Wimmera libraries are under review.
Wimmera Regional Library Corporation leaders are looking for public feedback on a discussion paper and through completed surveys by September 21.
They are calling for feedback because they want to know how the communities around the library services use the libraries, how important libraries are and how to offer more services better and more cost-effectively.
IT and marketing manager at Horsham library, Leanda Elliott, encourages everyone to at least complete a survey and have their say on how valuable libraries are to communities.
“The library is a community space,” she said.
“People don’t get charged to come through the door, it is open to everyone regardless of age or ability.”
Horsham library has an impressive history dating back to the 1860s when it was first established in the Mechanics Institute on the corner of Firebrace and Wilson streets, then to Firebrace Street.
The service survived fire in 1908, name changes (in 1937 it was named as the first in country Victoria to become a public library) and financial structures.
Horsham City Council took over the financing of the library in April 1949 and it became the City of Horsham Free Library, with a healthy subsidy from the state government.
In 1957 the Wimmera and Dunmunkle shires joined Horsham and then others came on board to eventually take in 10 municipalities.
The current Wimmera Regional Library Corporation consists of Horsham Rural City Council, Hindmarsh Shire Council, Northern Grampians Shire Council, West Wimmera Shire Council and Yarriambiack Shire Council.
The service has evolved from book lending to the latest project of rolling out ipads for people to use for free in the library.
Leanda said she had also ordered some small robots that would be controlled by software developed on the ipads, allowing people to learn about coding and developing software, thus educating through fun activities about technology.
When the Horsham library moved into its current building in McLachlan Street in about 1968, it shared the space with the town’s art gallery.
The art gallery has since moved to its own building and the library has morphed from books through to magazines, audio cassettes and videos, to CDs, DVDs and ebooks, online streaming of videos and of course computers.
The physical space has also been changed a few times, with a courtyard built over to give more space and sections moved around to again create more space for new activities, new computers and the item collection.
Leanda said the computers came in for public use about 23 years ago and had been in regular upgrade mode to keep up with technology ever since.
This has also meant ongoing training for staff in how to use the systems for running the library and for teaching library users how to use the public computers.
Free wifi and access to printers also allows people to take their own computers to the library and work or study in a safe communal area.
The library computers are vital for people who don’t have access to one of their own or to wifi, particularly with government changes to how people access services such as Centrelink and Medicare.
Leanda said people were being sent to the library to access services and to get assistance from library staff on how to use the online programs.
This also meant staff needed to be up with how to use the government apps and online services to be able to help people who struggled to use a computer in the first place.
“Literacy for kids, access to computers and online is really important. It is social access to resources that people might not be able to afford or access themselves,” Leanda said.
“Just because everything is online doesn’t mean it is accessible. Literacy is still a big issue in Australia and we need basic literacy to access online services anyway.
“We are adding services, not taking away.”
Help and training in using computers is a service offered by the library.
This includes the Be Connected program for seniors who can book one-on-one training with a staff member and a couple of branches do ‘device advice’ where volunteers (usually teenagers) help people understand how to use their device.
There are also Storytime sessions for toddlers, Rhyme Time sessions for babies, local history collections, ancestry programs, writers clubs, a Craftanoon session in Horsham on Wednesdays that just started following on from successful programs that run at Dimboola, Edenhope, Goroke, Nhill and St Arnaud where people work on their own craft project in the company of others.
Across the branches there are other activities such as book clubs, book chats, and the hugely successful Lego Club at Warracknabeal.
These are additional to the programs run throughout the year that include author talks, school holiday activities, guest speakers and outreach sessions to schools, pre-schools and play groups.
Friends of the Library at St Arnaud recently held an art show to raise money to go towards library resources and community groups use library spaces for meetings or gatherings.
“For us books are still a core resource so it seems libraries are adding rather than taking away,” Leanda said.
And resources are not limited by the Wimmera Regional Library Corporation collection.
The corporation is part of the SWIFT library consortium across Victoria that includes about 19 library services sharing their databases and allowing access to about 2.5 million items.
Leanda said it was interesting there was more demand for books from the Wimmera older collection in the Melbourne library branches than books coming back for loan from Melbourne branches.
“We do have a lot of back collection. More so than the Melbourne libraries. They tend to review their book collections more aggressively than we do,” she said.
Not only is there access to millions of items but three Wimmera branches including Horsham have a coffee machine so people can take their time browsing.
“People can spend two to three hours here browsing.
“It’s warm or cool, we don’t charge anything, it’s a place of social interaction, particularly the mobile library, where we are sometimes the only service that still goes to a rural community,” Leanda said.
“Libraries play a really important role in social connection for people, in social wellbeing, and this is an increasing role in that area.”
In the Public Libraries Victoria Network 2018 report ‘Libraries Work! The socio-economic value of public libraries to Victorians’ they give a dollar value to the worth of libraries.
The report found that for every dollar invested in public libraries it generated $4.30 of benefits to the local community, showing investment in libraries had positive results.
It stated that while visits to libraries were increasing, library funding was not keeping up with population growth and that with financial challenges such as rate capping, local governments were having to make tough decisions about where to spend their budgets.
The report shows however that libraries offer a high return on investment proposition.
To read more go to www.publiclibrariesvictoria.net.au
“I think libraries are still really important. They give access to materials that many people would never have and they are safe, comfortable places of social connection,” Leanda said.
To have a say on the importance of keeping and growing the library services in the Wimmera Regional Library Corporation you can obtain paper copies of the discussion paper and survey at library branches or go to www.wrlc.org.au before September 21.
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