Australian public libraries during the COVID-19 crisis: Implications for future policy and practice

Project members: Jane Garner, Simon Wakeling, Hamid Jamali, Jessie Lymn, Yazdan Mansourian, Holly Randell-Moon, Philip Hider, Mary Anne Kennan.

Charles Sturt University funded

This research project explored the role that public libraries have played in the COVID-19 crisis, as experienced by staff and users, and identify lessons that can be learnt for more effective responses on the part of public libraries to similar public health crises in the future.

While their physical sites have been closed during the COVID-19 crisis, Australian public libraries have continued to serve their communities through online services and collections, as well as through their call centres and home delivery services. The response of public libraries to this crisis, however, has taken them into uncharted territory given that ordinarily most of their service provision and use is based on physical visits.

Current research shows public libraries are widely regarded as key services during and after disasters such as hurricanes.

Importantly, public libraries can support their communities not only during the crisis itself, but also in the period of recovery that follows.

However, a crisis such as COVID-19 involving a prolonged period of ‘social distancing’ and ‘lock down’ poses particular challenges for public libraries. The CSU Libraries Research Group could find no study that discusses these challenges in the current context of ongoing crisis and online service provision.

The research project comprised two phases:

  1. A national survey of public libraries about their responses to COVID-19, and
  2. Case studies involving library staff interviews, user surveys and usage data from identified libraries in urban, regional and remote locations of Australia.

The project was a flagship project for the Faculty of Arts and Education’s Libraries Research Group and was supported by the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA), the peak body for the Australian library sector, along with the Australian Public Library Alliance (APLA), which comprises senior public library leaders from across the states and territories. 

The research from the Libraries Research Group identified possible trends in future service and resource provision resulting from measures put in place during the COVID-19 crisis.

Publications from the project were as follows:

Garner, J., Hider, P., Jamali, H. R., Lymn, J., Mansourian, Y., Randell-Moon, H., & Wakeling, S. (2021). ‘Steady ships’ in the COVID-19 crisis: Australian public library responses to the pandemic. Journal of the Australian Library and Information Association70(2), 102-124. https://doi.org/10.1080/24750158.2021.1901329

Wakeling, S., Garner, J., Hider, P., Jamali, H., Lymn, J., Mansourian, Y., & Randell-Moon, H. (2021). ‘The challenge now is for us to remain relevant’: Australian public libraries and the COVID-19 crisis. IFLA Journal, 48(1), 138-154. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F03400352211054115

For more information contact:
Dr Jane Garner
Email: jagarner@csu.edu.au
Phone: (02) 6933 4318

Juvenile justice libraries

Project members: Jane Garner, partnering with Birchwood School, South Carolina; Department of Juvenile Justice, Parkville Youth Justice Centre, Parkville College.

The project explores the role of libraries and librarians in juvenile justice facilities. An example of international best-practice is to be used to build a case study to illustrate best-practice opportunities to Australian juvenile justice centres. 

The work from this project has been published in the following book:

Garner, J. (Ed.). (2021). Exploring the Roles and Practices of Libraries in Prisons: International Perspectives. Emerald Group Publishing.

The citation for the chapter is:

Garner, J. (2021). Exploring Juvenile Justice Facility Library Provision in Australia and South Carolina, USA. In Exploring the Roles and Practices of Libraries in Prisons: International Perspectives. Emerald Publishing Limited.

Contact: Dr Jane Garner

Email: jagarner@csu.edu.au

Phone: (02) 6933 4318

First-language reading and wellbeing

In this project, Dr Jane Garner developed an understanding of the experience of own-language reading for linguistically isolated library users. She identified the reading practices of linguistically isolated readers, their awareness of non-English language collections in public libraries, and barriers to accessing these collections. This knowledge has the potential to improve practice in public libraries and has been funded by the State Library of New South Wales who are partners in this research.

The final report for this project can be accessed via the State Library of New South Wales website at: https://www.sl.nsw.gov.au/public-library-services/first-language-reading

I am looking forward to presenting this research project in collaboration with the State Library of New South Wales at the ALIA National Conference in May, 2022.

Research Aim:

To understand the experiences of ‘first-language reading’ in non-English speaking background communities, and the contributions made by public libraries to these experiences.

Final Report:

The final report for this project is hosted by the State Library of New South Wales and can be accessed here: https://www.sl.nsw.gov.au/public-library-services/first-language-reading

Contact: Dr Jane Garner

Email: jagarner@csu.edu.au

Phone: (02)6933 4318

Australian public library mission statements

Group members: Philip Hider, Jane Garner, Simon Wakeling, Hamid Jamali

Do the formal mission statements to be found on Australian public library websites correspond to recent pronouncements about the roles of public libraries in their communities? A large sample of mission statements were analysed both qualitatively and quantitively to find out.

The resulting paper was published in the Journal of Library Administration and can be accessed here.

Contact: Dr Philip Hider

Email: phider@csu.edu.au

Phone: (02) 6933 2522

Social cataloguing revisited

Group members: Philip Hider, Gemma Steele and Anya Smeaton

Social cataloguing, as carried out on sites such as LibraryThing and Goodreads, provides a rich source of data that can potentially inform professional cataloguing practices, and standards such as the Library of Congress subject and form/genre vocabularies (LCSH and LCGFT). This project revisits earlier studies and considers specific ways in which the tags created in LibraryThing can inform library cataloguing in the areas of belles-lettres, history and business.

The second of the project team’s papers can be accessed here.

Contact: Dr Philip Hider

Email: phider@csu.edu.au

Phone: (02) 6933 2522

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