Associations Push Broadband for Public Libraries

Library and local government associations are pushing for funding under the Australian Government's Connect Australia program to establish a national broadband network linking public libraries across Australia.

The proposed Australian Library National Broadband Network would connect public libraries, local government councils and potentially some regional museums, art galleries and cultural organizations online.

Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) national broadband advisor Rick Molony says a survey by the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) found many smaller public libraries missing out on broadband access.

In response the two associations are preparing a Clever Networks submission seeking funding to establish an Australian Library and Local Government Broadband Network (ALLGBN).

"There was a major survey done by ALIA last year that found quite a lot of the smaller public libraries don't have broadband access and are unlikely to afford it.

"So the first thing is to address the affordability of broadband because we see broadband as a fundamental infrastructure requirement to a whole pile of other things on top of that. Once they've got broadband - and we're talking about real broadband or what they call True broadband - then you can start to see regional clusters of libraries supporting each other."

Molony says the proposals model work done at regional level to bring together broadband communities into broadband managed networks as well as local government initiatives in Queensland and the Northern Territory.

These include the local Government Association of Queensland's managed network, which gives all local councils access to selected State government data sets via some State government intranets.

"That is a model that we find is very powerful and very attractive: councils want access to information," Molony says. "For example, they are getting access to whole-of-state satellite imagery, and the LGA-Q wants to extend that to give access to Australian Bureau of Statistics stats. They also want access to Standards Australia documents for some of the standards like knowledge management and record keeping standards, which local government is required to report against and use but which they can't afford to individually purchase."

The other model is the managed network set up for community councils by the Local Government Association of the Northern Territory, which provides a communications package including two-way satellite and ISDN links. Under this model the LGA-NT provides Local Area Network support from a central help desk based in Darwin but also provides on the ground training and support.

"What we would like to do is to extend that approach nationally but have it managed at the state-level. We know that there are regional networks already starting to be put in place. For example in Victoria in the Loddon Malle area there is a regional health network which is a managed network which is now in the process of extending that network to their councils," Molony says.

He says the request for funding comes too late to be considered in the May budget, but that there should be enough money in the "bucket" of funding already announced for the Clever Networks program under Connect Australia to get the project started.