Funding squeeze hits libraries

SHELLHARBOUR City and Kiama Municipal councils have called on library users to join a state-wide campaign to curb a long-term reduction in NSW government funding for public libraries.

So far more than 36,000 people have signed the petition, organised by the NSW Public Library Associations.

The group said expenditure on public libraries from the state decreased as a proportion of total public library expenditure from 23 per cent in 1980 to only 7 per cent in 2013.

Kiama mayor Brian Petschler said the Kiama Library was one of Kiama's most well used and valued public facilities, but the ability of the council to maintain service levels at Kiama Library may be at risk due to deteriorating state funding.

File photo.

File photo.

"Our local libraries play a vital role in our community," Cr Petschler said.

"They have become even more important since the rollout of the National Broadband Network ... teleworkers, students and families utilise Kiama Library as a place to connect to the internet using high-speed broadband."

The petitions can be signed in council libraries.

Kiama MP Gareth Ward said he has already presented the petition to NSW Parliament, which will trigger a debate on the issue.

Mr Ward said as a supporter of public libraries this was "a cause worth fighting for", but said lobbying had already been successful with this week's state budget handing down an increase to public library funding of $15 million over the next four years.

He said in 2014-15 the Public Library Grants Scheme will total a record $27.5 million.

Representatives of the NSW Public Library Associations welcomed this week's announcement as recognition of the backlog of work identified in recent reviews.

Graham Smith, the chairman of Public Libraries NSW, said most libraries in NSW have had no significant renovation in the last 15 years.

"In a time of rapid technological change, it is essential that information centres such as libraries have the facilities to meet community needs," Mr Smith said.

However, the association said it remained concerned the budget did not recognise the continuing impact on recurrent funding for public libraries, and the significant burden being carried by local government as the contribution from the state declines.

"Unless something is done about the recurrent funding formula within the next few months, there will be cuts to disability and geographic funding, which supports libraries in many suburbs, regional centres and rural areas," Mr Smith said.