The $2 million cash injection for Nambucca Library will solve many problems

When I told my mother I had just accepted a job at our local library, she looked at me, slightly puzzled and said, "Darling, it's so kind of you to caretake the library in its dying years."

It's fair to say I was taken aback at this comment, but it started me thinking: are libraries really dying or are they more relevant than ever?

That librarians keep meticulous records will surprise no-one.

According to the most recent NSW public library statistics, there were more than 35 million visitors to 471 library service points in NSW in 2016-17, with over 41 million items borrowed.

When looked at over a 20-year period, there has been a 30 per cent increase in people visiting their public libraries, although not necessarily to borrow items.

While borrowing has decreased by around 12 per cent in the last six years, use of library PCs and wi-fi has more than doubled in that same time period

... and virtual visits to libraries through their websites have increased by 45 per cent.

None of this has happened by accident. Like most institutions, libraries have had to re-invent themselves to stay relevant to their communities.

Wes McQuillan, Senior Librarian atthe Nambucca Shire Council, said he was lucky when he started in libraries 28 years ago, because libraries had just stopped using card catalogues.

"The transformation has been amazing," he said.

"Look at us now - we can do everything. Libraries need to be at the cutting edge of technology because there are always going to be people who can't afford the new tools, so we must provide access to them. It's about equity."

In addition to being technology trendsetters, libraries are also exploring different ways to be creative community spaces.

Port Macquarie library members can use their library's 'Imaginarium', a recording studio and creative space, free of charge, or take advantage of state-of-the art tech tools in the 'Tech Room'.

At Grafton's Sir Earl Page Library and Education Centre, there is a Teens ChillOut Gaming Zone, a dedicated area for young people to study and play, complete with Xbox and PlayStation.

Library design is rapidly evolving to suit their new role of community hub. The concept of the public library as a third space, a refuge between school or work and home, is one many in the community have embraced.

Single mother Leona Rickerby pops into her local library with her nine-year-old son at least once a week.

"I love the community feel," she said.

"It's a space you can share with people of all ages, and being a single mum, away from family, it's a nice way to connect with the community.

"My son borrows books, and I use the internet and printing facilities. It's also free, which is important when you don't have much money."

Libraries used to be quiet places, but not anymore, according to Sue Hughes, Library Officer- in-charge for Nambucca Heads Library.

"When we have children visit, I always tell them not to run or shout, but they're allowed to talk and laugh," she explained.

"A few years ago, I attended a council meeting, and a councillor said he'd had a complaint that there was too much noise in the library.

"I said, that's true - sometimes we have spontaneous outbursts of happiness!"

It's a space you can share with people of all ages, and being a single mum, away from family, it's a nice way to connect with the community.

Leona Rickerby

Not everyone is a fan of the modern community-hub style libraries.

Brandi Welsh used to use her local library to study while her daughter was in preschool, but it just became too noisy.

"I really like quiet spaces to study," Brandi said.

"I love the kids' space in there, but because it's open plan, it can become very noisy. It would be great if we had areas with specific designations to accommodate different needs, like study pods and quiet spaces to study."

Many libraries, especially in larger regional centres and cities, do have separate study and work spaces, but space is often at a premium in small town libraries, some of which have seen decades since their last refurbishment.

The successful $2.1 million grant for the Nambucca Heads library, announced in December 2018, will address many of these issues, doubling the size of the existing library, ensuring more quiet spaces, and giving people access to creative and interactive learning opportunities.

This is not the only cash injection in store for local libraries, with the NSW State Government announcing an extra $60 million in library funding over the next four years.

According to the Member for Oxley, Melinda Pavey, the NSW Government wants to see libraries grow, and has a plan to support them across the state.

"The NSW Nationals have committed to fund a further $100 million of this hugely popular community grants program, which will transform and modernise public libraries, especially those in regional areas."

Mr McQuillan agrees.

"We're happy that library funding has increased, and happy that our library will get more money," he stated firmly.

"Our funding from the State government will increase which is great, but it needs to be indexed.

"At the moment, the funding is only guaranteed until 2023, and we're advocating that the funding increase be permanent."

I say this to all our new staff: never let this be a place where people come in and ask a question and they be met by 'that's nothing to do with us.'

Librarian Sue Hughes

Libraries are vital in all communities, but there seems to be a special place for libraries in rural and regional centres.

Mrs Hughes, who is in her 37th year of working in libraries, is passionate about the role of the library in serving regional communities, where people can be isolated, and resources stretched.

"We help everyone who comes in; everybody is welcome."

Libraries are constantly evolving to keep pace with their communities because it is their job to be relevant. If our libraries are dying, then our community must also be close to death.

Libraries are permanently in caretaker mode: caring that people are literate, caring about lifelong learning, caring that citizens are informed, caring that everyone is included in the digital age, caring about vital, connected, creative communities.

That's the kind of library I want to caretake.

A short history of our Public Libraries:

The NSW Public Library will celebrate its 80th birthday this year. To a young nation which hasn't quite reached 220 years of age, this seems like a long time.

Most Australians cannot imagine not having a local public library network, so deeply ingrained have libraries become in our communities. But it was not always so.

Before the 1939 NSW Library Act was passed, Australia was at least 80 years behind the UK and the US in the formation of a public library network, and worse, few people knew or cared.

At that time, the Australian public library system consisted of state libraries in each capital and a motley collection of decaying mechanics' institutes, schools of art and literary institutes which were semi-private.

These were staffed by volunteers and open to subscribers only.

Australia owes a great debt to the Munn-Pitt review in 1935, which compared the Australian Library network to similar countries, and founded it lacking in almost every way.

The review spurred the formation of the Free library Movement, which in less than five years had convinced the NSW population and its government to get serious about libraries.

The NSW Library Act was passed in full in 1944 (the financial provisions had been delayed because of the war). By the following year, 31 Councils had adopted the act and opened libraries.

Nambucca Shire Council adopted the Library Act in 1962 and began operating a public library service in 1963.

What's on your library wish list?

"I'd like there to be hammocks or big comfy chairs that you can swing in, more artwork on the walls - the walls look a bit boring. I'd like board games as well." Alani (11)

"I'd like a mobile library service, so I didn't have to drive so far to get books." Dale (53)

"I'd like more comfy lounge areas to hang out on, and more computers, as there's often a wait." Leona Rickerby (46)

"I'd like a gaming space and the ability to borrow Xbox and PlayStation games." Nick (15)

"I'd love our library to have a book club, exhibitions and other interesting events to attend." Nicole (45)

"I'd like the library to have longer opening hours, even on just one day of the week." Jane (46)

"I'd love to see a bank of rooms where people can study and work, a big messy place for kids, a big lounge room type space where people can hang out, play games, listen to podcasts or whatever." Wes (Librarian)

"A whole floor for young people of all ages - where they can sit on the couches, read, talk, study, hang-out, build robots, have Lego clubs." Sue (Librarian)

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