Municipal Association of Victoria
Outcomes of the Library Summit
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1 INTRODUCTION 1
2 THE ROLE OF PUBLIC LIBRARIES 3
2.1 The role of public libraries 3
2.1.1 Libraries and communities 3
2.1.2 Planned services 3
2.1.3 Accessibility 4
2.2 Local government contribution to libraries 4
2.2.1 Local government provision and governance 4
2.2.2 Service coordination 5
2.3 Conclusion 5
3 AREAS IDENTIFIED FOR REFORM 6
3.1 Partnerships 6
3.1.1 Partnership between local and state governments 6
3.1.2 Partnership between libraries and other information organisations 6
3.2 Governance model for regional library corporations 6
3.3 Rationalisation of the state government structure 7
3.4 Improved recurrent funding of public libraries 7
3.5 A workforce strategy 7
3.6 One local government position on libraries established 7
3.7 Conclusion 7
4 SUMMIT CONCLUSION 8
On 11 March 2004, the MAV, in conjunction with VicLink, convened a Public Library
Summit to develop a coordinated library policy and funding position. Fifty-five
councils and all regional library corporations were represented at the summit.
The summit had two aims: (a) to explore and define what the role of public libraries
should be in the future, and (b) to define the role local government should play in
The landmark summit provided an opportunity for local government to explore issues
that are impeding the further development of Victoria’s public library service. The
summit identified two roles for public libraries, which should be built upon to improve
1. Public libraries are key community institutions
2. Public libraries provide access to services for the whole of community
To reach these broad roles, the summit considered possible campaign goals. These
1. To advocate that the State Government contribute 50% of recurrent
funding to libraries
2. To establish a coherent, statewide policy written by local government
3. To rationalise state government structure
4. To establish mechanisms for long-term planning of library services
5. To identify libraries as a key service for local government
Speakers at the summit included Joanne Duncan MP, Chair of the Ministerial
Advisory Council on Public Libraries; Prue Digby, Executive Director, Local
Government Victoria; and Rob Doyle MP,
Leader of the Opposition.
Robert Doyle announced that the Liberal Party – if they form a government after the
next state election in 2006 – would contribute an additional $1 per head of population
per year in recurrent state funding every year for four years. This commitment to
increase funding would mean that by 2010, recurrent state funding for public libraries
in Victoria would be $9 per head of population.1 The benefit to local government over
four years under this announcement would be $46.8 million.
Reform from State and local governments is required in order for libraries to continue
their positive contribution to communities. Public library services are a key
component of community infrastructure and the summit determined to call upon the
State Government to immediately increase the levels of recurrent funding to at least
match or better the level proposed by the Victorian Liberal Party.
This figure is unadjusted for inflation
Outcomes of the Library Summit Page 1
This paper summarises the major outcomes of the library summit. The summit
examined the role of public libraries and local government into the future and
identified areas for reform to improve library services.
Page 2 Outcomes of the Library Summit
2 THE ROLE OF PUBLIC LIBRARIES
The summit considered questions on the role of public libraries and local government
including the contemporary and likely future challenges for public libraries, and how
libraries should adapt to improve service delivery. This section summarises the
views of summit participants.
2.1 The role of public libraries
2.1.1 Libraries and communities
Although public libraries already provide a wide range of services, there are
opportunities for further integration with the community, which could deliver concrete
As key community centres, public libraries have the capacity to facilitate innovation in
As well as being an accessible source of information, education and recreation
resources available to all citizens at no (or low) cost, public libraries function as
community ‘hubs’ or meeting places by providing community activities; facilitating the
development of programs to foster literacy and social support; and being a central
component of lifelong learning and the ‘knowledge economy’.
Encouraging intensive and wide links between libraries and other community
services such as Neighbourhood Houses could help improve library services.
Libraries can be encouraged to generate creative solutions to complex social
problems through responding to local needs – from recognising the different needs of
rural and metropolitan municipalities (and everything in between), to balancing the
information, recreation, book and online needs of communities.
The range of different mechanisms to supply information means that libraries are
viewed as ‘village greens on the information highway’.
2.1.2 Planned services
A strategic approach to the provision of library services will positively influence library
services by examining: (a) the needs of libraries, (b) where libraries fit into a broader
policy context at state and local levels, and (c) the diverse information and
community needs of different geographical locations.
Planning should be strategic and carefully integrated between the different levels of
government to promote greater consistency between existing government programs
and future community needs.
With rapidly changing technology, and development of new modes for the
communication of information, a long-term vision for information resources is
essential. In developing this vision the optimum method of information exchange
needs to be considered i.e. books, computers and/or other resources. To stay
relevant, libraries must not only adapt to changing information technology needs, but
bridge barriers to accessing information.
Many geographical areas are currently facing population decline while other areas
are growing. Catering for future and current needs by integrating library services into
Outcomes of the Library Summit Page 3
a sophisticated planning process would bring concrete benefits for both government
(State and local) and the community as resources are allocated more equitably.
Planning library infrastructure is essential to the provision of library services, as
libraries – particularly in the growth corridors – need to plan for expected changes in
population growth, and not just current service demands.
Moreover, a longer planning cycle for the State’s funding contribution to public
libraries would enable more accurate planning of public library services. Suggestions
ranged from a minimum of four years to correspond to their current budgetary
reporting requirements to a coordinated statewide plan for library services until 2030.
The physical location of public libraries is increasingly seen as being related to how
well they facilitate the development of communities. Libraries can be built near visitor
information centres or shopping centres. Libraries are more likely to be ‘energetic’
community hubs if they are integrated into a commonly used physical infrastructure.
As well as being physically accessible, all communities should have equal access to
information as a fundamental right in a democratic society. While libraries are not the
only service providing information, they are the pre-eminent provider of free or low
cost information resources for the whole of community. A previous study suggested
that retired people, and young (school aged) children are the major users of libraries
during weekday hours.2 Ensuring that libraries are accessible to the whole of
community is the key role of public libraries, and needs to be supported on a
coordinated basis. This would require a minimum standard of service across rural,
regional, urban and interface municipalities. The importance of maintaining a free
universal core service was reaffirmed by the summit.
2.2 Local government contribution to libraries
2.2.1 Local government provision and governance
Local government already plays a substantial role in the provision of public library
services. Councils contribute the majority of funding for public libraries and take the
lead role in governance and policy decisions. As one summit participant said, local
government is the ‘champion’ of public libraries.
However, this does not mean that the current governance, policy and funding
arrangements are optimal. It is important that an overarching statewide core library
service be maintained and adequately funded to ensure that all libraries provide core
services. Core services could specify the standard of collections, minimum opening
hours, and the cost (if any) of access to different types of information.
Ensuring that library policy is responsive to community expectations is critical to both
local government and public libraries by making the library service relevant and
demonstrating to the community that local government is responsive to the needs of
the community. Tools used by councils to ensure libraries are responsive to
community expectations should be developed locally.
See, Cox, Eva (2000) ‘”A safe place to go”: Libraries and Social Capital’, State Library of
New South Wales, June. It should be noted that the annual survey of public libraries in
Victoria, which shows that the demographic of library membership, does not show this specific
profile. However, it is unclear whether the membership profile is the same as a user profile.
Page 4 Outcomes of the Library Summit
2.2.2 Service coordination
The summit identified that library service provision could be improved by enhanced
service coordination, possibly through a statewide policy document. Currently,
service fragmentation, unnecessary duplication of policy development at local and
state government levels, and a lack of clarity surrounding responsibility for libraries is
impeding the service from developing further.
The State Government has an ambiguous role in public library services, evidenced
by the fragmented policy development process. Improving the State Government’s
departmental structure and clearly articulating the roles and responsibilities of the
state would improve public library services.
Both state and local governments have a role in providing library services, although
their respective roles need clarification. Doing so will improve the quality of library
services that are available to the communities who will benefit from responsive,
accessible library services.
Outcomes of the Library Summit Page 5
3 AREAS IDENTIFIED FOR REFORM
Strategies to improve the provision of public libraries have been identified and
developed. The summit considered what should change in order for public libraries
and local government to fulfil their optimal role. A partnership between local
government and the State Government was identified as being essential to improving
the service. Clearly demarcating governments’ responsibilities would help overcome
challenges to improved library services. Rationalising the State Government
policy/funding structures would simplify this process.
3.1.1 Partnership between local and state governments
Increasing formal and informal dialogue between local government and the State was
identified as an effective mechanism to improve library resources. There is currently
an unclear demarcation in the responsibilities for the governance and policy of public
libraries. At this time, service coordination between local government and the State is
limited to haphazard and ad hoc methods, such as informal consultation on new
policies. Furthermore, formalised conduits for partnerships, such as the Ministerial
Advisory Council (MAC) on Public Libraries3 are still developmental. A formal
protocol between local government through the MAV and the State Government is
the preferred partnership model.
Such a partnership would also encourage the introduction of a statewide policy
framework under which all public libraries would operate. A State/local government
partnership agreement would provide the basis to promote not just a network of
public libraries, but to improve library services through a coordinated framework
including minimum service standards, and a statewide policy on fees and charges.
The agreement would address: (a) equity in library services across the whole of the
state, (b) increase the quality of library resource materials and infrastructure and (c)
fund equitable proportions of library services.
3.1.2 Partnership between libraries and other information organisations
Establishing partnerships between schools, TAFEs, and other organisations, which
provide information services is one possible mechanism for improving public libraries.
The initiative of Wangaratta Rural City Council providing public library services in
conjunction with their local TAFE is one example of such a partnership. While this
undoubtedly provides a mechanism which could expand the responsibility for library
services, there are a number of issues surrounding a partnership of this kind which
require consideration. For example, is it possible for the community to have access
to a school library during school hours because of vetting requirements for people
who come in contact with children?
3.2 Governance model for regional library corporations
The dynamics of the governance model between local government and regional
library corporations could be examined to increase local government ownership of
policy development. While the summit recognised the key role that regional library
corporations’ play in the provision of public library services, the systems linking
The MAC is given the responsibility to advise the Minister for Local Government on a variety
of issues affecting public libraries. The MAC is currently formulating amended terms of
references, which could possibly change its ability to comment on funding issues.
Page 6 Outcomes of the Library Summit
regional library corporations’ policy development processes to member councils
could be reviewed.
3.3 Rationalisation of the state government structure
The state government public library structures are divided between Arts Victoria in
the Department of the Premier and Cabinet (DPC), and the Local Government
Division in the Department for Victorian Communities (DVC). It is unclear why this
unnecessarily complex governance structure has been adopted. There are clear
benefits to having all policy and governance functions consolidated under a single
3.4 Improved recurrent funding of public libraries
The State contributed approximately 50% of recurrent funding to public libraries in
the mid 1970s. This funding contribution has fallen to around 20% of total operational
costs of the network. Immediate injection of funding into the public library system
would have an instant impact in the quality of the services delivered. The Victorian
Liberal Party has committed to increasing recurrent state government public library
funding of $1 per capita per year from 2006 to 2010. This quantum of funding would
achieve a more equitable funding commitment from the State.
3.5 A workforce strategy
Anecdotal evidence suggests public libraries have an ageing workforce.
Concurrently, there is an expectation that library personnel have flexible skills to deal
with rapidly changing technology. A workforce strategy could also examine methods
to attract younger staff and retain current library staff.
3.6 One local government position on libraries established
Developing the capacity of public libraries requires a commitment from local
government. To do this, local government must engage with councillors, CEOs, and
To enable this, the MAV should take a lead role in the development of a statewide
policy written by local government. There are substantial roles for both the MAV and
councils in advocating the value of public libraries, introducing a taskforce to oversee
changes to the provision of library services, and being the face of public libraries.
Local government calls upon the State Government to commit to a process of
consolidation of public library policy, funding and governance. Public libraries will be
improved by a partnership between the local and state governments, which clearly
outlines policy, funding and governance responsibilities.
Outcomes of the Library Summit Page 7
4 SUMMIT CONCLUSION
The summit aimed to explore what the role of public libraries should be in the future,
and how local government will contribute to this role. Local government believes that
the current library service is impeded from further development by an increasingly
complex state government structure. Libraries should be:
Strategic and planned
Key community institutions
Accessible for the whole of community
Furthermore, the summit agreed that the provision of library services would be
The State Government contributing 50% of recurrent funding to libraries
A coherent, statewide library policy written by local government
A rationalised state government model
Long-term planning of library services
Local government identifying libraries as a key service
A partnership agreement to identify the responsibilities of State and local
A substantial overhaul of public library policy, funding and governance systems is
required to ensure that the system is dynamic and able to adjust to current and future
needs. The MAV will work with councils to develop a plan to improve public library
services as generated by the summit.
Page 8 Outcomes of the Library Summit