This month my local public library joins the South Australian One Card Network. It’s an argument based on numbers: 130 public libraries and millions of books and DVDs, accessible through one library card. If you can bear the unbelievably irritating soundtrack, you can watch the short promotional video here.
Local libraries joining together to create large regional networks is a great idea. You still get the pleasure and comfort of your own local library – for me, this means lovely, friendly staff; plenty of new magazines; the latest hardback novels and a range of cafés right on the doorstep. We are already part of a north-eastern suburbs library network, with seven institutional members, so I already know about the benefits of a much wider pool of resources. If Norwood library doesn’t have the book that I want to read, there’s a good chance that Payneham or Prospect Library will. The chances are multiplied to 130 when we join the One Card system this month.
My first experience of an extended library network comes from spending several months in the UK. Norfolk has just under fifty libraries in its network, from Kings Lynn to Wells-next-the-Sea. The libraries are linked by a single catalogue and borrowing service, while retaining their own unique features – from gothic buildings with ghosts in the cellar to modern structures of steel and glass. The jewel in the crown is the Norwich Millennium Library, a thriving community centre which provides traditional twentieth-century services (books, business information, archives, images) with the new expectations of urban facilities and public space (a concert hall, exhibition rooms, offices and a restaurant.) Since its opening in 2001, Norwich has claimed to be “the busiest public library in the UK.”
You would expect that the rise of the library network would be good news for public libraries and their readers. Unfortunately, the system in the UK is anything but healthy: check this website for distressing details of rampant under-funding and closures.