Community libraries of southeastern South Australia

By Rachel

This past week I had the pleasure and the privilege to travel with my colleague from Public Library Services and the State Library of South Australia through the southeastern portion of the state. Over the course of the two days we visited ten libraries in small towns and villages – five were public libraries (Murray Bridge, Mount Gambier, Port Macdonnell, Millicent, and Robe) and the other five were school community libraries (Tailem Bend, Tintinara, Keith, Penola, and Kingston). Lots of driving, so we had ample opportunity to talk in the car about libraries and the countryside around us as we drove from community to community.

Southeastern South Australia - google mapsThis map shows almost all of the places we visited – the only one not there is Tintinara; it is located between Tailem Bend and Keith.

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A few interesting facts and observations:

Tailem Bend School Community Library is a lovely space a portion of which is housed in one of the oldest school buildings. It is one of the few school community libraries that is with a primary school (most of the schools are either area schools – reception to grade 12, or high schools).

Most of the school community libraries we visited had two entrances – one that was really oriented for community access and the other that is from the heart of the school. Penola School Community Library also has two entrances, but the layout of the space highlights some of the challenges that can occur when a library is using the space available. The library has good signage from the street, DSCN2081

but the community access is tucked right next to the school front doors – not ideal for community members. DSCN2080

Mount Gambier Public Library is a beautiful public library with an architectural design to reflect the fact that the city is located on a volcano (not active) where sink holes and ponds are common and lumber is a major industry. It is very community-minded, recognizing its role in building and strengthening community to keep the small city vibrant.

Port MacDonnell Public Library is in a very small community and really serves as the community hub. In Port MacDonnell Library you can also visit the art gallery and museum, get tourist information and council services – and receive services from two banks! (there are no banks in the village). All of these services are provided by the library staff.

DSCN2109.JPG

Kingston Community School Library seems integral to both community and school. Its librarian actively demonstrates how the library supports curriculum and how the library also helps to strengthen the community in which the school is housed. There’s a lot happening in this library. I had a great conversation with the library manager about how the library also meets the needs of those kids who perhaps don’t want to hang out in the playground over lunch, perhaps are bullied, teased, or just feel self-conscious about being alone. In the library it’s fine to hang out on your own and the kids realize that they are not alone.

Kingston also has a super cool clock – I want one in my house!DSCN2110

This travel was inspiring. It was a chance to actually see the small school-community libraries I had been reading about as well as visit some libraries that have interesting partnerships with other entities in their communities. The more I have read about the school community library program in South Australia the more intrigued I am. There is a lot more for me to explore, of course, and many more conversations to have with library managers and the staff at Public Library Services. But is this perhaps a model that can be tweaked – taking the best of the model and revising it to overcome some of its challenges – that could fit the different legislative environment of Canada? Is there something here that will help us establish sustainable library services in small rural and remote communities?

I came away buzzing with ideas, excited about the possibilities, eager for more discussions.

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