By Raquel Mustillo
MILLICENT Public Library users have warned prospective cuts to council library services will decimate an essential community hub and affect key educational, digital and social programs.
Library volunteers Wendy Thomson, Nan Minty and Kerry Lawson have urged the State Government to keep funding levels steady amid widespread concern over the continuation of a long-standing agreement.
The current 10-year agreement between the State Government and the Local Government Association will expire at the end of June, with a new funding arrangement yet to be confirmed.
Currently, the State Government provides around $20m per year to South Australia’s libraries through the partnership and councils provide approximately $86m.
The trio decried any decreases to library funding, saying the Millicent facility provided essential services to community members, including marginalised groups such as young families, older people and people without access to technology.
“The library is a wonderful hub for our community and it is safe space for people of any age, young or old, to read, research or relax,” Ms Thomson said.
“There are not a lot of places you can socialise in Millicent and the library is a place people come to as a social outlet.
“We see a lot of new people who come here who need help to access information or lodging documents online and the staff here are always happy to give them the help they need.
“If the library doesn’t have funding or there’s a cut, it will be the programs like the school holiday activities and book launches that are really important for our community that are going to be cut.”
The Wattle Range Library Service comprises of the main Millicent and Penola facilities, a smaller Beachport branch and depot at Tantanoola.
In addition to the traditional collecting and borrowing services, the network has adapted to community and digital needs and provides individual and group-based technology literacy sessions, children’s activities, local history talks and collaborative events with service providers.
The Millicent Gallery is also housed within the library complex and provides a space for new and emerging local, national and international artists to exhibit their work.
The library continued to operate during the height of COVID-19 restrictions, offering a click and collect service and moving its popular children’s story time to an online format.
“There’s no doubt that the library helped a lot of people who might have otherwise struggled during COVID,” Ms Thomson said.
“For some people, the click and collect service might have been the only contact they had with a person.”
Local Government Association (LGA) president mayor Angela Evans said the organisation has been negotiating a new agreement with the government, but had yet to be provided with any figures.
Ms Evans said the association would not sign off on the arrangement without confirmation of funding for 2021/22 and beyond.
“At a minimum, the LGA wants to see current funding levels maintained, with indexation applied every year for the term of the new agreement,” she said.
“Any decrease in libraries funding will be felt by councils and their communities, and especially smaller regional councils that rely on this support to help fund their physical collections.”
Wattle Range libraries, tourism and information manager Janice Nitschke AM said a decrease in funding would prompt a review into service delivery across the council-run facilities.
“Libraries are not just about books anymore, we have adapted to the digital needs of the community and we are now a community hub,” she said.
“Our programs include Tech Savvy Seniors, local history groups and art exhibitions which not only provide a service, but empowers people so they feel they can contribute.
“All of this is only possible if we are adequately funded.”
Ms Nitschke said the retention of existing services would not be possible to maintain unless an additional funding source was secured, which may require an increase in council funding.
She warned widespread cuts could impact the operation of the OneCard program, which allows users to borrow books from any library across the state at their local library.
“If there are any cuts, it might mean instead of a two day wait for a book community members might wait for one month for a book,” she said.
The library has joined a Local Government Association-led campaign which encourages users to email, write or scan a QR code to automatically email MPs supporting the retention of library funds.
A State Government spokesperson did not address a question as to how much funding would be provided under a new agreement.
“The State Government allocates significant funding to libraries each year,” the spokesperson said.
“This year’s budget is still being finalised and will be handed down in June.”
Labor parliamentarian Clare Scriven called on the State Government to immediately commit to long-term funding and ensure the continuation of council-run libraries.
“Our local libraries are fantastic public assets that don’t only provide books, but also connect people together and provide important services such as computer and internet services, JP services, and venues for community events,” she said.
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