Libraries warn of service cuts as funding rise overdue

State libraries could be forced to cut wi-fi or courier services transferring books between towns as they grapple with a $16 million government funding shortfall over the next five years, with a campaign launched to save programs.

Jun 01, 2023, updated Jun 01, 2023

Public Libraries SA president Damian Garcia said falling State Government funding means the unique One Card network which covers the cost of wi-fi and transferring books or videos around the state’s 130 libraries is taking a hit.

The government will pay $20.7 million each year for the next five years to fund the network that only exists in South Australia, but is refusing to tie the funds to consumer price index rises – meaning local governments will have to pick up millions of dollars in costs.

“Staff costs are increasing, courier costs are increasing, electricity prices are increasing that affect cooling and heating in libraries,” Garcia said, adding that many library users are among the about 10 per cent of South Australians unable to afford wi-fi access at home.

The Local Government Association (LGA) has launched a “Libraries are the heart of community” campaign, saying councils which fund about 80 per cent of library costs may be forced to cut vital programs using wi-fi or buying computers “and once they’re gone, there’s every chance they may never return”.

Garcia said if services were cut “those people (using the services) will have no hope of keeping up in a digital world”.

Many of the state’s most vulnerable residents use library networks to apply for jobs, access Medicare, Centrelink or the Australian Tax Office, Garcia said, and it would be up to the local councils to pick up the tab using local ratepayers’ funds.

The LGA particularly wants a “separate $1 million funding allocation” to continue supporting the libraries’ digital inclusion programs for more than half a million South Australians with library memberships.

Before the new agreement came into place, the state’s libraries had a 10-year funding agreement that was tied to a two per cent increase in funds annually to cover rising costs, with the final year of funding reaching $20.7 million.

But when the State Government announced the new funding arrangement it said the figure would be frozen at $20.7 million each year with no rise in the following four years to cover rising costs.

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Councils already cover the remaining about $86 million cost of running library buildings and services, with The Australian Public Libraries Statistical Report showing in the last financial year there 6.54 million visitors on site and 10.1 million visits to SA libraries online.

LGA president and Kimba Mayor Dean Johnson said libraries needed more funds to support “digital inclusion” and drive innovation in the SA Public Library Network.

He called on the community to get involved by writing about their experiences on the LGA website so the State Government knew how people used local libraries and why this was important.

“We would like to see digital inclusion programs (providing wi-fi and computer access) continue in future years and we are asking the State Government to continue supporting the programs through a separate $1 million funding allocation.”

Johnson said the drop in state funding through indexing, “is no small amount and it’s not a leap to suggest libraries may also need to make tough decisions on opening hours or the resources they provide to the public”.

The campaign was “important in shining a light on the value libraries provide to South Australian communities”, recent studies showing public libraries generated a net community welfare benefit of $163 million per year.

This equates to every $1 invested in public libraries, it generates $2.80 of benefits for the South Australian community.

The State Library of SA is funded under a different arrangement.

Arts Minister Andrea Michaels said the State Government recognised the importance of libraries but said the LGA approved and signed off on its current funding arrangement in an agreement with the previous government.

“We’ll continue to have discussions with the LGA to ensure appropriate resourcing for our libraries while also balancing a range of priorities across a number of portfolios to allow for our significant investment in health and education,” she said.

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