ALIA Blog: regional libraries reaching millions on a shoestring

By Anna Nadarajah, ALIA Communications & Social Media Officer



Cost of living pressures have been growing since 2021, but coping with a modest budget has been an ongoing concern for libraries over the last decade. ALIA President and CEO of Yarra Plenty Regional Library Jane Cowell explains that while regional libraries receive slightly more funding due to their remoteness, funding has not increased in line with CPI over the last 10 years, suggesting a decrease in funding. For many in regional Australia, libraries are the only access point to essential services that have moved online, such as banking and appointment bookings. For others, digital ability is a challenge and the face-to-face assistance provided by skilled library staff offers a marked advantage. Limited funding means limited opening hours and staff, which not only jeopardise the services that are needed most, but also impacts improved societal outcomes such as increased education, improved employment opportunities, and a thriving democracy.

With over 20 million visits in person and online to public libraries in Victoria alone in a 12 month period, libraries continue to broaden their services to meet community needs and this presents real challenges with a declining budget. Jane Cowell talks about the opportunities and challenges on ABC Perth Drive (from 1:14:34) and ABC South East NSW Breakfast (from 2:02:43) with contributions from local librarians and library users, as well as on ABC Melbourne Breakfast (from 1:11:10).

Sharing Jane’s concerns about the effects of a limited library budget, ALIA CEO Cathie Warburton emphasises that “libraries catch anyone left behind”, bridging individuals and families to digital infrastructure, affordable access to amenities, and a sense of belonging. It is clear libraries are loved and needed by the community, and the expanse of services cannot be filled without sufficient resources. Read more from Cathie in Helen Hawkes' article in The Guardian about the need for increased support for libraries in the regions here.