By Matt Male
BASS Coast residents in small Waterline towns are fighting a move to scrap the West Gippsland Libraries mobile truck, arguing the proposed replacement options are rubbish.
The library corporation denies there will be a downgrade in service for affected towns; and argues it’s a costly service which has seen a significant decline in people using it.
But the move has sparked outrage amongst the small communities of Coronet Bay, Tenby Point, San Remo and others – with their mobile truck visits coming to an end on June 30, 2019.
The move will also end truck visits to Corinella, Kilcunda, Grantville, Fish Creek, Toora, Sandy Point, Tarwin Lower and Welshpool.
Ten Waterline residents attended a library board meeting in Cowes last Friday, wanting to make sure their resentment was being heard.
Tenby Point’s Peter Granger said the corporation “keeps saying everyone’s been consulted”.
“That’s absolutely untrue,” he said.
Mr Granger said the axing of the truck would affect the smallest towns in the shire – and some of the oldest people.
“You’ve abandoned them,” Mr Granger continued.
“I understand that we have to be more progressive, but this won’t be an improvement.”
Mr Granger said the library corporation failed to consult stakeholders as they’re only asking for users’ opinions after they decided to axe the truck.
“The justification is ridiculous. You’re saying people use it less, therefore we should stop it,” Mr Granger said.
“It’s an outreach service. That’s the role of it.”
Coronet Bay’s Levinus Van Der Neut questioned library CEO Leanne Williams’ statement that it would cost $1m to buy a new library truck, when a quick Google search uncovered one for sale for between $500,000 and $600,000.
He also questioned why Bass Coast was getting a “raw deal” when it cost more to provide library services to other shires.
West Gippsland Libraries CEO Leanne Williams said there are ways to enhance the service to the community, so people can have access to the library collection for more hours per week, compared to the truck.
Joy Button, a Bass Coast resident of 11 years, said it was the responsibility of governments and councils to provide community services.
She pointed out the library made a surplus of more than $350,000 in the 2017-18 financial year.
The San Remo resident said the truck visits isolated Waterline communities, including many people who can’t drive to access permanent libraries.
“I asked Leanne [Williams] for a guarantee that we wouldn’t have a downgrade in service.
“She gave me that assurance. But it’s all spin.”
Library board members made the decision to axe the truck behind closed doors more than four months ago.
The minutes from that meeting are now public – which include more than 70 pages of notes and graphs.
That was to be more “transparent”, according to board Chair Cr Geoff Ellis.
The corporation insists they’ve made no firm commitments on what will replace the truck – and want users to fill out a survey to help them decide, which has been sent out via email and post to library users.
They’re also looking at working with community groups to set-up micro libraries or book drop-off and pick-up points, with longer hours compared to the truck.
Users will still be able to place holds, and have books and other physical loans delivered to these micro sites. There will also be librarians available over-the-phone to get book recommendations and assistance.
The corporation’s also looking at boosting outreach programs, and having more author talks and other special events.
West Gippsland Libraries provided this information on the cost of the truck and the number of people using it.
“The annual running cost of the South Coast Mobile service is $204,000 and this is continuing to increase due to break-downs,” the corporation’s Strategy and Communication Manager, Shaun Inguanzo, said in an email.
“This quarter (July to September 2018) alone repairs to the mobile library have cost $7444 compared to the same time last year only being $1958.
“An increase of 280 percent. There are 252 users of the South Coast Mobile in Bass Coast, and 121 in South Gippsland,” the spokesperson said of the September 2017 figures.
“The user figures represent the users who exclusively use and rely on the mobile service – not people who live in towns where they have access to static libraries or visit a static library as well as the mobile.
“As of EOFY 17-18, visits per hour to the South Coast Mobile were 6.9, well down on the 26 visits per hour average across our region.
“Similarly, loans per hour on the Mobile were an average of 19, well down on the regional average of 40.38 per hour and the minimum benchmark used across regional library services in Victoria being 25 per hour.
“Over the last five years (since 2013-14), visits per hour on South Coast Mobile have declined by 18 percent. Loans have remained steady at 19 per hour which is still 24 percent below the minimum Victorian benchmark used by Regional Library Corporations.
“This is in contrast to our network-wide average visits and loans per hours. Since 2013-14, visits per hour have increased by 5 percent across our network, while loans have increased by 19,711 loans or 2.4 percent.”