Jenny Leong MP on increasing Library funding in NSW

Jenny Leong MP, Member for Newtown has spoken out in support of increased funding for our libraries.


Ms JENNY LEONG (Newtown) (11:42): The Greens support the Library Amendment Bill 2019. The bill will expand the legal deposit library scheme, which requires copies of all written publications to be kept in New South Wales libraries, to requests for electronic material also. Legal deposit libraries will be now be able to use their powers to obtain copies of electronic material in the same way they obtain printed material. We have heard from earlier speakers about the value of local libraries to community members. It is important to note this incredible concept as I do not know whether many members have an appreciation of the legal deposit library scheme, which I think is a wonderful idea.

Many years ago, before I became a member of this place, I was writing a PhD—which, I am sad to say, I failed to finish—on the need for a national theatre archive in Australia. At the time we were not capturing any live performances in any way in a national or a State archive. I explored whether, like the legal deposit library model requires the collection and storage of written publications and now electronic materials, our main stage and performance companies that put on live performances could provide recordings and photographic imaginary for deposit in a theatre archive or library of some kind. We would then have a record of the ephemeral live performance space and theatre performances in our State and in our country.

It is worthwhile raising that matter in the context of this debate as the arts Minister has carriage of this bill and there is still no national theatre or performance archive in this country. New York has the Theatre on Film and Tape Archive, and The Netherlands and the United Kingdom have similar models. New South Wales could certainly take a lead in this area, given our creativity and the number of live performances that are staged in this State. New South Wales could lead the way by proposing a national theatre and performance archive to capture that creative work, using a model similar to legal deposit libraries and the legal deposit library scheme.

I will talk briefly about the need to support our libraries properly. While it is wonderful that this legislation will enable our deposit libraries to request electronic material, it is important to realise that our libraries are under-resourced. The Renew Our Libraries campaign, which I am sure many members in this place have been contacted about, highlights the need for increased funding for public libraries in New South Wales. Basically, there is a call to double the funding, index the contribution and enshrine that funding in law to ensure that we do not see the kinds of cuts that occurred in the 2018-19 State budget, when, according to Local Government NSW, there was an 18 per cent decrease in community library funding. That was an outrageous decrease, especially when we are talking about such a tiny amount of money proportional to the State budget.

The budget allocated $23.5 million to libraries, which was down from $28.8 million. This had a huge impact on our local community libraries. Members from both sides of the Chamber have talked about the value of local libraries to their communities. Even in the Newtown Library on Brown Street—which is a small local library supported by the City of Sydney—we see an incredible use of space. In Newtown many people live in shared houses and do not have the space for a quiet room in which to study—unless they sit on their bed in their bedroom. The library provides the computers and work spaces they need. Upstairs in the library, there is story time and rhyme time for the younger members of our community, and the connection between the parents with young children who use the library is incredibly valuable. I have seen the same thing at Stanmore and Surry Hills libraries. It is crucial to recognise and respect the value of our community libraries.

The bill will provide another way to capture electronic publications in our libraries. I note that the Minister for Health and Medical Research is keen for me to talk more about rhyme time and story time. We should also value the people who work in our libraries. My daughter and I go to the library about once a week—I think she knows Abdul at Newtown Library better than she knows most other people on the street. This is because once we forgot our library card and it was very hard to tell a two-year-old that she could not take any library books home. Abdul kindly found a book that they were going to give away because it was no longer of any use and gave it to her to take home. Otherwise I am sure she would have put on a tantrum.

Those who work in community libraries are community-minded people who care about what they do. They help us to connect to other services and support, and share information with people who might not otherwise interact with council services, which is incredibly valuable to the community. I acknowledge this bill. But it is crucial that in passing it we not only make the necessary bureaucratic and legislative changes that we need to help libraries to move into the electronic age but also make sure that we provide the resources to do this. That is why we should absolutely support the Renew Our Libraries campaign, which is pushing for a doubling of government funding for libraries in this State.

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