THE WA state library board is considering closing the state library two days a week to rein in a blown out budget.
WA culture and arts minister John Day says the government “currently has no intention of reducing the number of opening hours” but a library director told the Voice it was on the agenda at the last meeting.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the director said the proposed closure was in response to pressure from the WA arts department, which funds the library.
“They’ve already axed the bookshop, that’s definitely going,” the director told the Voice.
Conceding the bookshop ran at a loss, the director nevertheless lamented its demise as the loss of a “really good public face” for the library.
The director also revealed there had been pressure applied to completely cancel the Premier’s book awards, rather than cut it back from an annual to a biennial prize.
“It was pushed to the wire and looked like the whole thing was going to be dumped, but as a compromise they made it every two years,” the director said. “The awards are a wonderful occasion. I can’t believe the premier would want to cut this: it’s cheap to produce and a real winner for the state and the premier, and all to save $65,000.”
As a result of budget cuts, support services such as professional development and book purchasing are also likely to disappear at metropolitan libraries, but remain in the regions.
This year’s book allocations have already caused grief for local libraries, with Fremantle council issuing a stern letter to the state library and WA local government association about the depth of cuts and advice from the library which left its shelves depleted.
“Late notice of quotas, not received till November, combined with advice from State Library from July to November, that public libraries should order as per the previous year’s allocations meant a severe impact for new item supply,” the minutes of Fremantle library’s management committee reveal.
The minutes also show this financial year’s funding for library stock was to be 43 per cent lower than 2013/14’s. However, by the time the mid-year budget review was completed the cut was reduced to 25 per cent.
Perth lord mayor Lisa Scaffidi slammed any prospect of reducing the Alexander Library’s opening hours.
“With the art gallery closed on Tuesdays the last thing we want is another closed building,” she told the Voice.
“If we are keen to attract international students they will want to access to books and places to study.
“This really is a no-no.”
She’d been annoyed by the decision to cut the premier’s book awards back to a biennial event.
“I had a letter from the head of the book awards and I thought ‘here’s another handball to local government’, because we could pick it up, but that annoys me because they all think we will.”
She said she’d recently been talking with radio host and former West Australian newspaper editor, Paul Murray, and was taken by his comment you hardly ever see local governments racking up deficits.
“You put up a budget and then you work to that—you live within yours means,” she said.
But the director defended library administrators: “I don’t think it was because of incompetence.”
The Voice contacted the library but didn’t get a response before deadline.
Mr Day said his portfolio had been under the microscope of the razor gang, which is scouring eight of the state’s biggest-spending agencies to identify savings.
by STEVE GRANT