Cost saving measures for Batlow Library

REDUCED HOURS: Batlow residents reacted to SVC’s plan to cut library hours.

BATLOW residents are very concerned about their library services being cut as part of Snowy Valley Council’s cost cutting in the 2024/25 budget.

Anne Hallard, a concerned Batlow resident, wrote to the Times outlining an alternate solution to these cost savings measures which has been devised by the librarians in Batlow themselves. 

The Librarian’s proposed solution offers a fair and equitable approach to not only meeting the Council’s required target in savings but ensures that the vital services offered by Libraries across the LGA continue.

The librarians are not just there to help people with book lending and internet services but also provide services on behalf of Council and the Department of Human Services.

Ms Hallard said if these services are cut back residents would need to travel to Tumut to do Council business, therefore putting more work onto staff in the Tumut Library and Council offices.

Ms Hallard said: “I write to express my concern at the announcement by Snowy Valleys Council that budget cost saving measures include the proposed reduction to the opening hours of several public libraries in the Snowy Valleys Council to save $132,323 annually in operational costs.

“I live in Batlow and was very upset to read this announcement in the Tumut and Adelong Times on Friday, June 28, 2024.” 

Mrs Hallard pointed out the Batlow Library will be one of the affected libraries with a proposal to reduce the hours of operation by 20 hours, equivalent to three days a week.

This would greatly affect the permanent and itinerant population of Batlow that rely heavily on the services of our library and the assistance offered by our librarians, Sarah Kynaston and Robert Beegling, Ms Hallard said.

The Batlow Library is much more than a library. 

It is a point of contact for:

– Library services paid for by the Snowy Valleys Council (SVC) to the Rural and Regional Library Association (RRL) for approximately $400,000 annually for libraries in our LGA for the ongoing supply of library books, print and e-resources, DVDs, public access computers, rates payments, photocopiers and fax.  The provision of these services requires trained and skilled staff who are very familiar with current technology.

– The Batlow librarians undertake annual training to act as Department of Human Services representatives who operate as the access point that allows for Medicare Easy Claim, Centrelink Access, document certification, Proof of Life (for those with overseas pensions) and free digital vouchers for our older population who can’t otherwise access them.

– The Batlow librarians act as a front desk/contact customer service point for Snowy Valleys Council in the collection and banking of land rates, water rates as well as the distribution of FOGO bags.  An average of 45 minutes per day is allocated to Snowy Valleys Council BAU activities including council service banking, receipting and phone calls. Approximately 4.5 hours per week is dedicated to Council business. They also maintain the community noticeboard and hold keys for the Batlow Literary Institute and old library meeting room.  They provide information relative to other Council services such as booking facilities, waste collection hours, pension rebate forms and pet registration.  The library acts as a distribution/collection point for forms relating to information being collected by community groups.

– Children of all ages attend Storytime sessions, author talks, community programs and school holiday programs.  Many school children attend the Batlow library after school as a ‘safe house’ as well as to access computers for the completion of assignments and schoolwork. Along with adults accessing emails and information on two public computers, a total of 433 people used the library public computers in the first half of 2024, an average of 17 per week.  After 3pm the two library computers are highly utilised and often customers turned away.

– Groups such as the ‘home schooling community’ of which there is a considerable population in the Snowy Valleys LGA, regularly meet at the Batlow library for interaction with other families. They share ideas and utilise the resources of the library including computer and internet access which is not always available at home. 

– Social interaction and meeting room space is a vital part of the Batlow Library.  A knitting group meets every week at the library. The meeting rooms are regularly used by several groups and individuals including the committee for “Pippins” the community shop/cafe, the Batlow Technology School counsellor, SVC Councillor meetings, the Batlow Community & Cultural Association, Dr Joe McGirr for his community consultations and visitors and residents needing space to work on their own laptops.

– Tourist Information is provided by the Batlow librarians on a regular basis.  Due to the Snowy Valleys Sculpture Trail having placed several significant sculptures in the gardens adjoining the library, many visitors to our region drop into the library to ask about other tourist activities on offer. Maps and brochures are available at the desk for all tourist activities including Adelong Gold Mine site, Tumbarumba wineries and restaurants/cafes, Tumbarumba-Rosewood Rail Trail and other sites of interest in the Snowy Valleys Council area.

Mrs Hallard said Batlow has a significantly disadvantaged population as well as an above-the-state average ageing population, many with comorbidities. 

Many who utilise the services of the library have poor literacy, numeracy and technical IT skills. 

Without the assistance of the librarians, many people would not ordinarily be able to access or navigate the MyGov website, various databases, utilise MS Office and many also require assistance with emails, printing, and help with any online forms or applications.

It is not easy, nor cheap to get to the library or other government services such as Centrelink in Tumut.  

Without any form of public transport and many who do not drive, it becomes impossible to seek the help needed.  

Those with a car should not be penalised in paying the cost of fuel to access the nearest services in a round trip of 60km.

Batlow Library is unique, being in a central part of the CBD and newly built through a $1 million grant. 

It is counter intuitive to therefore shut it down for three days per week having just improved it as a public facility for all.

The Batlow librarians have submitted a proposal for a reduction in SVC Library hours across Batlow, Tumut, Adelong and Tumbarumba to the General Manager, Snowy Valleys Council, Mr Steven Pinnuck.  

The proposal is as follows:

(a) Tumut Library shuts on Saturday – saving 4.5 hours of labour + on-costs (electricity, water, cleaning);

(b) Tumut, Batlow, Tumbarumba and Adelong reduce opening hours x 1 hour per day thus saving 16 hours + on-costs;

(c) Tumut employs one staff member to work a 6-hour day and one staff member to work a 3-hour day. 

“This formula creates a saving of 38 hours per week, equal to the current proposal by Council whilst not significantly reducing service in any town”Ms Hallard said. 

“The on costs have not been factored in, thus representing further savings.

“This proposal is a fair and equitable approach,” she said.  

“It would enable the savings to be made to the SVC budget whilst at the same time continue to provide an essential service to all ratepayers.  

“A win-win.”

Mrs Hallard believes staff should not be asked to compress the current work of five days into two nor should libraries close.

In summary, she said she certainly hopes that Mr Pinnuck, the Mayor and all Councillors consider this solution seriously before greatly disadvantaging the population they serve.

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