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

Mount Gambier Public Library Children's area

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.

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.

Garner, J., Wakeling, S., Hider, P., Jamali, H. R., Kennan, M. A., Mansourian, Y., & Randell-Moon, H. (2022). The lived experience of Australian public library staff during the COVID-19 library closures. Library Management43(6/7), 427-438. https://doi-org/10.1108/LM-04-2022-0028

Wakeling, S., Garner, J., Kennan, M. A., Hider, P., Jamali, H. R., Randell-Moon, H. E. K., & Mansourian, Y. (2023). Australian public libraries during the COVID-19 crisis: operations, management and service provision. Library Management. https://doi-org/10.1108/LM-04-2023-0031

Randell-Moon, H., Garner, J., Wakeling, S., Kennan, M. A., Hider, P., Jamali, H. R., & Mansourian, Y. (2023). “You’re Not the Police. You’re Providing a Library Service”: Reflections on Maintenance and Repair in/of Public Libraries During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies4.

For more information contact:
Dr Jane Garner
Phone: (02) 6933 4318


How innovative library staff have achieved the ‘virtually’ impossible during lockdown (22 May 2020)

SICS radio: Providing connection – the role of public libraries during the COVID-19 crisis (25 March 2021)

Banner image: Mount Gambier Public Library Children’s area, CC-BY ND 2.0 Katie Hannan