and now let me say that the situation is no different here in Australia. In some ways it may even be a little worse because we also have to contend with import restrictions, issues of distance, a scattered and often sparse population, central buying policies and a culture which says that a disproportionate sum of money should be spent on largely spectator sports.
The last State Budget here in South Australia cut library expenditure back so far that, in the next twelve months, there will be major repercussions. Most people are unaware that this is going to happen, indeed unaware that there has been a cut to library expenditure. It was well hidden in the budget and there have been other issues which have caught public attention - such as the closure of a vital community centre in the western suburbs.
Our local library is open from 10-4 on a Saturday and from 2-5 on a Sunday. It is open during the week apart from Friday afternoons. It is used at all but particularly at weekends. On a winter afternoon the library can have as many seventy or eighty people in it. Thousands of books are borrowed every weekend, to say nothing of what is borrowed during the week. The local schools also use it during the week despite having their own 'resource centres'.
The local bookshop benefits in that library staff will send people there - but the library is not permitted to buy from the bookshop apart from a tiny discretionary budget. Books are bought and distributed from a central point. Libraries can make requests - often based on reader requests but the books will still come from a central point. Libraries will also take donations - most of the DVDs, audiobooks not intended for the vision impaired, CDs and the remaining old videos have been donations. Our local library has a minimum number of both newspapers and periodicals. They are simply seen as too expensive to buy.
It is still a good library, a very good library. The staff are pleasant and, mostly, well informed. If they do not know they will ask another staff member - or someone who happens to be there, like myself. Most of the staff are also part-time and female, willing to work odd shifts. Some of them are casual. They know their jobs are at risk. Library hours are likely to be cut. There will be almost no new books this year. Activities will be cut.
Sports facilities, not just the upgrade of the Adelaide Oval but sports facilities in general, got increased funding in the budget. It was, supposedly, a response to the 'obesity crisis'. In reality other politics are at work.
Nobody gave much thought to libraries. They are just there. People expect them to be available. They expect the library to be open when they need it. They expect new books to be available. As Anne Rooney points out however new books in libraries means buying books not just donating them and that means new books need to be published. Money has to be available. No ordinary individual can hope to buy all the books they wish to read. Libraries are essential and libraries are as old as reading.
It is going to take a lot of work to save libraries, to save books, publishers and all those involved with the production and distribution of books. It is going to take even more to save writers and let others read them.