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Focus on Australian libraries

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By Margaret Adolphus

"We've been sitting here watching with interest the austerity measures introduced in the UK and thanking our lucky stars as librarians or library operators that we're the lucky country at the moment" (Australian library manager).

When the financial crisis erupted in 2008, the response of the then Australian Government was to inject a stimulus package into the economy; that, together with the country's plentiful natural resources, helped it avoid the worst of the recession.

That may have helped libraries avoid the swingeing cuts experienced in the UK and USA. Although budgets have certainly not increased on a per capita basis, there is growth in budgets in some areas, such as the Gold Coast, because of a rapidly growing population.

Another feature of Australia is its peculiar demographic – around 90 per cent of its population live within two hours' drive of the coast, near cities, while around two million live in the interior, in relative isolation.

This creates potential for a divide between the information haves and have-nots, although the situation may be improved by the programme to roll out broadband over the whole country. The National Broadband Network is in fact the single largest infrastructure investment made by an Australian government.

Otherwise, Australian libraries face the same challenges as do libraries in most of the other advanced nations:

  • the rapid pace of technology, and the way it changes our relationship to information;
  • our enhanced service expectations and desire for instant answers;
  • the increase in non-book media, whether games, toys, DVDs or licensed databases;
  • the growth of electronic media which is licensed rather than purchased;
  • the continuing importance of the book despite this; and
  • the continuing need for the library as place, whether to study or as a community hub.