By Dominic Feain and Luis Feliu
The closure of Goonellabah’s public library is a mystery to Lismore councillor Gianpiero Battista.
Cr Battista said that given Goonellabah’s lack of infrastructure, transport, and its socio-economic issues he couldn’t understand why Council was moving to close it.
‘To take away something and not replace it with anything in Goonellabah, being the kind of area that it is, doesn’t make any sense,’ he said.
The Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) says the future of this much-loved community asset hangs in the balance, with five councillors opposed to closure and six in favour, and all for an annual saving of $84,000, less than one per cent of Council’s multimillion-dollar budget.
A public meeting will be held tomorrow, Saturday, at the Goonellabah Community Centre on Oliver Avenue next to the library at 2.30pm to discuss the issue and what action can be taken to stop it.
Cr Battista told Echonetdaily that last week he went to a strategic meeting ‘and a consultant talked about libraries transforming themselves into community hubs where councillors can communicate with the community without them feeling so intimidated like when you go to council chambers’.
‘If you were in the [Lismore] CBD or Ballina where you can walk or jump on the bike easily that’s fine, but there’s a real barrier between the downtown CBD and Goonellabah because we don’t have public transport here.
‘For the amount of savings surely we look to at a larger department with a larger budget within Council,’ Cr Battista said.
Noted book-lover and avid reader, Lismore mayor Jenny Dowell, said it was a difficult decision to make.
‘It is possible there could be some changes but the proposal that’s currently before Council to save the library involved the cutting of about six jobs in our environment sector,’ Cr Dowell said.
‘So that was the alternative. It’s something we’ve spoken about and I’m not going to pre-empt what councillors might do.
‘It’s a very difficult position. I’m a friend of the library and I use the Goonellabah Library but as mayor, councillors and I have to look at the big picture and we need additional money for our asset renewal.
Sue McKerracher, executive director of ALIA, representing 5,500 members across Australia, said, ‘this is crazy logic. Libraries bring together people of all ages. They support literacy and learning; they provide internet access for people who don’t have computers at home; they host fun, community events.
‘In the same week Lismore City Council trumpeted the signing of its “safer, happier, more inclusive Goonellabah” community plan, Council also announced plans for closing the Goonellabah community library.
‘If the council truly wants a safer, happier, more inclusive community, it should look to invest in its library, not close it down,’ Ms McKerracher said.
‘Every council has budget issues, but it’s about priorities. Goonellabah has high levels of disadvantage and low literacy levels, yet the council has spent a significant sum on scoping the redevelopment of Lismore Park, a distant pipedream, while proposing to close a much-valued community facility that provides baby and toddler sessions to help give under-fives the best reading start in life.’
‘It’s not just families with young children who use the library. Public computers are a big draw for teenagers, who use the library as a quiet study space, something they can’t always find at home, and the library team works with local schools to make sure the library stocks the right books to suit the curriculum.’
If Goonellabah library closes, though, it may well be senior citizens who take the biggest hit, and more than 15 per cent of the population is past retirement age.
‘The nearest library is at Lismore, a good 6km from Goonellabah, and it’s not an easy journey by public transport,’ Ms McKerracher said.
‘Depending on where you live, there could only be a bus every couple of hours, with the return trip taking over an hour. There are also issues around access for people living with disabilities. Goonellabah library is easy for people with mobility problems, Lismore library less so.
‘In the library world, it is recognised that there are not enough libraries in coastal NSW; there should be more rather than fewer to meet the ALIA Standards and Guidelines for Australian Public Libraries.
‘If this were a dying community, we could better understand it, but Goonellabah is a growing town, with new subdivisions being created all around.
‘The closure of the library would mean more isolated elderly people, higher levels of vandalism and, just at the point when new families are moving into the area; it would remove a vital part of the community infrastructure.’
If Goonellabah library were to close, it would be the first NSW library in more than 15 years to shut its doors without a new library opening to take its place.
If you would like to help save Goonellabah library, sign the petition and like the Facebook page.
A report from an independent firm of economists shows that for every $1 invested in NSW public libraries, communities gain $3.20-worth of benefits.
‘Clearly this return on investment was in the minds of councillors at nearby Byron Bay when they opened their superb new library on 11 February,’ Ms McKerracher said.
Community stalwart and library enthusiast Marny Bonner told Echonetdaily that ‘libraries are the linchpins of quality of life for communities’.
‘They are where children learn that financial inability to buy books or a computer is no barrier to the world of knowledge because their community provides for them,’ Ms Bonner said.
‘In areas of insufficient public transport, libraries are as vital to the wellbeing of local residents as shops and parklands. The socioeconomic flow-on effect of this basic resource is a healthier community.’
Former chief executive of the Richmond-Tweed Regional Library Service, Martin Field, told APN Media that the library, with almost 10,000 visits in the first quarter of this year, showed it was healthy.
Mr Field said that given the disadvantage in Goonellabah, it was ‘an extraordinary decision to close it’.
He said Ballina, Byron and Tweed all had three branch libraries while Lismore has always only had two.