New South Wales public libraries must cope with the demographic narrative in their community.
This was a key message from an address by social commentator and demography expert Bernard Salt at the NSW Public Libraries Conference in Mudgee on Wednesday.
Presenting to 300 public library delegates and supporters, Mr Salt challenged industry views and presented his own theories about how libraries should operate into the future.
He said libraries should be surrounded by services such as “cafes, bars, and student accommodation” to make communities “feel comfortable”.
“How does a library fit into that narrative?” he asked.
This idea was backed by numbers that showcased demand for services across the country.
He said jobs such as baristas, primary teachers, teachers aids and university lecturers were all increasing yet librarian numbers were contracting. However there is scope for librarians to be multi-skilled and perhaps work under many titles.
Based on population modelling, Mr Salt said libraries would need to keep their focus on people reaching retirement age or above.
“Since 1986 there has been population increases in every age group. But there is more of an increase in the older age groups,” he said.
He used the towns of Warren and Dubbo as examples.
In the past ten or so years the population at Warren had declined by 1000. It has “haemorrhaged” the younger population but placed a higher demand on services such as churches and aged care.
Yet the same could be said for Dubbo which has seen an increase in its population over the past 10 or so years.
He presented the extent of service delivery across the continent, showcasing a difference in lifestyles both east and west of the Great Dividing Range.
“Infrastructure trends are not changing and will still be there in 20 years,” he said.
Mr Salt said New South Wales will see an additional one million residents over the next decade and services had to keep up with that pace.
He said a large portion of these new residents will not be able to speak English and therefore will need extra literacy services that could be found at a library.
He envisioned these factors would also see many people become retrained or re-skilled.
Speaking on the ability for services to suit their community’s demographic, Mr Salt used religion as an example.
For instance Sydney suburb Horsley Park has Australia’s highest rate of religious “believers” at almost 97 per cent of its population. It is almost the opposite in a region such as Byron Bay.