Public libraries are one of the last free open doors in our community. They contribute to strong and healthy communities by providing education, combating feelings of isolation, and supporting the well-being of Victorians at every stage of their life.
In 2018-19, Victoria's public libraries were visited more than 30.5 million times.
Demand for digital resources grew rapidly, with Victorians logging more than 15.5 million hours of free Wi-Fi use.
Digital item downloads increased five-fold from nearly 800,000 in 2013-14 to more than 4.2 million.
This is particularly relevant when more than one in seven Victorian households do not have access to the internet.
It makes economic sense to invest in public libraries.
According to the SGS Economics and Planning report Libraries Work! The socio-economic value of public libraries to Victorians, every $1 invested in public libraries returns $4.30 in benefits to the community.
The report also found that increased investment will deliver an increased return at a similar rate.
The net community welfare contribution of public libraries is estimated at $847 million.
Library workers are in a unique position of trust. They are widely respected as professionals who care deeply for the communities they serve.
They are increasingly called on to provide support and advice to people who are struggling with day-to-day challenges.
Their work has become more complex and they are playing a vital role on the frontline helping people develop a sense of connection and belonging.
This is critical work at a time when one in four Australians feels lonely, according to a recent study by the Australian Psychological Society and Swinburne University.
The numbers are compelling, but so are the stories.
Every day in communities across rural and regional Victoria, job seekers get online to create resumes and look for jobs.
Small business get started, people research their family trees and learn about their community.
Library workers are in a unique position of trust. They are widely respected as professionals who care deeply for the communities they serve. They are increasingly called on to provide support and advice to people.
Students do their homework after school, and visitors search for information to help plan their journey and look for things to do locally.
Public libraries reduce social isolation by giving people a place where they feel safe, welcome and included.
Victoria's public libraries are generally well supported by local politicians and leaders who understand the vital role we play in the community.
However, libraries are still considered by some as nice to have rather than a necessity.
Despite more Victorians visiting libraries than ever before, funding is not keeping pace with changing demands and growing populations.
Councils provide approximately 80 per cent of funding for Victoria's public libraries, with the balance met largely by state government.
State government funding has continued to decrease each year, from $6.74 in 2013-14 to $6.04 in 2018-19 on a per capita basis, adjusted for inflation.
The reduced contribution by state government is impacting on local government's ability to provide country people with the public library services that they deserve.
It is time to acknowledge the myriad ways public libraries contribute to community health and well-being - and the greater role they can play with adequate funding.
Rural and regional Victorian communities need the state government to increase its funding commitment to public libraries in real terms.
Public Libraries Victoria and State Library Victoria have been working with communities across Victoria on a campaign to educate, inform and engage people about the vital contribution public libraries make to community health and well-being and the local economy.
Library funding matters. We are calling on the state government to support public libraries in rural and regional Victoria, encourage increased investment in library infrastructure and help us deliver more services that drive health and well-being outcomes for all Victorians.
Libraries change lives. Please get behind your local public library service, join the conversation and share your story with us at https://librarieschangelives.org.au/
Chris Buckingham is president of Public Libraries Victoria
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