Leaked documents from a post-budget meeting of senior government librarians reveal that many departments' libraries have been, or may be, outsourced, and that senior librarians are urging each other to lobby to keep their jobs.
The Department of the Environment has confirmed its internal library services have been cut. It said library staff had been given options, including redeployment. The collection will be moved elsewhere but it will still be accessible to staff.
The meeting of 30 agency and departmental librarians was held six days after the government's slash-and-burn May 13 budget and suggested deep cuts to, and reviews of, services are under way.
On Monday, Sue McKerracher, executive director of the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA), which represents public libraries, said she was concerned that a number of federal departmental libraries were being reviewed and said outsourcing would lead to policy development by Wikipedia.
“I think there is a particular situation with federal government libraries and the government is looking to cut costs,” Ms McKerracher said.
Notes from a speech by an Australian Competition and Consumer Commission employee at the May meeting read: "My agency, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, has already informed us that the library is being considered for outsourcing."
Robert Bollard, customer operations manager at IP Australia, which deals with intellectual property issues, confirmed that external consultants had done a review of the library and its seven full-time equivalent employees.
"We cannot guarantee that staff will maintain exactly the same roles as they did prior to the review" but there were no plans to make staff redundant in 2014-15, Mr Bollard said.
Librarians who spoke at the meeting urged each other to run internal campaigns, aimed at senior department figures, to prove they were not dispensable.
The ACCC employee's speech argued that good advocacy could help improve the position of internal libraries. "To be at the table, we need to engage calmly and positively, providing facts and information – qualitative and quantitative – about the value we provide," the ACCC employee's speech reads.
Speech notes show a librarian from the Department of Social Services pressing colleagues to use every contact with other departmental staff as an opportunity to promote the library. She suggested staff ensure they always told library users "what you‘ve done, how you’ve found it" after every research task.
The notes disclose that, in late May, the Department of Social Services' library was reduced to six employees from a maximum of 37, including up to 15 contractors, in 2004-05, the employee said.
Ms McKerracher said Google and Wikipedia could not trump specialist database searches done by professional librarians and that closing libraries would expose government departments to a "higher risk of ill-informed decision-making".
Already libraries were run on a tight shoestring, she said, yet they still managed to give politicians and public servants essential information.
The meeting was held by the Australian Government Libraries Information Network, a non-government organisation that represents, and advocates on behalf of, government librarians.
A spokeswoman for social services said the meeting's comments were made in passing and had been taken out of context. "The bulk of the discussion [at the meeting] was around strategies for ensuring business relevance of libraries in changing times," she said.