THE sight of our mobile library on the Bass Highway raises a proud smile. It sends a message as it rolls into town, swings into its parking place and is tethered to its power supply. Its doors open, full of promise and connection – a social contract enshrined in our service agreement.
As the dust settles and that stairway is deployed, however, some things need to be reconciled.
First, the untiring librarian behind wheel spends much more time driving than actually helping our patrons.
Second, the prime mover breaks down with increasing frequency. The trailer has structural damage. Leaks threaten the collection. A new truck and trailer would cost over a million dollars. Effective repair would require a total rebuild, probably even more expensive.
Third, many of our current patrons have trouble getting up the mobile’s steps. One person I know had to wait outside in the car while their carer fetched books. Wheelchair access? There's a rarely used lift. As chairperson of council’s access and inclusion advisory committee, I believe everyone deserves equitable and amenable access.
Last month the West Gippsland Regional Library Corporation announced plans to talk to users of the mobile library about how we can evolve a range of library facilities in the Waterline community prior to retirement of the South Coast Mobile truck and trailer by the end of June 2019.
There was a swift response. As Joy Button wrote in Reading the riot act (November 2, 2018), campaigns are under way to preserve the current service.
On November 2, a number of library users from Grantville, Coronet Bay and Tenby Point attended the WGRLC board meeting in Cowes. They told us how important the service is to their communities. One person even travelled from Trafalgar – a journey of over 200km in one day – to share his knowledge and passion. That’s just one measure of how much our service matters.
Questions asked at the meeting, and the answers provided, are available on the WGRLC website and will be included in the public record of that meeting. The WGRLC agreement guarantees continuation of the service well beyond that date and there will be no break in continuity.
When people refer to our data as propaganda we realise there is more openness required. We want people to know where we are coming from with this. Our WGRLC four year plan commits us to provide library services across our region. To provide insight into our process up to this point, we released the previously ‘in camera’ service report that informed our decision, to the public at that November meeting.
In Bass Coast, our mobile library visits Grantville, Corinella, Coronet Bay, Kilcunda and San Remo. Just 252 people solely used the mobile for their library services last year. Another group of people use the mobile in concert with a static library and the total number of users is a small percentage of our total membership.
In discussion of our service, I can cite facts and figures but in many cases it’s about the people rather than the collection. I have spent some time on the Western Port foreshore, sitting near the mobile library, in the company of an eclectic group of people drawn together by coffee and companionship. Music adds to the ambience and the views of Western Port are breathtaking. In Grantville its presence is more circumspect but just as valued by the dozens who use it.
I’ve sat down the back of that old truck while the librarian talks to people about their lives. The other day I watched a fellow, not much older than me, enjoy the delightful surprise of receiving the latest book by his favorite author, which the librarian had set aside for him.
I know that saying farewell to such a well-loved vehicle is heart rending. People are grieving and the broader community is coming together in support. I applaud the Waterline membership drive. As a campaign Facebook post stated, I am “always promoting the library” at resident and ratepayer meetings and I am glad people are listening intently.
It’s also heartening to see people from other towns support retention of the current mobile service. As a Western Port councillor I often talk to people about bringing library access to towns such as Kernot or onto the Island. Nimble vehicles, agencies and outreach will enable that.
I know how valuable the current service is to the people of our small coastal towns and how much it means to them. We need to ensure that the current users retain their connection. We are talking to people about how to achieve this. Access to a range of books and a librarian is the obvious starting point. We want to extend our service to more people and increase the available hours per week.
Many of our programs, including author talks and Baby Rhyme Time, can be made available in community buildings that already exist. Corinella Community House and The Grantville Transaction Centre, among others, can meet community expectations with a range of options and a variety of vehicles.
A new truck and trailer would cost over a million dollars. If the State Government, or anyone else, was going to give me a million dollars to spend on the Waterline community I’d rather ask for extensions to neighbourhood houses to provide amenity for our library users as well as the general population.
Over the next six months we’ll be talking to people across the Waterline about their ideas for comfortable and creative places to enjoy books and library programs.
We’ll include anyone who wants to talk to us in this conversation. We value everyone’s input and I implore everyone to work with us to ensure that the services we provide meet the needs of our users and bring a sense of place, and pride, to our towns, through a range of options that aren’t dependent on the purchase of a new rig.
Over the years I have become aware of the large number of people who depend on their library, wherever and whatever it is. Books, computers, internet access, newspapers, a comfortable chair and companionship are all part of that library. For many people it is about job searching, or interactive gaming.
Just over fifty years ago Joe Chambers, school teacher and borough councillor, wrote: “A library is much more than a collection of thrillers, westerns, romances and travelogues. It is also a reading room, a meeting place, a discussion centre – a very important focal point in the life of a country town. Everybody benefits from a library.”
The next WGRLC Board meeting commences at Coal Creek, Korumburra, at 11.30am on December 7. Our meetings are open to the public – please come and talk to us about your ideas.
Cr Geoff Ellis is the Bass Coast Shire Council representative on the West Gippsland Regional Library Corporation and its current chairman.