Commonwealth government agency libraries review: research report

Libraries Digital libraries Government libraries Australia

The Commonwealth Government Agency Libraries Review was commissioned by the Executive Committee of the Australian Government Library and Information Network (AGLIN). The review sought to identify how Commonwealth government library and information services might best meet their users’ needs, ensuring that the services provided are efficient, cost-effective and equitable.

The principal research objectives were: to explore the issues and challenges relevant to contemporary government library and information services; to examine the financial, administrative and technological context of Commonwealth government library and information services; and to present and discuss potential models which could ensure the sustainable delivery of efficient, cost-effective and equitable library and information services to support the business requirements of Commonwealth government agencies.

The project commenced with a literature review and environmental scan to examine and discuss the diverse issues impacting on the provision of government information and research services, including current developments in government administration, national and international trends in government library services, and the skills and competencies required by library and information professionals working in this sector. A primarily quantitative survey was used to collect data about the individual library services, and focus groups were held to capture qualitative data from respondents employed in Commonwealth government libraries.

The findings revealed that those government library and information services responding to the main survey were far from homogeneous. Some information services supported regulatory bodies, some supported research-intensive agencies, while others were aligned with the policy portfolios of a particular government department. There was a considerable range of size – in terms of the number of staff, the allocation of space for the library, the extent of the collections, and the technologies used – as well as significantly diverse subject foci for the individual information services. Despite the differences, respondents shared a passionate commitment to provide high quality services and to ensure that the specific information needs of the users of the services were met. It was apparent, however, that these library and information services faced many challenges. For the smaller services, the professional isolation of the librarians was a major concern, which increased the vulnerability of the services in times of fiscal uncertainty.

The administrative complexities caused by Machinery of Government (MoG) changes, frequently accompanied by reductions in funding and downsizing of staffing levels, had had a direct and negative impact on the provision of timely and relevant information and research services. The information and communications technology (ICT) environment represented a further significant challenge for many of the respondents. Although some government library and information professionals were able to drive a new digital agenda in their agencies, others had found themselves stymied by restrictive ICT policies and practices. Nevertheless, respondents were keen to ensure that good professional practice was sustained, with library staff supporting and leading change within their agencies.

Current developments in the public service which encourage a digitally literate public service, a culture of innovation, and the imperative of informed, evidence-based policy will stimulate the development of alternative approaches to delivering information services. Four options for potential models of service delivery are outlined: Option 1 – Status Quo; Option 2 – Shared Services model; Option 3 – Cluster model; Option 4 – Collaborative Projects model. The advantages and disadvantages of each model are highlighted, together with the requirements which should underpin the respective models if efficient, cost-effective and equitable services are to be offered to users across the Commonwealth government.

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