Canberra, 28 May, 2020: The first 500 responses to a nationwide survey of library users has shown that, after book borrowing, social interaction has been the biggest loss felt by the community during the COVID-19 lockdown of public libraries.
The survey, run by the Australian Library and Information Association and Australian Public Library Alliance, found that while 87% of respondents missed being able to borrow print books (ebooks remained available 24/7), 44% missed having expert, friendly help from library staff; 40% missed being around other people; 36% missed participating in events and activities for adults, and 20% missed taking part in storytimes with other families (although many libraries offered pre-recorded and livestreamed virtual storytimes).
Sue McKerracher, CEO of the Australian Library and Information Association, explained, ‘The role of libraries as places of books, study and learning has always been understood, but the role of public libraries as places where people feel connected continues to emerge. Even before the pandemic, governments were concerned about the mental health problems linked to loneliness. These concerns have been heightened over the last three months during the lockdown. Libraries clearly have an important part to play in promoting a greater sense of belonging.’
Some 16% of respondents also missed studying in the library, and 13% missed using the internet. Sue McKerracher again, ‘Group study spaces and homework clubs are very popular with school kids, and mature students and family historians also appreciate quiet study zones. As this was an online survey, we weren’t expecting a lot of people to tick “using the internet”, but we know that the loss of access to PCs and high speed broadband connection has caused hardship for the most disadvantaged and vulnerable in our communities, including homeless people, who rely on the internet through libraries to access Centrelink, MyGov and essential health information.’
As one survey respondent said: ‘Life is so boring when the libraries are closed. I need the help from the staff to guide me in the use of computers and accessing the internet, communicating with other people. It is an essential service to me as my children live far away from me. The local library is the only place where I can get help with computers.’
Public libraries were identified as an important service that could be reopened as part of Step 1 of the National Cabinet’s COVID-19 plan, when it was announced on 8 May. Sue McKerracher said, ‘This recognised the loss that was felt by people coming to terms with limited access to print books, free internet, library spaces, real world storytimes and other programs which are so valued by communities. Through the pandemic, libraries have been revealed as essential services which support the health and wellbeing of the people they serve.’
There are more than 9 million registered users of Australian public libraries and more than 111 million visits to libraries each year. More than 250,000 programs attract over 7 million attendees and the cost is just under $49 per capita per annum.
Quotes from survey respondents
Love the library environment and ambiance, the busy and quiet areas. Staff are always friendly and ready to assist. Libraries are so important for the community.
Weekly visits with my son, finding books we would never otherwise read, sitting together in the children’s section and reading a picture book together, bumping into friends and neighbours at the library.
The fabulous school holiday activities for kids... really missed using the library!
The warm sunny spots to sit on a cold day. The opportunity to meet a friend, have a coffee and share chat about books.
Missed the opportunity to meet interesting people like artists and authors.
Volunteering at the library.
Fortunately didn't miss borrowing ebooks which was desperately important during isolation.
Access to the daily papers and weekly/monthly magazines, borrowing DVDs, after-school activities for my older kids, a safe place to escape difficult situations at home, access to legal information and JPs.
Support for my kids’ literacy and home schooling.
I have two teenaged kids and they love their library too. It's a safe, useful place for them to go and we've all missed it.
The rapport and bubbly conversation that come with a small country library. Staff have become friends over the years and seeing them well was a bonus to collecting reserved books.
Meeting my fellow community members in the library for a catch up, often attracting others and enjoying a really lively conversation.
Love the peace and calm that comes from being in a library. I am a new mum and loved going when I had a hard day - lovely to be inspired by new knowledge, great books and calm environment.
Even a small regional library is such a massive resource of information and ideas... sure we can use the internet but the library has a slightly different role. Mine has a lot of local history too. Not to mention the interaction with other people which is also crucial.
I love that it is a bright space, always filled with a variety of people doing a variety of things. It is like an indoor town square (or piazza). I love that it is a safe and happy space for children and parents and I love that the library staff are so helpful.
About the Australian Library and Information Association
The Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) is the professional organisation for the Australian library and information services sector. With 5,000 members across Australia, we provide the national voice of the profession in the development, promotion and delivery of quality library and information services, through leadership, advocacy and mutual support. www.alia.org.au
Sue McKerracher, ALIA CEO, M 0404 456 749 T 02 6215 8215 E [email protected]