Libraries in New South Wales could be forced to reduce hours or staff numbers because of diminished state government funding, a new campaign has claimed.
Renew Our Libraries, launched on Wednesday, calls on the state government to double its funding to resolve the crisis.
Dallas Tout, president of the NSW Public Libraries Association, said funding had diminished from a 25 per cent contribution in 1980 to just 7 per cent last year, leaving local governments to find the rest.
“You can’t squeeze any more out of them,” Cr Tout, of Wagga Council, said on Wednesday.
Without twice as much state funding, the campaign says the long-term viability of the state’s 360 public libraries will be threatened.
Cr Tout said libraries have reached the point where they will need to start reducing hours, staff and activities.
About 35 million people visited NSW libraries last year, up from 27 million in 2000.
Local Government NSW president Linda Scott said state funding was the lowest in Australia. Victoria contributed 18 per cent and Queensland added 12 per cent, she said.
The Sydney councillor said the government had failed to keep up with rising demand for libraries.
“They foster social inclusion, help bridge the digital divide, are important meeting places and focal points for people to access information and ideas,” Cr Scott said in a statement on Wednesday.
The 2018 budget cut recurrent funding by 5 per cent, she said.
NSW contributes $23.5 million a year, compared with the local government contribution of $314 million.
“This is an unsustainable burden to place on local government, whose budgets are already stretched,” she said.
Cr Tout said public libraries were critical in supporting the government’s childhood literacy and education objectives, while also boosting the economy.
“They support over 3000 full-time equivalent jobs and make a $330 million contribution to the NSW economy.”
NSW Arts Minister Don Harwin said public libraries in regional NSW could apply for grants to build new or improve existing infrastructure, while metropolitan libraries will be offered a new funding program later this year.
The NSW opposition said if elected it will double the library subsidy and has set up a $25 million public library infrastructure fund.
“For many regional and suburban areas, the local library is the heart and soul of the communities – and they deserve to be properly funded,” Labor’s local government spokesman Peter Primrose said in a statement on Wednesday.
The campaign includes a petition calling for library funding to be doubled in the next state budget, following the March state election.
“Today’s libraries are more than books – they are valuable centres for people to access information, knowledge, meet new people and learn new skills,” the petition page says.