Australian Government announces significant investment in library storytimes and Australia Reads campaign

Canberra, 6 September, 2021: Today’s announcement of an Australian Government RISE grant for the Australian Library and Information Association’s (ALIA) Online Storytime program is a vote of confidence in Australia’s public libraries and will be welcomed by families across the country. The funding recognises the innovative work of librarians who kept communities reading together, even when COVID forced the physical closure of library buildings.

Libraries, authors, illustrators and publishers will be eligible for grants to support Online Storytimes, with an emphasis on ensuring that literature is accessible to all children in Australia.  First Nations authors and illustrators are also recognised with funding for ALIA to commission new children’s picture books by Indigenous creators.

In a separate announcement, the Australia Reads campaign, run by ALIA, the Australian Publishers Association, Australian Society of Authors and Australian Booksellers Association, also received RISE funding to invest in a book club hub, summer reads tour and author ambassador platform.

On behalf of the nation’s public libraries and their communities, ALIA expresses its heartfelt thanks to Arts Minister Paul Fletcher and his Department who administer the grants, and to Senator Zed Seselja who made the commitment to Online Storytime on behalf of the government.

Online Storytime began in 2020 as a way for families with small children to remain connected to libraries during COVID-19 lockdowns. The book industry banded together to make this possible by taking copyright off the table for library storytime recordings for the whole of 2020. The program was not only popular with regular storytime attendees, it also reached new participants – including working parents who couldn’t make mid-week storytimes and families living in regional and remote Australia.

The program was so successful that ALIA introduced a one-year pilot subscription model for libraries at the start of 2021, with publishers nominating children’s books to be part of the scheme. ALIA CEO Sue McKerracher explained, ‘Six months into the program, we could already see the benefits, not only for families, but also for picture book creators. Libraries were buying more copies of the books on the list and Australian writers and publishers were reaching a far wider audience. We could see the potential but we needed funding assistance to take it to the next level. With the support of the Australian Publishers Association, Australian Society of Authors and Australian Booksellers Association, we applied for a RISE grant and we are delighted that the government has awarded us the funding we need to extend the program into 2022. This funding, combined with an already announced contribution from the Australia Council, provides us with the wherewithal to make an even greater difference.’

The RISE funding will provide grants for libraries and creators to do more with their Online Storytime programs and to provide technical support for those who need it. It will also enable ALIA to commission new Indigenous works to fill a gap in the book list for First Nations stories.

As a result of today’s announcement, ALIA will be seeking expressions of interest from researchers to carry out a full evaluation of the 2021 pilot with the aim of making this a sustainable program in the longer term, to the benefit of the Australian book industry, libraries and all families with young children.