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Unanswered questions with the joint library project

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As the joint TAFE/RCoW library project progresses, there are many unanswered questions that have not been confronted by the Rural City of Wangaratta.

For example, what happens to our library if The High Country Library Corporation pulls out in a year’s time – and they can … or what is being done to maintain the independence of the library under joint ownership … and where does our new library stand with the issue of the use of computerized library access (Information Communications Technology).

Running an ongoing campaign to get some answers, Alison Walpole of Whoroully wrote a letter to the Minister for Local Government Candy Broad at the start of July asking, “When will the State Government release a discussion paper (green paper) to allow public submissions discussing the future of Public Libraries and the importance of protecting the independence of Public Libraries?”

This letter has not been acknowledged.

She followed up with a letter to Doug Sharp, CEO Wangaratta Rural City Council, in mid July asking, “When will Wangaratta Rural City Council prepare and distribute for public comment a policy document for the future management of Wangaratta Public Library?”

There has been no reply to this letter either. However, Ruth Thai, WRCC Community Services, sent a copy of the High Country Library Corporation Plan for 2006-2011 which begs even more questions.

It is just over 12 months since Alison wrote to the Auditor General Victoria requesting he monitor the funding of the joint TAFE/Rural City of Wangaratta library building and the cost of operating the library service to ensure there would be no cost shifting to the Rural City of Wangaratta.

More dilemmas appear in the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee Victorian Electronic Democracy, Final Report, May 2005.

In a submission to the Committee January 5th 2005 Monash University Centre for Community Networking Research defined electronic democracy as, “The use of (Information Communications Technology) by individuals to extend their choices for thinking and acting as citizens, unrestricted by time and place, culminating in greater collective freedoms under rule of law.”

Their submission discusses the role of Public Libraries and development of VICNET established under the auspices of the State Library of Victoria. It also details changes made to library administration by the Kennett Government which abolished the Libraries Board of Victoria and rationalised its functions into the State Library Council later renamed the Library Board of Victoria.

It also presents a case for the transfer of the functions of VICNET to the Department of Victorian Communities hosted by Monash University.

The Library Board of Victoria made a submission written by the current
CEO/State Librarian Anne-Marie Schwirtlich that discusses the current situation addressing the Role of Libraries in the democratic process and development of electronic technology. The paper warns of the danger of electronic democracy initiatives and suggests pilot programs: it discusses the visible costs and potential hidden costs and equitable access of all citizens.

The submission states: “that the Victorian Libraries Act (1988) and Premier’s Circular should be reviewed to reflect and incorporate the impact and activities of the information society.”

There is discussion of educational and social barriers under the headings: Information literacy, multiculturalism, accessibility, ageing population.

The conclusion cautions on the cost of the introduction of electronic technology and warns sizeable proportions of the community have rejected the online world and identifies a need to balance a hybrid model of print and online information.

These submissions reflect the contrast of experience, respect for legal process and costing of services by the Library Board of Victoria and the uncosted disregard for legal process of the Monash University / Department Victorian Communities model.
There is an obvious need for an inquiry into the future of Public Library Services, their content, management, control, funding and VICNET

The concern of the High Country Library Corporation over its lack of tenure has a very real basis. The Wangaratta Rural City Council has failed to publish a library plan or provide projected costings for the proposed joint library.

Each Regional Library Corporation has an agreement between its members which has been approved by the Minister for Local Government under the LG Act.

The “State and Local Government Working Together to Build Strong Communities and Next Steps” report atated: “The State Government has funded the development of a “libraries” portal. This will provide a simple point of access to public library data bases across Victoria. This will be constructed so that over time other sources of data can be included”

The High Country Library Corporation Plan 2006-2011 states the regional library is watching the development of the SWIFT program jointly sponsored by the MAV and Viclink for a consortium of seven Public Libraries. One of the objectives of this project is “a link into the Statewide Web portal being developed with the State Library of Victoria.”

The Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee Victorian Electronic Democracy recommendations for review of the Libraries Act 1988, Electronic Transactions (Victoria) Act 2000 and the Arts Victoria Act 1972 appear to have been ignored.

Alison Walpole appears to have opened a “Pandora’s Box” with our joint library project and the authorities involved simply do not have the answers. As each of these issues is resolved, someone will have to pay the price. When it all spills over, will the ratepayers be required to pay for cleaning up the mess.

The Wangaratta Rural City Council must soon release a document explaining Council’s management plan and policy for the Wangaratta Public Library?


Written by Greg Naylor

20 August 2006 at 11:39 pm

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