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Libraries - competitors or collaborators?

Gone are the days when libraries were simply places you went to borrow books and search for information in reference books. Increasingly, they are promoting themselves as community hubs - and in some cases the "heart" of the community (looks and sounds familiar, right?)

Neighbourhood Houses - the heart of the community

Libraries have always been an important part of their local community - like many others, I have fond memories of time spent at the library as a kid, browsing the lollyshop of book choices and dipping in and out of ones that caught my eye. It was the place to go to find out information for school projects, scratch an intellectual itch or wallow in a romance.

With the ongoing rationalisation of funding by state and local local governments, libraries face significant challenges. In 2012, the Victorian State Government set up a Ministerial Advisory Council to review the future role and functions of public libraries. The review resulted in two reports: Tomorrow's Library Stage 1 and Stage 2 reports.

Libraries - also the heart of the community!

The main reason that people visit a library is still to borrow a book. However, libraries are "moving from being largely transaction-oriented resource borrowing places towards being more activity-focused, engaging and vibrant community spaces." (Stage 2 Report: Tomorrow's Library)

Performance indicators for libraries include the numbers attending library programs (including digital literacy training, and literacy and skills development) and number and use of public access devices (desktop computers, laptops and tablets). There is a lot of pressure on libraries to get people through the door and engaging in their programs and activities.

So, what does this mean for Neighbourhood Houses? The Stage 1 report stated that "Public libraries are at the heart of the community. They provide a non-judgemental, safe space that develops strong and connected communities, supports a reading culture and improves quality of life. They are accessible to all, regardless of age, race, sex, religion, nationality, language or social status."

You could be reading a description of a Neighbourhood House, couldn't you?

Neighbourhood Houses across the state are grappling with the question of how you create collaborative relationships with organisations that are becoming increasingly competitive in our space. It's an issue that has been raised by UMR members a number of times, and affects Houses in different ways, depending on location, relationships with Council, programs being delivered, and profile in the community.

The good news is that the MAC review concluded that the public library sector needs to "increase collaboration and take a unified, strategic approach if it is to effectively adapt to the future and remain relevant in a globalised, digital world." Local governments are also looking for economies of scale, and increasingly the return on investment of their libraries.

So there are opportunities there for Neighbourhood Houses to work with libraries to develop pathways, and help strengthen the community development work of both sectors. What are you doing in your part of the region? Send me an email here to share your experiences.

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