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Library funding fears as new agreement deadline comes due

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Librarians have warned public libraries face a potential State Government funding cut in next month’s budget, which could spell the end of a national-first service allowing South Australians to borrow resources from any library across the state.

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Public Libraries SA president Ben Footner told InDaily that he was concerned that the State Government would reduce the approximate $25 million it currently spends on public libraries each year, with councils yet to settle on a new funding agreement just one month out from the budget being handed down.

Under the current deal, the State Government foots about 30 per cent of the bill to keep South Australian public libraries operating, with councils contributing a further $86 million each year.

The agreement, which has been in place for the past decade, is set to expire next month, with Public Libraries SA, the Local Government Association of SA and the State Government still negotiating a new deal.

“We’re not worried that they’ll (the State Government) cut it completely, but we haven’t been able to reach an agreement of what exactly the funding will be moving forward,” Footner said.

“We do have concerns that the State Government intends to reduce (its funding) in some way.”

Footner said Public Libraries SA was aware that the State Government faced tough financial decisions following the COVID-19 pandemic, but it was only asking for the funding to be maintained, not necessarily increased.

“We feel that libraries are pretty important to our communities, particularly during times of challenge, like the post-COVID recovery, so we feel our funding should continue,” he said.

“People certainty considered us to be an essential service during the closures last year.

“We’re trying to be constructive at the negotiation table and understanding of the State Government’s position and their budget position at the moment, but we feel that funding should be maintained.”

Footner, who manages Prospect Library, said state government funding helps libraries operate their “one card” network, which allows South Australians to borrow resources from all libraries across the state.

The “one card” network is unique in Australia and was launched to allow all South Australians – regardless of whether they live in a metropolitan or regional area – to access the same amount of resources.

“The real danger around this funding reducing is that service would have to be reviewed and perhaps wouldn’t be as effective,” Footner said.

“The people who would really miss out is particularly those (in) regional communities who rely heavily on it.”

Footner said the government also funded “a pretty significant majority” of public libraries’ physical collections.

“Libraries, particularly in the smaller councils and in country areas, rely solely on that state government money to fund their collections,” he said.

“That money also funds our online resources, so e-books, audio books that are becoming increasingly popular (as well as) training resources.

“For a lot of smaller councils and those in regional areas it’s almost beyond possible for them to fund those for their communities, but because we can do that collectively as a state now, it means that everyone across the state can get access to those services.

“It’s really the equity across the state that’s under threat if this funding’s reduced.”

LGA SA President Angela Evans said that the LGA would not sign-off on a new agreement with the State Government without confirmation of funding for 2021-22 and beyond.

“This agreement doesn’t include any figures at this point,” she said.

“At a minimum, we want to see current funding levels maintained, with indexation applied every year for the term of the new agreement.”

Evans said in recent months she had written to all state ministers to “highlight the value of this funding”.

She said she particularly stressed the importance of libraries in improving digital literacy, providing access to online government services, supporting children’s literacy and education and addressing social isolation.

We are concerned that we haven’t received confirmation of funding for next year, because councils need to set their budgets and plan for the services and programs they are going to deliver,” she said.

“We also understand that council libraries have received correspondence from the State Government asking them to consider the possibility of a funding cut for next year, and the impact this might have on both digital library products and services as well as physical collections.

“Based on the ongoing importance of libraries to our communities, and the strong community support for maintaining funding, we won’t be signing any agreement that reduces this funding in the years ahead.”

According to a LGA SA survey, 93 per cent of South Australians who participated said it was important for the State Government to continue to at least maintain current libraries funding.

State Library Director Geoff Strempel told InDaily that the State Government provided $20.7 million to the State Libraries Board this financial year, which was used to provide direct grants to councils to fund services at public libraries.

He said the Libraries Board was not party to funding discussions between the Government and LGA, “however it continues to support the important role that public libraries play in their local community”.

“The Libraries Board does not have any other source of funds for public libraries than that provided by the State Government,” he said.

“Therefore, the Libraries Board will work within whatever funding is provided to continue to support the state’s public library network.”

In a statement to InDaily, a state government spokesperson said it allocates “significant funding” to libraries each year.

“This year’s budget is still being finalised and will be handed down in June,” the spokesperson said.

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