The immeasurable value of our libraries
LIBRARIES hold a special place in my life. Growing up, I was one of those kids who would read for hours at night with a torch under my blanket, and libraries were an endless, and free, supply of material.
At school, libraries provided not just study references in the form of books, but also gave me my first introduction to computers and internet before they were more commonplace in homes.
At university, many a long day and night were spent in the library – it was not only a place to learn and access resources, but also an escape from my tiny share house.
These days, a trip to the library is a favourite household activity, with my kids’ enthusiasm for the adventures a joy to behold.
Libraries in various forms have existed for thousands of years, as have many of the activities and events that take place in them – they are so much more than books on shelves.
Those who believe that libraries are outdated institutions, or opportunities for cost savings, fundamentally misunderstand the role they play in society.
Despite predictions of their demise with digitisation and the internet, public libraries have continued to evolve, and are just as popular as ever. They have embraced the opportunities of the online world.
Librarians and other staff have expanded on their roles as providers of literacy to include digital literacy, regularly teaching people of all ages and backgrounds how to navigate the online world.
The physical spaces of modern public libraries provide access to a range of digital and physical literary materials, indoor and outdoor environments, places for kids to be noisy and creative, work desks, meeting rooms, and event spaces.
And anyone can access them. For free. They are a critical instrument of democracy.
The ability of libraries to adapt to the needs of the community is highlighted by the way our local Geelong Regional Library Corporation (GRLC) innovatively responded to the challenges of the pandemic.
Even when physical libraries have closed, they were quickly able to ensure ongoing access to materials through services such as Click & Collect, Click & Deliver, the Home Library Service, expanded eResources, and online events and programs.
More recently, Geelong Regional Libraries have been running regular vaccination certificate help sessions at libraries, where library staff help community members access their digital certificate or print a paper copy (sessions are free and can be booked online – events.grlc.vic.gov.au/, by calling your local library, or just by popping in).
Unfortunately, not everyone could access many of these services through the pandemic. As with many other areas of society, COVID has highlighted inequities, such as digital disadvantage, with many people lacking basic access to computers, internet and digital literacy skills.
Moving forward, addressing this is a key focus for the Geelong Regional Library Corporation.
COVID has also brought fresh focus and enthusiasm for local neighbourhoods.
Not too long ago there was a push to close multiple small libraries in our region, but community campaigning was able to save them, and we are now increasing investment in them.
People want to be able to access libraries close to home, and the GRLC and City of Greater Geelong is meeting this need by investing in new libraries in Drysdale and Armstrong Creek, and will be upgrading the Chilwell library (community feedback on the designs of the latter two can be given at yoursay.geelongaustralia.com.au).
Every dollar spent on Victorian public libraries generates more than four times that value in benefits to the local community.
But their value is so much greater than just the economic benefits: libraries are one of the last true egalitarian institutions in our society, providing access to information and knowledge for people from all walks of life.
They are one of the greatest investments we can collectively make through all levels of government.
Cr Sarah Mansfield