Dr Alan Bundy - Libraries: A Living Force

University Librarian, University of South Australia and President elect, Australian Library & Information Association Extract from paper presented at the third biennial conference of Friends of Libraries Australia, Canberra,22 October 2000.

Abstract: Australia has one of the most accessible and heavily used public library networks in the world. However, from a July 2000 survey, much needs to be done in the 21st century to highlight and address issues such as poorly located and unattractive buildings, lack of space, poor opening hours, limited book and other resources, technology constraints and the lack of specialist librarians. This will require a local and national public program by ALIA and FOLA, in particular, to develop an awareness among all governments of the contribution and potential of the libraries for which they are responsible.

There are only two national bodies in Australia which are free of political constraints to push the public library agenda. One is the new Australian Library and Information Association,and in pursuance of its first object it will take a lead over the next few years. That first objective is:

The other national body,only the second of its type worldwide,is of course Friends of Libraries Australia.

FOLA, and individual FoL groups thus have a very important role to play at the local and national levels in promoting public libraries. Yet the potential to do so will not be realised without assertiveness-better public libraries for all Australians will only be achieved by questioning and hard headed advocacy, using facts and pressure. For example the Australian Library & Information Association sponsored Library and Information Week in May 2001 will include for the first time, on 16 May, a Thank you Day to facilitate libraries and their Friends inviting elected members and decision makers to see the scope and value of what they have provided for their communities.

It is also the opportunity to ask of each public library branch in Australia where it create in terms of the national graph of location, space, attractiveness, hours, technology, resources etc. This is something which could be legitimately a role for Friends because if Friends do not ask these questions at the local level,no one else is likely to. Friends should also be asking wherein lies the community involvement in the development of each library. Local government is increasingly being required to identify its community consultation processes. Yet few local authorities in Australia have any form of library advisory committee, and where they have community representation it is likely to be of a token nature. There is one other area where FOLA and Australian Library & Information Association could move forward together.

Despite the UNESCO Public library manifesto's reference to the responsibility of 'national and local governments to support and actively engage in the development of public libraries', no Australian government has really engaged in the promotion and development of public libraries for all Australians. It is therefore suggested that ALIA and FOLA join in proposing to the federal government a comprehensive consultative review of public libraries to:

If the federal government does not respond to such a request,ALIA and FOLA should initiate their own review.

The message is simply,and irrefutably put:

At the end of this century there is much to celebrate in Australia, not least the living force of its public libraries as the agency to which more Australians have recourse than any other. The task for the 21st century is to ensure that living force not only continues, but becomes an even greater force as a unique testbed for Australian civic values and citizenship. That task challenges Friends of Libraries Australia. It challenges the Australian Library and Information Association. We should tackle it together.

Full text of all papers presented at FOLA biennial conference will be published by FOLA.

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