demand for space, longer opening hours, expanded programs and access to online services.
“We want to meet those community expectations, but we need more state government funding to do it,” Mr Cullen said.
Locally, Mr Hands said there had been a concerted effort to offer people opportunities to share ideas in person in forums such as author talks.
“We’ve gone from a handful of programs to well over 2000 a year,” he said.
“One of the key things we really talk about is inclusion first.”
He said the library corporation worked with Indigenous communities and culturally diverse communities to ensure libraries were welcoming to all.
Mr Hands said Bendigo Library had such an impact on his life, long before he started working for the library corporation.
“The first proper book I ever read I borrowed from this library,” he said.
To register for Thursday’s Talking Justice event, click here.
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