All-hours access to Edenhope library will be implemented as part of major changes which will see three councils leave the Wimmera Regional Library Corporation this year.
Mobile library services in the Wimmera will end in July due to rising costs when the Northern Grampians, Hindmarsh and Yarriambiack Shire councils leave the corporation at the start of July.
Wimmera Regional Library Corporation could extend 24/7 access to Horsham and other West Wimmera libraries following a trial in Edenhope, while towns in other councils would have more library hours under new community models.
However, uncertainty around future computer and mobile services has been seen by some as a "money saving" move that could disadvantage older patrons and users with disabilities.
Patrons would be able to continue using the Wimmera Regional Library Corporation card regardless of where they live, including residents of the departing shires.
Wimmera Regional Library Corporation chief executive Ann Twyford said the main changes for patrons would be the amount of material available, with the mobile library service being discontinued.
"With the removal of the three council members the continuation of the mobile library is not viable for the two sites at Laharum and Natimuk," she said. "We will be working with Horsham Rural City Council to look at alternative solutions for those two sites.
"If the setup is not ready by July 2020 we will continue a mobile service to (those towns) to a smaller degree using the library vehicle until something is set up."
Ms Twyford said the rest of the service delivery would remain the same for both Horsham Rural City Council and West Wimmera Shire Council libraries.
"We will continue bringing authors to the region, and providing special events for children and adults such as bringing the Australian Ballet to provide a dancing storytime," she said.
Ms Twyford said Northern Grampians, Hindmarsh and Yarriambiack residents would still have access to the library in Horsham.
"Patrons can continue using the Wimmera Regional Library Corporation card despite where they live and either stay as a member or update their details to whichever library service is their best choice.
"We have members who have moved into the region and continue using cards from other library services, but just updated their personal information and indicated which branch is their 'home' library," she said.
Ms Twyford said WRLC were developing a new library plan to better link in with the plans of the councils who were staying in the corporation, as well as allowing 24/7 access to Edenhope library.
"Due to limited opening hours, by granting access to adult library patrons they will be able to utilise the library resources when it is convenient for them and our library app allows patrons to borrow items when selecting items off the shelf," she said.
Ms Twyford said the corporation would implement new library membership cards to enable access to printers and photocopiers as well as out of hours access to facilities.
"We will also be investigating how to better reach community members who don't feel comfortable going into a library or are unable to access their library," Ms Twyford said.
As part of the development of library services Edenhope would get a new cultural hub and library at an estimated cost of $1.8 million, with $600,000 contributed through the state government's Living Libraries Infrastructure Fund.
The state government said in a statement the project would involve a complete redevelopment of the current Mechanics Institute Hall site in Edenhope into a new multi-user community hub and library. A West Wimmera Shire Council spokeswoman said the project was anticipated to be completed by August this year.
A report by WRLC found 14,233 people visited libraries in the region in November 2019, a decrease of 30 per cent during the same month in 2018.
As most of the libraries are predominately open during work hours this restricts time when workers can access the library.- Wimmera Regional Library Corporation chief executive Ann Twyford
Ms Twyford said extended access to libraries would enable community members who struggled to visit a library during regular operating hours to use the services at their leisure.
"As most of the libraries are predominately open during work hours this restricts time when workers can access the library," she said. "Also if the library is open on the weekend, it is usually when sporting activities are on.
"People studying will have better access to a quiet place to study, as well as community members who need somewhere that is safe to spend time in."
Ms Twyford said the system would have similar to policies 24/7 gyms, with out of hours access given only to adult library members.
"However if someone abuses the privilege, such as unacceptable behaviour they will have access revoked," she said.
Working all hours
Horsham resident Margaret Reid regularly said she used the computers at Horsham library to look for work and would welcome an increase in access times.
"If I can't sleep I would come in and use the computers," she said.
Ms Reid said the library staff were "wonderful" and that it was a "very versatile space that was great for the community."
"It is like a cafe, it is very social. There is a great opportunity for expansion."
Robyn Wright, who moved to Horsham from Lubeck, said she frequently visited the library because she didn't have a computer at home.
"It would be fantastic if the library was open more hours," she said. "When I was studying at university I did all my work here."
Murtoa resident Bob Scates said he was concerned the changes would mean losing regular access to a computer because Yarriambiack Shire Council would no longer use WRLC's mobile library service.
"I have had a stroke so it's hard to get around, so using the computer at the mobile library has been important to me," he said.
He said he was concerned that the council were implementing the changes in order to save money rather than improve services.
CEO of the Council on the Ageing Victoria, Tina Hogarth-Clarke, said older Victorians were most likely to be excluded by the ever-increasing provision of digital information and services.
"COTA Victoria believes libraries throughout Victoria have a major role to play in providing access for older Victorians to computer services and training, particularly in country and regional areas where distance is a major issue.
"Older Victorians experiencing English literacy, digital literacy and internet access barriers have a significantly diminished capacity to access timely information, support and navigate complex systems."
A Yarriambiack council spokesman said some of the future library locations had computers but that people hadn't expressed much need for them during the community consultations.
"In Murtoa the neighbourhood house has computers so we will need to set up an agreement to buy time off them," he said. "We are working with each location to do this."
The Yarriambiack spokesman said council had held two rounds of community consultations and that people were more positive about the changes during the latest round in November and December.
"Access to the library will actually improve on what was there before," he said. "The only thing that will change is how it will be delivered.
"It will change from people having three-quarters of an hour of access once a fortnight (in towns visited by the mobile library) to half a day of access five days a week (at community library locations)."
He said the service would be different in every town and that council had worked with residents to find out the preferred locations for access.
The proposed community library locations for Yarriambiack Shire Council are the Murtoa Neighbourhood House, Rupanyup Post Office, Emma's Cafe in Minyip, Brim General Store, Belulah Business Centre, Patchewollock Store, Tempy Playgroup Building, Speed Post Office, the Woomelang Bush Nursing Centre, Gateway Beet in Hopetoun and Yapeet Primary School.
"People will have one hour each week in their local location to order electronically using an iPad," he said. "They will also be able to place orders by writing in a book."
He said moving away from the corporation was not a budget cut but a savings measure that responded to usage patterns.
"The mobile library usage has gone down by 45 per cent in the last 12 months," he said. "The feedback was that people were not browsing books but just ordering things which meant it's not feasible."
"The (mobile library) truck is due for replacement in 2021 and would cost a quarter of a million dollars so instead of spending money there we can spend it differently."
A Murtoa Neighbourhood House spokeswoman said the facility had three computers and that the council had not yet discussed a usage agreement with them.
Dimboola to get 'state-of-the-art library'
Hindmarsh Shire Council mayor Rob Gersch said construction had begun on the new "state-of-the art" Dimboola Library which had required multiple grants.
The footings and steel framework for the new library was put in place at the end of 2019 and contractors were expected to restart building works in early January, with the facility set to be completed by mid 2020, Hindmarsh Shire Council acting chief executive Monica Revell said in a statement.
Cr Gersch said there had been "a few little concerns from the community" raised at consultations with people wanting the library to be a community meeting place.
Cr Gersch said it had not been an easy choice to leave WRLC and that there was "no animosity" around the decision, which was made to reduce costs.
"It is just progress," he said. "It's been a fairly long process and there are lots of bits to be tidied up."
Cr Gersch said under the proposed Local Government Bill 2019 library corporations would be phased out anyway. The Bill was passed by the State Assembly in November and will go to the upper house when parliament sits in February.
A Victorian Auditor-General's report in November 2019 said if the Bill passed, councils would not be able to form new Regional Library Corporations and existing corporations would have 10 years to transition to new arrangements.
As part of changes Hindmarsh Shire Council has employed a coordinator for Library Services, Whitney Kingston to work with both Hindmarsh and Yarriambiack Shires.
"I have a genuine passion for fostering lifelong literacy and learning cultures and believe libraries can be engaged spaces for social inclusion and community connection, which is integral to our rural communities," Mrs Kingston said.
Hindmarsh funding secured
Ms Revell said funding had been secured for the new Dimboola library and customer service centre, as well as for static library facilities in Jeparit and Rainbow.
The council received $600,000 from the state government's Living Libraries Infrastructure program for the new library, which will be matched by Hindmarsh Shire Council.
Additionally, Hindmarsh Shire Council received $600,000 through the federal Government to refurbish the existing circa 1870's built building that houses the old Dimboola Library and Customer Service Centre, as well as $300,000 through the Living Libraries Infrastructure program to establish joint libraries and Council Customer Service Offices in Jeparit and Rainbow.
Cr Gersch said establishing static libraries in Jeparit and Rainbow would provide an increase in the hours that library services are available.
"Jeparit and Rainbow are currently serviced by the mobile library receiving two hours and two and a half hours per fortnight respectively," he said. "The new service will provide a minimum of one and a half days of service per week which is a significant increase."
In relation to computer access, Hindmarsh Council Shire manager of economic and community development Phil King said Dimboola and Nhill have publicly available computers in the library and he hoped council would direct some of the funding towards operations such as computers for other towns in the shire.
Northern Grampians library staff become council employees
A spokeswoman from Northern Grampians Shire Council said in a statement that library services would be in a transition phase for a year while operational details were worked out.
"It is council's intention to bring on current library staff as council employees in the forthcoming transition away from Wimmera Regional Library Corporation and as council takes over management of the libraries at Stawell and St Arnaud," she said.
"This approach is expected to reduce the cost of administering the library service to the community and maintain the level of service to the community that they currently enjoy."
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