Library services in Port Stephens are at risk of being cut if a “funding crisis” is not resolved with the state government.
Port Stephens Council has joined with NSW Public Libraries Association and Local Government NSW in a united effort to call on the state government to double its funding for libraries.
“Libraries today are about more than just books – they are valuable centres of information for the entire community and a vital part of our social infrastructure,” Port Stephens Council’s library services manager, Kris Abbott, said.
“Libraries provide literacy support for young children, they bridge the digital divide, they serve as a meeting place for older and newly arrived Australians, and they bring people together from all walks of life.”
In 2017-2018 Port Stephens libraries saw 215,775 people walk through their doors.
In Port Stephens, the council operates three libraries: in Raymond Terrace, Salamander Bay and Lemon Tree Passage.
However, the Tilligerry Library is run by community volunteers. Additionally, the council operate a mobile library.
Staff loaned 320,030 library items while 25,642 people accessed the internet and 16,864 used Wi-Fi.
Staff fielded 33,312 inquiries and joined up 2322 new library members. A total of 587 programs and events were run with 8050 children, young people, adults and seniors attending.
The Our Stories in the Street early literacy program reached 68 children and 50 families in the Raymond Terrace community.
We don’t want to have to close the door on students, parents with children and older library users because we don’t have the money to keep the lights on.- Kris Abbott
Local government contributes more than $314 million to libraries each year, which Ms Abbott said is an “unfair burden for us to bear”, particularly when “local council budgets are already stretched”.
The NSW Government contributes $23.5 million to support more than 360 libraries across the state. In the 2018 state budget recurrent funding for public libraries was slashed by 5 per cent.
At around 7.8 per cent of total funding, the NSW Government’s contribution to libraries is the lowest in Australia, far behind Victoria (18 per cent) and Queensland (12 per cent).
In response to this, councils across the state have joined the Renew Our Libraries campaign to advocate on behalf of public libraries.
“If we don’t address this funding shortfall we may see shorter opening hours, fewer programs and services and reduced book and digital collections,” Ms Abbott said.
“We don’t want to have to close the door on students, parents with children and older library users because we don’t have the money to keep the lights on.
“That’s why we are calling on all political parties to urgently address this funding crisis in NSW public libraries by doubling recurrent funding and creating a sustainable funding model.”
The public is invited to join the Renew Our Libraries campaign by signing a petition, which can be found online here.