City Services Minister Chris Steel says a new inquiry into the future of ACT public libraries is not about cost-cutting or closing libraries. But some may be relocated.
"The inquiry is about seeking the community’s views about what they want from their library service, improving community access to services and planning for the future,'' he said.
Mr Steel also maintains current libraries are safe, despite some public submissions to the Legislative Assembly inquiry raising rumours about certain libraries such as Belconnen or Dickson being on the chopping block.
The minister scotched those rumours, but did raise the possibility of some libraries relocating.
"The government has no plans to close libraries,'' he said.
"Some of the physical locations of libraries are leased. Should those leases end or better locations be identified then other options would be found to maintain library facilities within all centres currently serviced by libraries.''
Kingston and Civic libraries are in leased premises.
"Any relocations would be done in consultation with the community and would be done to maximise accessibility and the services available to the community,'' Mr Steel said.
Another submission to the inquiry, from the Health Care Consumers' Association, says its consultation with its consumers found "a great love for library services in the ACT''.
"In contrast, a few consumers noted that Belconnen and Civic libraries were less accessible and may be under-utilised as a result,'' the submission read.
The association noted that the relatively new Civic Library in Civic Square was "hard to find, there is little or no parking, and limited access for people with disabilities''
"The location is not intuitive, or even visible. Consumers were of the opinion that users who
do go there were more likely to be seeking a service from Access Canberra, rather than a library service. This service could be closed and the funding dispersed between other libraries that have greater activity,'' the submission read.
Other submissions called on libraries to have longer opening hours.
People with Disabilities ACT called on the government to audit all the buildings to ensure they had good access.
Another submission, from the Australian Library and Information Service, says ACT libraries have the highest membership (63.6 per cent of the population) and the third highest number of customer visits per annum per capita (five).
Yet the total expenditure per capita is the lowest in Australia ($34.06) as is the staffing level (one staff member per 4143 residents).
Mr Steel maintained libraries were different in the ACT.
"Libraries in the ACT are geographically close together compared to cities in other states and territories such as SA and WA. This reduces costs as we are not delivering services to small, remote communities,'' he said.
"In addition, libraries in most other states are separately run by individual councils which increases overheads. Being one library service in the ACT, we enjoy economies of scale. ACT Libraries also have the highest benefit to cost ratio of any jurisdiction with $4.10 in benefits to the community for every $1 invested compared to the national average of $2.90.''
The Australian Library and Information Service said Libraries ACT was "known as an innovator in the library world and has made best use of the opportunities arising from the introduction of digital technologies''
It has recommended to the inquiry a "funding model to compare with that of other large city library services in Australia''.
Many submissions to the inquiry outlined how libraries enhance community, help them access the Internet and make them feel connected.
Matthew Stuckings asked in his submission that the committee consider the intangible benefits of a library, not least that they are a welcoming place for people to "just be'', without having to buy something.
"Public libraries provide benefits to the community in many ways that cannot be measured,'' he wrote.
"They provide safe and warm spaces for everyone, especially those who have nowhere else to be.
"They enable everyone to access information, especially those who have few other means of connecting with essential services and information that might lift them out of precarious life circumstances. They contribute to the whole community’s literacy levels and raise understanding of other people and the world.''
The Standing Committee on Environment and Transport and City Services is due to report on its findings from the inquiry in March.