Sharing resources and ideas
South Australia’s library system is centrally managed rather than being administered by individual councils. Footner says this has significant cost benefits, but also ensures equal access across the state.
“It means we can draw on any library’s collection for our members. No matter where you live, you can access the same resources.”
Australia Post delivers close to 4 million materials to libraries across the state every year, on behalf of SA Public Library Network’s centralised sortation and delivery service. Members simply make a reservation, and it will be distributed to their local library.
“Because we co-operate as a collective, we can also procure in bulk,” Footner adds. This makes everything from eBook subscriptions to library software more cost-effective.
During the crisis, Footner saw SA’s libraries collaborate even more effectively across the vast distances of the state. “In the past we’d talked about organising forums of all the regional and metropolitan library managers. The pandemic encouraged us to quickly adopt the technology to do that online – and now that we are re-opening it’s been a more collaborative process.”
A valued resource for all
Prospect Library saw member numbers continue to grow during the crisis. Like many other libraries, it quickly allowed people to join online to get instant access to all resources. “Because we’ve been forced to deliver a lot of our programs via social media, we’ve expanded awareness by default. People in some demographics have rediscovered their local library and realised just how much we have changed.”
He expects the local library will continue to play a vital role over the coming months, because they are generally valued in times of economic downturn.
“When people don’t have as much disposable income, being able to get access to books for free is really important,” Footner observes.
Having learned so much during this experience, library managers are now thinking about which of the new services they will continue. And with programs already in place to support job seekers with resume writing, completing online Centrelink forms, and access to broader government services, they are ready to support the recovery process.
One thing is clear: the sense of belonging and physical connection the local library provides has never been more important.