Libraries are essential for democracy to function well, because democracy depends on access to information. Despite the wishful thinking of those who would cut back on library expenditure, Google does not supply all the answers. . . People love their libraries. That is something all candidates in the forthcoming elections should bear in mind. . . writes a local resident.
A walk around the outside of St Kilda library shows a building in a sorry state of neglect. Crumbling walls, water damage, crude renovations and poor maintenance have destroyed this once elegant and airy 1973 building. The decaying library stands in shabby contrast to the expensively renovated Council offices opposite.
The library’s interior, with its stained carpets, tired collection, and shabby furniture and signage, is in a similar state of decline.
While in not such a bad state of repair, similar conditions exist in the other Port Phillip libraries at Albert Park, Middle Park, Port Melbourne and South Melbourne.
This decline had been tolerated for many years but came to a head on 15 November 2017 when six of the nine Port Phillip councillors voted to support their council officers’ proposal to remove all the books from the Middle Park Library.
This infuriated and galvanised the local community.
After a petition from over 900 local residents and a public meeting attended by 150 angry people, the proposal was put on hold and a "whole of libraries” review was commissioned. Two and a half years later the draft Library Plan has still not been approved.
Meanwhile, the local community decided to conduct its own review of the 44 public libraries run by nine inner Melbourne councils. In 2019 an 88-page document, based on library visits and data from the Public Libraries Victoria Annual Statistical Surveys, was given to all councillors and senior council officials.
Port Phillip's libraries do not compare well on many measurements including:
The shortest opening hours (average 47.4hrs per week).
Less spent on new books today than in 2014-15.
The least spent on capital works ($63,620 between 2014 and 2018).
This contrasts with all the other councils who have been building and refurbishing their libraries. Hobsons Bay has invested $28.9 million in five new libraries since 2006.
Port Phillip urgently needs to clarify the role of its library service. Each library, however big or small, stand-alone or part of a community centre, should be tailored to the needs of its immediate community. Innovative local libraries respond to changing demography; they reflect and support local character; they invigorate neighbourhoods. Today in Carlton, Yarraville, Greythorn and Newport exciting libraries are rejuvenating local communities.
The library service exists to encourage literacy and to inspire life-long learning with the lending of books as its core activity. A strong, active relationship between library staff and local schools and kindergartens is critical for this to happen.
Libraries are essential for democracy to function well, because democracy depends on access to information. Despite the wishful thinking of those who would cut back on library expenditure, Google does not supply all the answers. Cost-saving exercises that lead to stripping shelves of reference books and the cancelling of contracts with superior search engines deprive people of information and ideas. Such cuts degrade not only the libraries but the citizens' capacity to engage knowledgably with public life. And there are many people who rely on libraries for the internet access necessary for everyday living.
If Port Phillip is a city of communities, then its libraries—created by community action—are near the heart of those communities. Far from slashing the library service, Port Phillip should be investing in it. As has been done successfully at Yarraville, shopfront libraries in Elwood, Fitzroy Street, Acland Street and St Kilda Road could rejuvenate our increasingly forlorn shopping strips.
Ask any librarian: people love their libraries. That is something all candidates in the forthcoming elections should bear in mind.