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Libraries’ important gift to the people

My Idea of Heaven (Unsplash)
My Idea of Heaven (Unsplash)


TUMBY BAY - Like many small country towns in Australia, our Tumby Bay Community Library is a shared resource with the local primary and high schools.

Our township has a population of 2,700 but has all the resources of a capital city library.

There are hardcopy, digital and auditory books, of course, and we have access to movies on DVD, magazines, journals and free internet.

And anything that isn’t in the library can be ordered from other libraries free of charge.

The library staff are convivial and supportive of the small clique of local writers.

The ‘community’ part in the library’s name is well deserved.

“In public libraries across the country, from grand inner-city buildings to those in small regional towns, Australians are given free access to more than 37.5 million items,” says an article, 'The remarkable history of our public libraries', on the ABC website.

The authors explain how the historical evolution of libraries beginning with ancient Mesopotamia in the Middle East.

In more recent times governments and philanthropists  recognised the great value of libraries.

The Scottish-born American steel baron, Andrew Carnegie, funded 2,500 libraries in the USA, Canada and the UK between 1883 and 1929.

"I will give your local community $10,000 to build yourself a library. But in return, you have to commit the annual sum of $1,000 to maintain it and provide books and staff," he stated as the condition.

The first public library in Australia was established in 1854 in Melbourne. It was one of the first free public libraries in the world. Today it is known as the State Library Victoria.

The ABC article, which I have linked to below, says its founders “believed that access to knowledge was critical for the development of a civil and prosperous community, and created the library as ‘the people's university’.”

In 1975 the Whitlam government set up an inquiry into public libraries. In his report the eminent librarian Allan Horton recommended that libraries should become community hubs.

While Horton's other recommendations were largely ignored by the incoming Fraser government, his suggestion that libraries become community hubs thankfully survived.

There are more than 1,600 public libraries in Australia, which includes mobile libraries and other types of library.

Australians love libraries. There are more than 9.3 million registered library members, representing over 36% of the Australian population.

Compare these statistics to Papua New Guinea, where there are currently 23 underfunded and struggling libraries.

For PNG Attitude readers this raises the interesting question of what Papua New Guinea might have been like if its government had recognised the value of libraries and books, not only as sources of knowledge and entertainment but as focal points for communities.

A small but growing library system had been established by the Australian Administration before independence with facilities available in most provincial capitals and many major towns.

Indeed, Australia saw libraries as so important, one of its gifts to the new nation in 1978 was a fully functional national library in Port Moresby.

We often rue the lack of foresight in government but the situation in PNG, especially compared to the Australian experience, is nothing short of a tragedy.

You can link here to the ABC article


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Simon Davidson

I agree with the concept that libraries are the people's university. People everywhere, of every race and creed, can receive an equivalent of a liberal education by reading tons of books from the library.

I read somewhere that Ray Bradbury completed Grade 12 education and spent the next ten years reading in a public library and then wrote 56 or more books.

Libraries and books open a portal to the literary universe to lift mortals from the dark land of ignorance and transports them to the sunlit uplands of greater knowledge.

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