Sunday, April 19, 2009

Who will fight for Gerald?

I need a champion.

Who is going to fight for Gerald? or Janine? or Rachel? Or the lady with knitted stockings and the cloche hats or the 'giggle' of girls who flock in when the school bell rings?

Levin Library has 9 computers available for public internet use. They are in constant demand and we have to ration access in order to extend the service to as many people as possible. Everyone is entitled to 30 minutes free internet each day, but additional time may be purchased for $2 a half hour, although most people who can afford to buy internet time have a computer at home anyway. This means that anyone who wants to use the internet can.

Our internet computers are in constant use from open to close, and there is usually a queue.
The computers are used by a wide range of people in our community: applying for money through studylink, typing up CVs, downloading job applications or forms from IRD and WINZ, researching family history, buying and selling on TradeMe, emailing grandkids, booking flights, paying bills with internet banking, playing games or keeping in touch through Bebo or Facebook.

Gerald, Janine and Rachel are all intellectually handicapped. Gerald can't read, but he loves steam trains, and he has borrowed every train book we have - many times - so one day we showed him Youtube. Now, every couple of days Gerald comes to the library, we set him up on Youtube with a search for steam trains and leave him to it. He has learnt how to click on the files, now, and it doesn't matter that the PCs have no sound cards because he is really good at providing the sound effects himself.

Rachel chats to her friends on MSN, and I'm not sure what Janine does yet, but she loves coming up the desk and asking for an access code which she proudly clutches as she wanders off.

Horowhenua District Council have decided that from July the Library will have to start charging for the internet, and thats just the start. We currently have to raise 15% of our operating expenditure from user charges, $150,000, but last month Council decided that we need to raise between 20% and 25%, $200,000 - $250,000.

The Council's LTCCP is being released this week for public consultation. That means we have 1 month to let Council know whether we think this is acceptable to ratepayers or not.
The school girls won't write a submission to the LTCCP, or the students applying to Studylink, or the young boys playing Runescape, or the old lady searching the Pipe Rolls. And nor will Gerald, Janine and Rachel.

So who will fight for them? Who will fight for their right to access technology that we all take for granted?

Will you be that champion?

[Names have been changed for privacy].


Anonymous said...

Jo - this is completely nuts, it is completely out of step with service provision in other public libraries. In a time of recession, in a less well off province, this additional pressure on our libraries is madness. I'll be writing a submission and encouraging others in the district to do the same. Keep up the good work!

Paul Reynolds said...

It is just great that you have raised this issue.

The public library was built on the idea of a community resource which we all paid for as part of our commitment to give the whole community access to the fruits of our common cultural creativity intelligence/memory/.

Though only one out of many, it's a key ingredient to any definition of community you care to devise.

It is also a unique institution in terms of private good and public benefit.

Moreover, as you guys have shown in spades, by way of the Kete project, it can act as a real trail blazer in capturing and sustaining new patters of community memory courtesy of digital tools and access points.

All this endorses the key notion that funding should come from the community as a whole.

This means there is just no place for any kind of user charges in libraries - its either a community resource or it isnt.

As for Internet access - for sure, there will always be the need to manage demand through user session management - but the principle should be the same - it's free.

So how do we do this - well for sure - it might increasingly be a hard ask for a rural local authority.

Moreover, you could easily mount an argument that we need new and more imaginative governance models the better to ensure that the free library remains a sustainable model.

If we have some debate around both these issues we might also chose to ask how can national library frameworks support local library service?

In short isn't it time that we started thinking up new ways to fund libraries, and in the process start easing the burden on cash strapped local councils who struggle to fund public public toilets - far less 21st century public libraries.

To get to even the beginning of that conversation we need people in the library profession with the strength of mind and independence of purpose to start this debate.

This post definitely fits this criteria

Anonymous said...

Ouch... That hurts...

Joann Ransom said...

Thanks for your support folks. Really appreciate your sentiments in particular Paul. This story has been picked up the local newspaper so who knows ... we might be able to stop it - this time ...

Anonymous said...

@Paul - I'd be interested to know if you have any specific ideas about new governance and funding models. Are we talking about central government funding, sponsorship by businesses etc?

Joann Ransom said...

Me too! I think public libraries are coming under increasing funding pressure, and this recession is as good as excuse as any, for local authorities struggling to do all that they have to do (and central govt is pushing more and more back on to loc al govt) in the face of increasing public pressure to reduce or minmise rates rises. This is starting to become a national issue and may be we should be starting to discuss this in terms of the bigger picture.

Jane Brooker said...

Good luck with your campaign Jo. It is appalling that the Council is choosing to impose this huge increase at a time when free public access to resources and services is more critical than ever.
I hope the local community shouts loudly that this cannot proceed.