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Library cost-shifting reform overdue

| Geoff Helisma

A joint campaign by the NSW Public Libraries Association and Local Government NSW – to hold the NSW Government (and previous governments of different political persuasions) accountable for its failure to adequately fund public libraries in NSW – is gathering momentum in the lead-up to 2019 NSW election.
Clarence Valley’s councillors will decide whether or not to join the campaign at the forthcoming August 21 council meeting.

At the July council meeting, councillors unanimously deferred their decision after considering a mayoral minute tabled by Cr Jim Simmons, preferring to study the concept before voting.

The Renew our Libraries campaign flier, which was a part of the mayor’s minute, says library funding in NSW is at a “crisis point’.

Among the six points in his proposed motion, Cr Simmons called for Clarence Valley Council (CVC) to “take a leading role in activating the campaign locally”.

“Councillors, I am calling on you to support the NSW Public Libraries Association and Local Government NSW in their advocacy to state government for additional funds for public libraries,” he wrote in the minute.

“Clarence Valley Council has invested significantly in library services, spending $3.1million in capital expenditure over the past decade.

“We support the interests of 22,300 members across four library sites, with almost 200,000 visits, around 236,600 loans and 90,000 web hits annually.

“We are adding to our collection by over 8,000 items a year.

“We also offer a range of electronic resources that are growing significantly in popularity, access to the internet, study support resources and a program of well attended activities and events.

“Whilst council receives funds from state government, these have gradually declined.”

He pointed out that NSW councils “are currently paying 92.5 per cent of the costs to operate public libraries, up from 77 per cent in 1980 … 12 times more than the state government” and that “NSW public libraries receive the lowest per-capita funding from their state government”.

“Disappointingly, the 2018-19 NSW state budget delivered a 5 per cent cut to current library funding and cut access to all infrastructure funding for metropolitan areas,” Cr Simmons wrote.

While acknowledging that “this is not a party-political issue, as every government since 1980 shares the blame for the current funding situation”, the mayor also wrote that the Coalition has promised a $50 million funding increase within its first term if re-elected next year.

Meanwhile, NSW Labor says it supports the campaign.

Labor leader Luke Foley previously pledged in March this year, to double the library subsidy from $1.85 per capita to $3.70 per capita, and to set up a $25 million public library infrastructure fund.

In 2015-16, NSW Government funding for public libraries was $26.5M, compared to a contribution of $341.1million from local government.

In a media release, shadow local government minister Peter Primrose points out that the NSW Government currently contributes “a mere $23.5 million a year”.

“For many regional and suburban areas, the local library is the heart and soul of the communities – and they deserve to be properly funded,” he said.

Mayor Simmons is also urging his fellow councillors to support making representations on the issue to Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis; and “calling for bi-partisan support” by writing to Minister for Arts Don Harwin and shadow arts minister Walt Secord.