‘Steady Ships’ in the COVID-19 Crisis: Australian Public Library Responses to the Pandemic

A recent publication in the Journal of the Australian Library and Information Association describes the findings of the first of two phases of a major research project undertaken by members of the Charles Sturt University Libraries Research Group. The project team is lead by Dr Jane Garner and Dr Simon Wakeling, with the publishing group comprising researchers from the School of Information Studies: Professor Philip Hider, Associate Professor Hamid Jamali, Dr Jessie Lymn and Dr Yazdan Mansourian, and Dr Holly Randell-Moon from the School of Indigenous Australian Studies. The paper reports on the Australian public library responses to the requirement to close their physical sites due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, and examines how they responded to the crisis during their periods of closure in terms of services and resources, the challenges they faced, and the role locality played in their response. In total, 212 public library authority managers completed an online questionnaire survey in August 2020 representing 695 public library branch locations. The results showed that during the periods of closure of their physical sites, libraries established new services (e.g. wellbeing phone calls, delivery of craft kits to users) and expanded several existing ones, especially those related to e-resources. The biggest challenge reported was managing staff working arrangements. While most libraries kept permanent staff and fixed-term staff on full hours, most completely cut volunteers and casual staff hours. There were some geographic differences in the response of libraries to the crisis. Overall, however, whilst metropolitan, regional and remote public libraries faced immense challenges, especially regarding staffing and human resources, they were also able to respond rapidly and with agility to the challenges brought about by COVID-19.

For more information about the project, contact Dr Jane Garner: jagarner@csu.edu.au or Dr Simon Wakeling: swakeling@csu.edu.au

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