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Widening client horizons: joint use public libraries in the 1990s.

Despite sometimes justified professional reservations about them, since the early 1970s there has been a steady increase in the number of joint use public libraries in Australia and New Zealand. There are now 112 in Australia and about 50 in New Zealand, mostly, in schools. The Australian figure represents eight per cent of the 1500 Australian public library outlets. The libraries are usually more appropriate in rural areas with populations of up to 3,000 which may be unable to sustain a professionally staffed standalone public library. There are many, rural areas of Australia now ,served by mobile libraries or small public libraries without professional staff which could be better served by a properly funded and accommodated joint use library employing at least one professional librarian. The funding issues faced by Joint use libraries emphasise that hard cash--rather than specious reports--is required, and justified by all public libraries to achieve their potential.

One of the largely unresolved challenges for free public library provision worldwide is how to provide quality access for rural communities in terms of resources, services, technology and professional staffing--and at a cost rural community decision makers can be persuaded, or are able, to accept. This economic imperative, by one partner or all, has often been the primary consideration in the initiation of joint use libraries, whether rural or urban. That consideration has tended to he complemented by an emphasis on the advantages that synergistic joint use libraries should present, such libraries being defined as outcomes of formal agreements between two or more separate authorities which provide two or more groups of users with equitable access to facilities and services.


School housed public libraries date back over 100 years, one having operated continuously in New Hampshire in the US since 1906. They are to be found in North America, Europe and elsewhere, with the largest number possibly in rural Canada, particularly in Alberta. The first South Australian `school community library' dated as far back as 1856 when James Wiltshire, the school master at then rural Sturt, unable to interest the local population in a subscription institute library `made his own books available and opened the school room in the evenings as a library'.[1] The earliest formal Australian proposal for a system of school community libraries was made by the Queensland Department of Public Instruction in 1909. That proposal failed `partly because the department, in approaching the schools of arts, was looking for a way of building school libraries cheaply'.[2] The reverse was to be the case in the 1970s. Proposals for school community libraries usually derived from state agencies or local authorities seeking to develop public libraries on the back of federally funded school library development.

During the first half of this century, where school libraries existed and public libraries did not, their resources were sometimes made available to parents and the general community. However, organised and professionally staffed school libraries in the first half of this century were as rare as free public libraries. Munn and Pitt, in their survey funded by the Carnegie Corporation in 1934, could not find a single secondary school library `even in the largest cities, in which all of the elements of satisfactory service exist'.[3] This situation was to prevail until the 1960s. In states, such as Western Australia, which commenced statewide provision of public libraries in the 1950s, the possibility of a conjunction of rural school and public libraries did not present itself due to the lack of rural school libraries and qualified teacher librarians. States, like South Australia, which commenced public library development later, had a possibility of the conjunction due to federally funded school library development from the late 1960s. Munn and Pitt had hinted at such a combination with their idea that `in smaller towns and rural areas branch libraries might be placed in a shop, the school or even in a farmer's house'.[4] Lionel McColvin in his 1947 report Public libraries in Australia[5] went beyond Munn-Pitt in describing the pathetic condition of public libraries in Australia and observed that `nowhere else in the English speaking world will books have to be taken so far for so few--and no where else will they mean so much'.[6] In lighter vein he also observed that `All that is needed is a book distributing scheme as efficient as, say, the beer distributing organisation'[7] and that schools were among the places in a community where a public library collection could be located.

McColvin made two other points. First, that every single service point should come within the province of a trained librarian. Secondly, that although mobile libraries have their uses `a small, even very small, local library centre, open regularly at times to suit users is immeasurably to be preferred to the visit of a travelling library'.[8] This judgment was to be concurred with by South Australian rural communities. In the 1970s and 1980s they overwhelmingly rejected mobile libraries in favour of static school community libraries.

In the negative

However, although Munn and Pitt in 1935, and McColvin in 1947, hinted at some form of public library service based in schools, Sarah Fenwick's 1966 report on school and children's libraries in Australia[9]--to be the catalyst for the 1968 federal funding of school libraries--took the conventional professional line of rejection of the formal combination of public and school libraries. Just after South Australia decided to develop a statewide system of rural school community libraries, in two articles published in 1975[10, 11] Fenwick strengthened her concern about school housed public libraries. She declared that cheap library provision usually motivated joint library proponents, that in the US the school housed public library was usually neither a good public library nor a good school library, and that `Continuing proof of the inadequacy for the general public of combined services has been shown in studies of school housed branches of public libraries.'[12]

The conclusion to be drawn from studies was

that...there appeared to be no real economy,

findings were especially critical of the ability of

the school housed branch to provide the depth

and variety of resources needed by the users of

public libraries, and the failure of the branch to

attract adults, out of school youth and

preschool children into a service agency

located within the wall and jurisdiction of the

agency of formal education.[13]

The extent to which Fenwick's rejection of school housed public libraries influenced their development in Australia is uncertain, but emanating from arguably the world's authority on children's and school library services it must take its place in the professional equivocation about the concept when it was proposed for implementation in South Australia and elsewhere.

The Horton Report

Similar concerns surfaced during the Whitlam Government's National Inquiry into Public Libraries which produced the Horton Report on 27 February 1976.[14] A number of submissions raised the issue of duplication of library services, most critically between school and public libraries. The outcome of these submissions was the report's recommendation 34.[15]

Arrangements should be made by state library

authorities for monitoring and evaluation of a]l

projects for school/community libraries, and

other projects involving cooperation between

public libraries and libraries in education


This recommendation reflected the concern that

...schools are generally not well placed to attempt

to provide joint school and public library services

as it has, in many cases, been suggested that

they should. The concept is, meanwhile, being

actively explored and encouraged in some states,

notably South Australia and Tasmania, but

careful evaluation is required of projects of this


The sense that school housed public libraries were experimental and doubtful propositions was strong. W (Laurie) Brown, the forthright State Librarian of Tasmania and a member of the Horton Committee, had written an article in 1972[18] which was critical of the rhetoric and assumptions of those who supported school community libraries simply because they were a `good thing'. Time would soon prove Brown correct. The flagship Boronia School Community Library in outer eastern Melbourne commenced in June 1974 and failed within four years for a variety of reasons, principal among which were staffing difficulties, poor public access, location and facilities.

Professor L Amey, the Canadian authority on joint use libraries, recalled of his visit to Boronia

I can remember walking into Boronia, finally

making my way through the corridor and

entering the library. It was all too evident that it

was a school library. It was public in no aspect.

There were three soft chairs and they were

grouped around the catalogue. Everything

else--the display cases, the jungle of

carrels--said, in a very loud voice, this is a school


Amey had surveyed all of the 179 school community libraries in Canada, the outcome of which was his 1979 book The Canadian school based public library.[20] His major conclusion was that they were not working well because the public was reluctant to use them, often because of their location.

The hesitation about such libraries by the Horton Committee was understandable, and in 1994 Allan Horton confirmed that

Members were unwilling to make a

recommendation which could be used to

unilaterally endorse the concept, fearing the

motives of the proponents. It was feared that it

would he an `el cheapo' solution--remember the

state of facilities in some areas and schools

nearly twenty years ago. I was certainly


One of the few tangible outcomes of the Horton Report was a 1977 study by Jim Dwyer, Head of the School Libraries Branch in South Australia, which was published in 1978 as Cooperation or compromise: school community libraries in Australia.[22] Dwyer, together with his South Australian colleague Tony Brown, whose expertise was in Tafe/public libraries, became Australia's authority on joint use libraries. For his study Dwyer used as a starting point a 1974[23] review by Roy Lundin from which he concluded that most of the local and overseas literature on the subject was negative and oppositional. Yet from his 1977 study of 21 projects he observed that the school community library movement was consistent with a trend to involve the community in schools and to use community facilities for school purposes--it was an educationally fashionable thing to encourage. However, Dwyer expressed strong concern about the proliferation of projects without the development of basic criteria; without reference to factors other than need and economic viability; haphazard planning; lack of evaluation; and inadequacy of existing standards and information exchange. He suggested a national conference to review these issues (which came to fruition in a two day workshop in August 1980 convened by Aacobs[24]), observing that joint use libraries were not a seven day wonder but were destined for permanence.

The twenty years since Dwyer made that observation have proved him right. The number of joint use libraries in Australia, primarily school housed public libraries steadily increased from the 21 investigated in 1978, to 44 surveyed in a 1983 Schools Commission Report.[25] Of these 44, 23 were in South Australia following a 1974 politically mandated decision that the only way of bringing public library service rapidly to small rural populations in particular was on the back of federally funded school libraries--an example of unwitting federal support for public libraries. The survey found that most Australian school community libraries served small rural, coastal and mining communities. Many were situated in school grounds, occupied free standing buildings, had open access to all areas of both school and public users but arranged the public and school resources separately. It was found that the potential for school community libraries was greatest in small communities with a strong sense of identity. Delineated were five problem areas and fourteen factors critical to success.

Joint use libraries in 1997

Although there have been failures along the way, such as Boronia, and the probable imminent breakup of the recent and large Tea Tree Gully Public/Tafe Library in South Australia, there have been few total failures of the joint use library concept in Australia compared with the US and Canada. There are now 112 of them in Australia, with several more in prospect, and about 50 in New Zealand which modeled its development of them on the South Australian Australian experience, and opened its first school community library in 1977, the same year as the first two South Australian libraries.(*) The Australia figure is similar to the number of mobile libraries in Australia, and represents about 8 per cent of the 1500 public library service points in Australia. The ACT has two which are associated with Year 11 and 12 colleges, NSW has 6, NT 11, ISA 56, Tasmania 4, Victoria 13 and WA 16. Most of these are school housed public libraries but several, in South Australia and WA in particular, are associated with Tafe. There are some unusual libraries, for example Peterborough in SA which is a school, Tafe and public library; Hervey Bay in Qld which opened on 3 March 1997 as a joint use library between the University of Southern Qld and Hervey Bay City Council; Rockingham in WA which involves Murdoch University. Tafe and the local authority; and a joint use mobile library between the Western Institute of Tafe and Macquarie Regional Library in Western NSW. There are also several shared university/Tafe libraries and the new NT Library which combines a state library and a parliamentary library.

Are they successful?

The critical question with all of these joint use libraries is if, and how, they are successful. One simple measure of success, given the frequent failure of the concept overseas, is survival. On that measure most joint use libraries in Australia are successful because most that have ever opened are still open. However, that begs the question, successful at what? Widened horizons[27] shows that the South Australian school community libraries, on a number of basic indicators such as usage, hours of opening, availability of resources, technology and, most importantly, the availability of professional staff, outperform small standalone rural public libraries in other parts of Australia. They also provide better direct access to resources and networks for their schools.

This constitutes only relative success. Much more could be achieved if rural public libraries, whether joint use or not, were funded by local and state governments in recognition that they are the most appreciated and heavily used community service they provide. Local government in rural, and urban, areas still tends to fund public libraries marginally and as a cost, rather than as a very worthwhile investment in the welfare of the community. In South Australia, for example, the average local government contribution to a school community library is only 1.25 per cent of rate revenue. This is for a service which is accessible to all of the community and often used regularly by over 60 per cent of it--a good investment by any standard.

In 1984 Charles Emerton, then a Victorian regional public librarian, provoked some response when he noted that

Whatever the expressed ideals of community

benefit in their implementation...joint use school

community libraries are more often than not the

outcomes of `grubby' monetary based decisions

in which one of the participating authorities

(quite often the local government one, but not

necessarily always) is trying to get a library

service established or improved on the


This was a primary motivation of at least some local authorities in rural South Australia--the notion that the contributions of the other partners, funded by the state government, would be higher, was tacitly accepted. This is one factor in the stresses in the South Australian system, most of which are felt by the school] community librarians who are in a straight jacket because of decisions and understandings derived from a different educational and fiscal era. Their frustrations may include agreements which provide no answers to issues such as lack of staff, space and technology; boards of management which are ineffective; school principals who see the library and its staff as `theirs' and who do not abide by the spirit and letter of agreements; teachers who do not understand the dual role of the librarian; and local authorities which are happy to keep their fiscal distance. Ultimately, as with all cooperative arrangements, what makes them work is ecumenical goodwill, generosity of spirit and purse and commitment to the concept by the library staff. All partners need to be committed to making them work, but with more accountable times these characteristics are to be found wanting more than when the libraries were established.

Major issues

My research into the development and current condition of South Australia's rural school community libraries, and my recent survey of all joint use libraries in Australia, has confirmed that there are many issues which are not being addressed. The price is being paid largely by library staff, and the general public who are not benefiting fully from the advantages that a synergistic joint use library should provide. Before examining these issues let me encapsulate what, from the literature, the advocates of joint use libraries propose. Here I draw on a paper by Anne Hazell `The ultimate form of cooperation--joint use libraries'.[28]

Suggested advantages

There are a significant number of advantages in providing a joint use library and information service compared with separate public and other services. An overriding consideration is that of the synergy of a joint use service ice that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

The purported advantages are economic, social and educational. Joint use libraries

* represent efficient use of public money eg

-- staff costs may be shared between authorities

-- facilities may be provided more cost effectively

-- resource acquisitions may be coordinated to provide savings eg in reference material

--there may be savings in operating costs

* provide a greater quantity and higher quality of collection, services and facilities than is possible with separate services and smaller budgets

* provide access to more staff than in each separate service

* allow extended opening hours

* are convenient to users in providing all services on one site

* facilitate the collection in one place of archival and local history material of interest to the whole community

* allow more flexibility in providing and obtaining resources and making innovations

* provide access to more than one system for support services eg professional development

* promote greater community interaction by providing a community focal point

* provide greater access to information on community services

* increase the community's awareness and understanding of current education practice

* promote lifelong learning through the educational role of the joint Use library and information service

* encourage the development of a positive attitude in students towards school

* provide more avenues for promotion of the service

* bring different: community groups together on the library management committee

* may provide a service to communities which could not support separate services eg small rural communities, thus providing an avenue for the implementation of social justice

Now, particularly if you are philosophically opposed to the concept of joint use public libraries, you could see some of those justifications as specious. However, most of the justifications are substantiated in the survey responses reviewed later.

Key success factors

The Australian literature, mostly derived from the South Australian experience, has also fairly well delineated the key success factors for joint use libraries. These are considered to be

* a formal agreement endorsed by all cooperating authorities is essential

* the level of service provided must be equal to or better than that which could he provided in separate facilities

* system wide support is essential eg for staffing, professional development and advice and financial support

* a library management committee should he set up to participate in the establishment of the service, to develop ongoing policy for its operation and to determine goals and budget priorities. A profile must be established for each joint use library and information service to define the community to be served. (A general limit of 3,000 people was used in establishing the rural school community library program in South Australia--where that limit has been exceeded problems have tended to be greater)

* the library management committee should make policy rather than become involved in administration

* provision must be made for the projected growth of the profile community

* there needs to be full and continued consultation, involving all concerned bodies

* choice of site is critical (If the site is predetermined and not ideal, an extra effort must be made)

* good signage is necessary, both on site and in the environs

* opening hours should meet the needs of the profile community

* physical facilities should he appropriate to the profile community

* there should be awareness of the special needs of the profile community

* staffing levels should be adequate and the composition of the staff should reflect the requirements of the profile community

* staffing should be integrated

* support structures should discourage too rapid fluctuations in staffing numbers

* the librarian in charge should have freedom to manage, including having direct control of staff and budget. In general, the librarian in charge should be represented on the senior decision making/policy bodies of each constituent institution

* direct two way communication should occur between the librarian in charge and funding bodies

* regular consultation with, and reporting to, all parties concerned should occur

* regular evaluation of the joint use library should take place

The literature places considerable emphasis on the understandings, content and detail of formal agreements hut all of the agreements that I have seen have been deficient in four major aspects which can too easily make the operation of a joint use library extremely taxing and at worst a nightmare, particularly for the library staff. It is for good reason that joint use library staff should be carefully selected. They need special qualities of advocacy, organisation, and commitment to the concept--it is one of the most demanding areas of library employment. These four areas which need to be emphasised in agreements are space, staffing, information technology and regular evaluation. This is because

* Too many joint use libraries in schools in particular do not present well as public libraries because of lack of space--once the libraries are operating it is often impossible to get agreement on a need for more space and who should pay for it. It needs to be specified in agreements how the need for more space will be identified and how it will be paid for when the time comes, as inevitably it will come

* Lack of staffing is a running sore in many libraries, particularly during school holidays. Work overload and unpaid work to meet dual responsibilities is common

* Information technology and how it is to be prioritised, paid for, found space for, and supported, needs to be specified

* A regular externally facilitated review of the library, commencing within three years of its establishment, needs to be specified in the agreement, as well as how it is to be paid for. At present the positives, and many of the troubles and weaknesses of joint use libraries, often lay unrevealed to their partners because there is no mechanism for that revelation, as my survey of them shows

Survey outcomes

So what does the survey also show? In essence

* that most of the libraries responding considered that there were more advantages than disadvantages to their libraries

* that only a very few had ever been close to closure

* that most were supportive or very supportive of the concept regardless of the operational difficulties very few escape

* that a few were completely disillusioned with trying to make their libraries function, usually because one partner was failing to contribute, or negotiate, adequately or because the library was effectively destined for a troubled existence before it even opened

Advantages listed included

* provision of trained librarians

* extended hours for students, including holidays

* better access to internet/computers by the public

* broader book collections for school students and public

* fosters a sense of community, encouragement of lifelong learning

* facilitates a transition from formal to informal education

* greater information access if part of a public library system

* children see `reading' as a lifelong pleasure--adults still reading books--reading seen as from birth to death

* access to a small community which might not otherwise qualify for a public library

* `meeting place'--adults are free to meet and gather in library as no other facility in the area (no coffee shop)

* local community is more aware of the school--breaks down barriers. The library is a very public window into the school. Important if adults do not have school age children

* local council does not have to pay upkeep on library building

* school provides a good venue for promotion of the library eg through newsletters

* Tafe has more exposure to the public through the library

* community participation through local board of management

* Tafe materials available to the wider community

* recognises the support given in the past by the public library to Tafe students

* Tafe sector (at present!) is better resourced than public library sector

* local service is appreciated instead of leaving it for a 'shopping' day in town

* `wider' view provided by 'public' aspect of the service is valuable

* provides a public library service in the area at minimal cost

* better reference collection

* students get information free because we are a public library, and can access interlibrary loans

* access to statistical, government and community information

* community members studying have access to educational resources

* more economic use of services and resources and reduced duplication

* building and equipment utilised throughout the year

* greater fundraising power

* because we are in a school staff are available at short notice if an emergency

* local history collection used in school programs

* multiskilling for staff

* good chance for all sectors of the community to see displays, including displays by students

* community members see students using IT for research

Although some of these advantages are specific to one library, many of them are generic. They contrast with the disadvantages, difficulties and stresses which included

* time--very hard to cater for both sets of needs

* far too much expected of the librarian-salary does not reflect management role which other teachers do not have, or extra duties performed

* lack of space, particularly for the public and for technology, and no apparent way of resolving this

* general public is uneasy about mixing with students

* library manager of large local authority library service is not supportive

* difficult to get agreement or MOU reviewed

* no formal agreement

* constant changeover of school community librarian and inexperienced people appointed by Education Department

* public library does not supply any stock for children

* lack of understanding of role of library staff in joint use facility

* reluctance of local council to fund a building for which it is not responsible

* board of management is ineffective

* separate computer systems

* trying to ensure students behave to provide a good atmosphere for the public

* ex students can be a nuisance when they come in during school time

* policy on inhouse use of videos

* copyright issues

* conflict over `whose library is it'?

* staff development needed for teacher librarian and public librarian role

* from a Tafe point of view it is isolating to be always `different' from colleagues in other Tafe libraries

* uncooperative school principal who regards it as `his' library

* distance from town centre

* hidden location in school--difficult to find

* not available to public during school hours

* no extra professional time provided because we are a school and community library

* State Library Service not holding up its end of the agreement

* staff working under separate agreements

* difficulty of dealing with a number of funding bodies

* disorganisation of resources and noise due to school use

* censorship--no resolution between State Library Service and Education Department policy

* teachers concerned about community members borrowing `school' resources

* lack of parking for community

* altered times during school holidays is confusing

* no `down time'

* everything comes down to who pays for this and how much

* being accountable to both school and local council

* differences in evaluation of service by the partners

* each partner thinks their needs are more important

* staff members of a joint use library wear two hats constantly; they are people doing two jobs for the price of one

* inability to select staff on merit

* being `on call' during school holidays

* building maintenance not up to Shire standard--up to Education Department standard which is lower

* lack of appreciation of needs, requirements in running a school community library by both the school and the council

* the joint use situation here is extremely difficult and so are the personalities.

I concluded the questionnaire for the survey by asking respondents to suggest lessons for others from their experiences. Responses included

* partners should research well before setting up any kind of joint venture facility

* staff need to be hand picked, open to change and be able to work in a joint venture

* fight for the best possible space you can get--you will need it. Make the building bigger than initially required

* need to maximise communication and consultation

* hold regular board meetings

* open mind is needed, as well as ability to accept differences and to compromise if necessary

* this library was developed as a temporary addition to service delivery in the area. It has never worked well but we have been unable to improve or discontinue the service. Advice to others--don't do it!

* develop a good relationship with the school principal

* focus on the community and most problems become negotiable since both parties are community focused

* keep both libraries separate--do not integrate stock

* staffing conditions and salaries should be on a comparative level, organised before starting a joint use facility

* agreements should have provision for increasing area of library and staff allocation in realistic ratio to use

* make sure you do exchanges regularly

* consider contracting whole of service to one partner--it may hold less pitfalls

* negotiate an annual performance based agreement

* have signed agreements

* library assistants need to be able to relate to all ages

* staff must be committed and motivated to make the concept work; personality clashes and unmotivated staff could cause the complete collapse of the system

* it is a lot of work, but well worth the effort

* ensure there is a separate teaching area for students so that the public do not have to directly be in view of all classwork

Survey conclusions

Broadly, what can be concluded from the responses to the survey is that

* most joint use libraries in Australia will continue to operate

* several more are likely to open in the next two years

* many are not functioning optimally for factors which in some cases derive from their joint use nature, and in other cases because of factors which they have in common with other public libraries-- factors such as lack of space, lack of staff, poor location, lack of IT infrastructure and ultimately lack of local government and other funding support to do their job properly

* joint use public libraries have thus to be seen in this political and fiscal macro context. In the world's only doctoral study of joint use libraries which preceded mine, Lawrence Jaffe, in 1982, assessed the failure of a number of libraries in Pennsylvania but nonetheless concluded that

The combined school/public library will not

soon diminish. Shrinking funds and

community desires to maximise use of

facilities will maintain pressure for its

consideration (The combined school/public

library in Pennsylvania PhD dissertation

University of Pittsburgh 1982 p2)

I am a firm advocate of joint use libraries in the right place and at the right time. This necessarily means that if penny pinching is a primary motivation behind a joint use library proposal it does not auger well for the library to ever achieve its full potential--and that potential is to provide every member of its community, regardless of their circumstances, with that unfettered access to books, information resources and services which the politicians, the bureaucrats, the academics and the wealthy in Australia can too easily take for granted.

The real issues

At the root of the lack of funds for public libraries, including joint use libraries, to achieve their full potential in this country is not overall lack of money or general community unwillingness to support them.

Rather it is lack of education about what public libraries do, can do and should do. It is about the fact that they need hard cash to do it, and that they are a more effective of the community's resources than any other community or educational provision--and that certainly includes universities, and other formal educational institutions.

Munn and Pitt in their watershed 1935 report on Australian libraries were disappointed by the narrow service visions of local government; as was British Librarian Lionel McColvin in his 1947 report on Australian public libraries. Both reports are salutary reading and benchmarks which too few librarianship students and, I suspect, their lecturers have ever read. They are salutary because they confirm how far local government has changed and progressed in half a century--but they also confirm how little, in some respects, local government has changed in its attitudes to proper funding of libraries and willingness to recognise, as Charles Landry said at the first 1994 public libraries conference, that their libraries are, or should he, the umbrella institution of the learning society.

Graeme Frecker, past president of the Australian Local Government Association also observed in a paper at that first national public libraries conference held in Melbourne `At best only one in six of Australian born residents over SO would have had ready access to public library services in the formative years of childhood'.[29]

This reality probably continues to affect how public libraries are perceived and funded by local government and state government decision makers.

I was contemplating how to conclude this paper when I came across an item on the public library website (18/10/97) which fairly encapsulates my own sense of indignation at the low funding which too many public libraries receive, and at the lack of knowledge of what they contribute to our society, and at the failure of recent reports on public library issues to emphasise a fundamental issue for them.

John Casey, who is a public library director in Chicago and ALA Councillor, wrote

Libraries simply can't afford to give up books or

staff in order to buy computers. You need all of

the above or else a library is only `robbing Peter

to pay Paul' and will not be able to sustain progress.

Where does the money come from when you still

have to buy books, AV materials, pay staff for 7

day per week hours of coverage and handle all of

the other basic operational bills? That is a very

important question. It isn't just a management

issue, but an intellectual freedom issue. The

demand for books and bytes have put public

libraries under extreme pressure. Computers and

the internet won't replace library service needs,

but stimulate them--just as demand for books has

grown during the past 25 years despite the

advent of `alternatives' such as cable tv, video,

pcs, caroms, and the internet. Book stores and

libraries will be more crowded than ever before.

Communities which don't fund their public

libraries properly will very quickly become

`second class' and their residents will find

themselves cut off from critically important

information which they, as citizens, have a right to access.

Securing better funding for libraries (public,

academic and school) is an intellectual freedom

imperative. In this `information age', inadequate

library service should be equated with

censorship and violation of the rights of citizens

to access the information needed in order to

achieve life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

He then went on to observe what a very small proportion of local government revenue still went to public libraries. The situation is identical in Australia. A local authority may contribute only 2-4% of its rate revenue to a service typically used and valued by 60% of the community, and accessible to all. Some local authorities contribute less than 1% to their joint use libraries. Systematic national advocacy to increase that investment is really the challenge which has yet to be met.

A national issue

The organisations with any responsibility for public library advocacy have not yet grasped the full nettle and the public library reports of recent times have skated right over the issue. It is a dubious distinction shared by reports as far apart geographically as the 20/20 Vision report of the Libraries Working Group of the Australian Cultural Ministers Council, the US Benton Report (see review this issue by Michael Gorman) and Reading the future: a review of public libraries in England issued in the dying days of the Major Government and which made the very contestable assertion that

The original concept of the British public library

system was one of high seriousness and

importance. In more recent years there has been

a shift away from that high seriousness towards

entertainment. Information technology should

help to restore the proposed significance of

public libraries in our society (see review by Ali

Sharr Aplis June 1997 p72-76)

The basis issue is that public libraries have to he funded well for their very highly valued longstanding role and resources, because these will continue as long as conventional publishing continues. They also need to be funded for newer aspects of their role focused on technological delivery. One should not, and cannot, give way to another. Convincing local, state and a future federal government, that the need is real and the cost quite small is a challenge that must he met-- and met soon as the top priority by the merged Alia and Aclis.

Ultimately, the greatest need in public libraries is more educated and knowledgeable professional staff able to be effective local advocates for better public libraries. Public libraries are by the people, for the people. There are already indications that the availability and provision of electronic information resources and information technology is outstripping the knowledge and availability of library staff to use these well for community benefit. The problem is far worse in some libraries than others because of the gross disparities in professional and paraprofessional staffing per head of population across Australia.

In 1948 Norman Lynravn in his book Libraries in Australia stated

...good libraries are made Up of buildings, books

and brains and the most important ingredient is

brains (Libraries in Australia Melbourne,

Cheshire 1948)

That observation remains substantially true but we have the curious and wasteful situation in Australia of a surfeit of educated--at considerable cost to the taxpayer--professional librarians, communities with significant educational and informational and recreational needs unmet, and public libraries without the staffing and other resources to met these societal and individual needs. Yet all that is required in many cases is a small percentage shift in taxation expenditure to double the funding of libraries--what James Casey described as `maybe the cost of a case of beer per year', and which we all too easily convince ourselves is as impossible as making smokers outcasts was just twenty years ago. Lionel McColvin, in 1947, observed that better public libraries for Australians would only happen if people--often just the few--did not fight for them. He would consider that in the 1990s we have accepted too readily the notion that society cannot, or will not, better fund public libraries--society funds what it knows about and what it thinks is important. Our challenge to Australia and its decision makers is simply stated `where can taxpayers receive better and more appreciated value for their taxation dollars than a public library'. The only possible response could be `in a joint use public library'.


Opportunistic proposals for school community libraries and other types of joint use libraries continue to arise, sometimes driven by administrators with too large an eye for the budget savings or their career reputation as innovators, or both. This indicates that their number will continue to increase on an ad hoc basis. However, what is really required is a nation wide analysis of their potential to meet the needs of the 450 rural communities in Australia which appear to have at least one reasonably sized school but which lack a static or a professionally staffed public library. There are, without question, disadvantaged communities and schools throughout Australia which would respond well to a well planned and professionally staffed school community library. Despite the increasing urbanisation of the world's population, a large proportion of that population continues to live in rural areas with demographic, economic and communication characteristics not unlike those of rural areas in Australian. Many of these areas, particularly in Africa, Asia and South America do not yet have local provision of static public libraries; but they do generally have schools. They do, therefore, offer the potential for a combination of two complementary, but agencies, the school library and the public library. Professor Amey has recently pointed out that

The overheated rhetoric of the

supporters of information technology

sometimes has all the world's

problems--of at least every community's

informational and societal needs--solved

by the acquisition of computers with

internet connections. This is a much

over simplified approach to rural library

approach to rual library needs. There is more to

life that information. Rural life has long provided

larger society with an insight into how

people in small communities can bond

together to create a supportive living

environment. School housed public

libraries, well stocked, well connected

and well administered by a committed

professional are a possible solution. The

success of the South Australian

experience is very much due to the hard

working, conscientious teacher


The Australian and New Zealand experience of joint use libraries is now enduring and substantial enough to not only develop models for both countries but: particularly for South East Asia too. However, several issues need sustained attention and research. A single venue for the consolidation of the Australian and New Zealand experience would be useful. It is time to revisit the 1980 workshop on joint use libraries and for the professional associations to review their positions on joint use libraries. It is also time to accept the bonafides of joint use libraries as a permanent, growing and significant part of the Australian and New Zealand public library scene.

(*) In 1987 an excellent report School/community libraries in New Zealand was prepared by Gail Andrews and Janice Frater for the NLNZ and the Department of Education


[1] Talbot, M A chance to read: a history of the institutes movement in South Australia Adelaide, Libraries Board 1992 p23

[2] Clyde, L The magic casements-1909 Journal of the School Library Association of Qld May 1973 pp 15-18

[3] Munn R and Pitt E Australian libraries. a survey of conditions and suggestions for their improvement Melbourne, ACER 1935 p105

[4] ibid p136

[5] McColvin, L Public libraries in Australia Melbourne, ACER/MUP 1947

[6] ibid p89

[7] ibid p89

[8] ibid p95

[9] Fenwick, S School and children's libraries in Australia a report to the Children's Libraries Section of the LAA Melbourne, Cheshire 1966

[10] Fenwick, S Australian school libraries--twenty years onward The Teacher librarian No 37 March 1975 pp27-33

[11] Fenwick, S Public and school libraries in community library movements The Teacher librarian No 39 Sept 1975 pp21-26

[12] ibid p23

[13] ibid p23

[14] Public libraries in Australia: report of the Committee of Inquiry into Public Libraries (Chairman: Allan Horton) Canberra AGPS 1976

[15] ibid p31

[16] ibid p114

[17] ibid p31

[18] Brown, W School and community: library and community Australian library journal Dec 1972 pp481-6

[19] L Amey interview

[20] Amey, L, The Canadian school based public library London, The Vine Press 1979

[21] A Horton letter to A Bundy 12 October 1994

[22] Dwyer, J Cooperation or compromise: school community libraries in Australia. Report to tile Commonwealth Schools Commission Canberra, Commonwealth Schools Commission 1983

[23] Lundin, R School/community libraries Commonwealth Secondary Libraries Research Project No 5 Brisbane, Department of Education, University of Qld 1974

[24] Browne, M ed Joint use libraries in the Australian community. Proceedings of a national workshop Melbourne 13-15 August 1980 Canberra, NLA 1981

[25] School/community libraries in Australia. Report to the Commonwealth ,Schools Commission Canberra, Commonwealth School Commission 1983

[26] Bundy, A Widened horizons: the rural school community libraries of South Australia Adelaide, Auslib Press 1997 (Available from Auslib Press PO Box 622 Blackwood SA 505:1 Price $36.00 plus $6.00 p&h--in Australia)

[27] Emerton, C Joint use school community libraries: some observations on their implementation, costs and benefits Riverina library journal 1(1) Autumn 1984 p26

[28] Hazell, A The ultimate form of cooperation--joint use libraries in Hazell, A ed Access and equity: challenges in public librarianship Adelaide, Auslib Press 1992 p68-76

[29] Frecker, G Local government and libraries in Bundy, A ed Public libraries: trading in futures Proceedings of the 1st national public libraries conference Adelaide, Auslib Press 1994 p56

Alan Bundy BA DipEd MLitt MLib PhD FALIA AFAIM has been foundation university librarian of the multicampus University of South Australia since 1992. He is also founding director of the Australian Clearing House for Library and Information Science, of the Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Library and editorial manager of Auslib Press. Alan has worked in public, Tafe and college of advanced education libraries in WA, Victoria and SA and was national president of the Australian Library and Information Association in 1988. His professional interests include publishing, information literacy, public libraries and joint use libraries. Address: PO Box 622 Blackwood SA 5051 Tel(08)82784363 fax(08)82784000 email
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Author:Bundy, Alan
Publication:Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services
Date:Mar 1, 1998
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