Australians will go to the polls for a federal election before May 2022 and ALIA is ready with our library agenda. ALIA is always non-partisan but it is in our interests for the next Parliament to understand our values and support our goals.
We will be running our #VoteLibrary campaign again for this election. As in previous years, we will be putting our agenda to the main political parties for their official responses and encouraging our Members and library supporters to question local candidates about their stance on issues which are vitally important to our sector.
In October 2021, we asked ALIA Members to help shape the agenda. We posted the draft on our website and asked for feedback. Thank you to everyone who responded. You told us that well-funded, well-resourced school libraries with qualified staff needed to be at the top of our agenda, and you told us that literacy in all its forms, but especially early literacy, media literacy and support for adults with low literacy levels, must be highlighted.
You can download this two-page summary and a useful handout describing how libraries support politicians and their electorates.
10 Policy Asks
1. Qualified library staff employed in every school library
School libraries play a vital role in fostering a love of reading, developing students’ literacy, helping students develop information-seeking skills, be safe online and recognise the difference between facts and misinformation.
What ALIA is already doing: ALIA is a founder member of the Students Need School Libraries campaign, advocating at national, state and territory level for qualified staff and well-funded school libraries, in both primary and secondary schools. In 2020, ALIA Schools and the Australian School Library Association released a joint guide for schools to support decision making about staffing libraries.
2. Greater recognition of the important part libraries play in literacy and learning for all ages
ALIA supports several campaigns and organisations which promote literacy. Across several streams we support lifelong learning through Adult Learning Australia; digital and media literacy through the Australian Media Literacy Alliance; and literacy through the Australia Reads campaign. There is often a focus on school age children and young people, which ignores the reality of a population where four in 10 adults struggle with everyday reading. Libraries play an enormous role in supporting literacy skills for all ages through programs, resources and events and should be recognised for this contribution.
What ALIA is already doing: ALIA is a founder member of the Australian Media Literacy Alliance (AMLA) and the Australia Reads alliance. We are helping to lead the development of a national media literacy strategy for Australians of all ages, and the Australia Reads campaign now reaches audiences in excess of x million through real world and online events and social media.
3. Development and adoption of the proposed national early literacy strategy
Following ALIA’s 2016 National Early Literacy Summit, we have been part of a coalition of early childhood peak bodies, including Early Childhood Australia, Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth, Speech Pathology Australia, the Australian Literacy Educators’ Association, The Smith Family, the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, National and State Libraries Australia, and Indigenous literacy charities.
What ALIA is already doing: On 8 September 2021, this coalition released its proposed National Early Language and Literacy Strategy and called for federal, state and territory governments to adopt this initiative and take it to the next level. ALIA has been leading a series of discussions with politicians, their advisors and public servants resulting from this report.
4. Recognition of the role libraries play in media literacy
Libraries play an important role in promoting and supporting media literacy. Ensuring that communities are media literate is critical for a competitive and informed nation. ALIA calls for continued government support of campaigns and initiatives which support and further media literacy.
What ALIA is already doing: ALIA has partnered with ABC Education, National and State Libraries Australasia and the Australian Media Literacy Alliance (of which ALIA is a founder member) to combat mis and disinformation. Notably, this support includes the promotion of the national campaign Media Literacy Week.
5. Scaled up recognition of the important part libraries play in digital inclusion
There is greater awareness in federal government circles of the role of public libraries in digital inclusion and over the last few years, this has resulted in programs with the Office of the eSafety Commissioner, the Department of Social Services and the Australian Digital Health Agency but more can be done to ensure that digital transformation does not lead to digital exclusion. ALIA calls for financial support for funding for esafe library initiatives and training. As many libraries bolster their communities in navigating the internet safely, these efforts should be recognised with financial support.
What ALIA is already doing: Notably during the pandemic, ALIA has worked with publishers as well as the Australian Society of Authors and the Australian Publishers Association to provide Online Storytimes through public libraries to children. This critical partnership has ensured that children and their caregivers don’t miss out on formative literacy experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. You can read more about this initiative on our website.
6. Greater emphasis on quality library services for tertiary students enrolled in universities, TAFEs and private Registered Training Organisations (RTO)
Australia’s education sector has been deeply impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Pre-pandemic education was Australia’s third largest export, with more than half a million international students contributing in excess of $26 billion to our national economy.
According to Universities Australia, Australian universities lost more than 17,300 jobs in 2020 and lost an estimated $1.8 billion in revenue compared to 2019. In addition, there are more than a million domestic students studying in Australian universities and four million students enrolled in TAFE courses. Students at established universities and TAFEs benefit from the full support of a library and information service, however, we know that standards vary across the sector.
What ALIA is already doing: We are in regular discussions with the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) to address inequities in the system and uphold Australia’s reputation internationally as a provider of quality tertiary education.
7. Embedding the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in government policy
As a UN Member State, Australia signed up to the SDG in 2015. The SDG are gradually gaining momentum at federal, state, territory and local level, and ALIA has been a prime advocate for their adoption as a planning framework at all levels of government.
What ALIA is already doing: ALIA has been an active advocate for the SDG among its peers (other professional bodies), IFLA, GLAM Peak, the UN in Australia, and other stakeholders. In 2021, ALIA released its ‘Stretch targets for Australian libraries 2020-2030’ and will hold an SDG Roundtable for library leaders on 1 November, following a similar event in 2019.
8. Improved access to data and scholarly information through the development and trial of open access models for government-funded research
The federal government has made significant progress in opening up its own government data, for example through the development of the data.gov.au portal and its interest in new data sharing and release legislation. However, open access models for government-funded research outside government departments and agencies remain unresolved.
What ALIA is already doing: ALIA has been pleased to contribute to the discussions around green, gold and diamond models by organisations including the NHMRC, ARC and Office of the Chief Scientist, and in 2021, we joined Open Access Australia as an active participant..
9. Halt to government library closures and greater recognition of the role of library and information professionals in evidence-based decision-making
Over the last several years, we have seen too many federal, state and territory department libraries close or be required to function on much reduced budgets and staffing levels. We believe the decision is made by senior management, often without considering how people at other levels of the organisation rely on the services of the library. Search engines are useful tools, but they don’t replace the skills of library and information professionals, nor do they encompass the specialist databases needed to create comprehensive, authoritative, decision-ready results. The skills of information professionals are essential for evidence-based policy, based on relevant, reliable, authoritative sources.
What ALIA is already doing: The ALIA Special Libraries Working Group and ALIA AGLIN Group have put together valuable advocacy resources for the sector, which can be found here: https://www.alia.org.au/alia-special-libraries-working-group.
10. A national response to the need for improved access to Australian Standards
Australian Standards are enshrined in law, yet ordinary Australians can only access these essential instruments if they have the money to pay for them or if they can find a library which subscribes to Standards Australia. Fewer libraries now provide this service because of significant price increases in recent years and online access is restricted because the sales agents for Standards Australia have failed to produce affordable subscription models which have the necessary functionality for digital lending. For the most part, library access is still onsite, expensive and extremely restrictive.
What ALIA is already doing: ALIA has raised this issue with Standards Australia and its agents, with politicians and with government agencies. We have collaborated with National, State and Territory library leaders to make submissions to state and federal government inquiries. We are joining with other bodies representing a broad range of industries to progress improved access to Australian Standards.
3 Legislative Asks
1. Further copyright law reform
Australian libraries work hard to ensure that communities across Australia, no matter how remote, can access educational, cultural and historical materials. Modernisation of copyright law to allow digitisation and digital delivery is essential for libraries to continue this work.
What ALIA is already doing: Through its active and engaged membership of the Australian Libraries and Archives Copyright Coalition, ALIA strongly supports copyright access reforms including reforms to allow the use of orphan works and quotation. These reforms will support libraries to support communities and increase the visibility of Australia’s cultural heritage.
2. Modernising lending rights to support Australian literature
In Australia, authors earn on average only $12,000 per annum from their writing. It is vital that all parts of the book industry, from the creator through to the reader, work together to improve this return and urge government to help create an environment that supports homegrown talent and a vibrant publishing industry.
When Australians borrow books from public and educational libraries in Australia, Australian authors and publishers receive a payment through the Federal Government’s lending rights schemes.
What ALIA is already doing: ALIA works closely with other book industry associations under the Books Create Australia umbrella. With libraries increasingly seeing a shift to digital lending, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, ALIA strongly supports the Australian Society of Authors’ call to expand the scheme with a funded extension to cover ebooks and audiobooks, often called a Digital Lending Right.
3. Accredited and affordable library and information qualifications
To continue to thrive, libraries and information services need to attract a diverse range of people with the interest and aptitude to excel in a rapidly changing information environment. The recent increase in fees for commonwealth supported places for library and information degrees are a substantial barrier to people entering tertiary study and will have the effect of deterring people who could make a great contribution to the information and education needs of Australia from gaining library and information qualifications.
What ALIA is already doing: ALIA has advocated for library and information degrees to be priced at the same level as comparable degrees such as IT and education. ALIA provides one scholarship per year to an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander student studying library and information services at university, and supports students through reduced membership prices and tailored activities, groups and professional development opportunities. ALIA’s accreditation program ensures that students are confident that their degree meets standards and will be recognised across the industry.
2 Funding Asks
1. Funding for library buildings as a vital element of Australia’s knowledge infrastructure
Historically libraries have been both included and neglected in critical infrastructure and building projects. ALIA calls for libraries being consistently prioritised during these major projects in recognition of their role in promoting social inclusion for marginalised and disadvantaged groups through the provision of targeted programs, access to technology and free educational resources.
What ALIA is already doing: ALIA already promotes and supports the building and upgrading of libraries through its Australian Library Design Awards, recognising the ongoing benefits of libraries which reflect the values and ambitions of their communities.
2. Funding for the delivery of egovernment services through public libraries
Public libraries often bear the brunt of assisting members of the community engage with government information and processes when they move online. Federal government digital initiatives have generally been introduced without consideration of the impact they will have on local government-funded public libraries and their limited staffing.
What ALIA is already doing: ALIA has partnered with the Australian Digital Health Agency to run ‘train the trainer’ programs which have seen more than 2,700 public library staff trained to support patrons in navigating and understanding Federal Government digital health initiatives, such as My Health Record. The ADHA has provided funding of nearly $1 million through ALIA to backfill positions enabling staff to participate in these sessions and share their insights with their communities.