26 November, 2007

New federal government and public libraries

The election of the Rudd Labor Government will impact on public libraries in a number of ways.

There are over 1700 public libraries in Australia. While the Commonwealth government does not directly fund public libraries except the National Library of Australia, all Australians are provided with information through cooperative relationships between public, state and national libraries. There are 12 million registered users of these libraries, with 100 million visits to libraries each year. There are more public libraries than McDonalds restaurants.

The Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) asked the two major parties a number of questions prior to the election. The ALP responded to the question "What is your party's commitment to supporting Australians access to information through libraries, particularly public libraries?" by saying

Labor's platform indicates our belief that Commonwealth, State, Territory and local governments should end the blame game and cooperate to ensure that regional and local libraries can provide effective and equitable access to literature and information, including through modern technology.
At a time when media and information technology is undergoing a process of major change, driven by digitisation, convergence of technology and the globalisation of broadcasting, communications and information technologies, Labor remains strongly committed to longstanding national and public interest objectives, including:

genuine diversity of sources of information, opinion, education and entertainment;
greater choice and accessibility for consumers; and
the development of, and equitable access to, new technologies

The way that people are accessing information and using the internet is changing fundamentally and Mr Rudd's commitment to commencing the work on building 21st-century infrastructure including high-speed broadband is welcome. As more and more people look to download content and move to streaming video we need this fundamental building block in place. Broadband needs to be like electricity, taken for granted.

Another area that will be impacted is internet censorship. Labor's ISP filtering policy will require Internet Service Providers to block access to websites that are listed by ACMA (Australian Communications and Media Authority) as containing prohibited content such as child pornography, acts of extreme violence and X-rated material. ISP filtering under a Rudd Labor government will be applied to all households (unless they choose to opt-out), schools and public internet points accessible by children, such as libraries.

Ensuring free public access to government information, particularly government publications and e-government services is another area that is impacted by federal government policy. We welcome the commitment to making government documents more accessible online.

As ALIA has pointed out, public libraries in Australia have faced significant reductions in resources with the decrease of revenue during the drought and the pressure of growing costs. They are a vital community resources supporting developments in human capital that will complement work on broadband to truly provide a more successful, literate and informed nation. We need to continue to advocate for federal support for public libraries.

Do you have views on any of the above? Please feel free to let us know what you think.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

I think that we need to be wary about ISP filtering. Libraries should be about educating and guiding users to be smart and make their own decisions when accessing online resources.

If we rely on a third party to dictate the terms by which our users are able to access resources, how do we control where that line is drawn?

I mean, a lot of the research seems to indicate that the far biggest danger about the internet isn't pornography, or violent images, but other people. In that case, do we block access to instant messaging, social networking sites, etc?

Will the library managers even have a say as to what is accessible in public libraries, and what isn't?