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31 October 2016


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Good article Phil, during colonial era there were local libraries for each province but not today.

Books play a critical role in shaping & moulding the mindsets of every school age kids to adults.

Remember, where the world famous doctor Ben Carson got his knowledge. It was from the books he read.

We need provincial libraries & succeeding governments should come clear & have funds available for provincial libraries to be set up & managed. This will improve literacy level in PNG.

And something from the librarians:

Good article Phil, and thanks to Chris for some history about libraries.
At present I’m reading a book by Eric Hoffer, the wharfie-philosopher from the USA. Hoffer had a childhood accident in which he lost his sight for several years. When he regained his sight, he became a prolific reader of books. He came from a humble background and worked at menial jobs and ended up working on the waterfront.
However despite his lack of formal education, through copious reading, mostly from libraries, he became one of the great thinkers of the 20th century, and the author of several books. In 1983, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Reagan.
I’ve met many ordinary working people during my life who have had far greater knowledge, and common sense, than many university-educated people, such is the value of reading books. One can only hope that Phil’s article will impact on some people who might rectify the current lamentable state of PNG’s libraries.

I recently returned to the UK for my mother's funeral and I could not resist a nostalgic walk down the village lane to visit the local library, which I regularly frequented as a youngster.

It was in the same immaculate condition with a polished wooden tiled floor and you could hear a pin drop as I browsed through the collection and the librarian was a stern as a hospital matron.

In my boyhood, I can remember borrowing most of the Biggles books before moving onto the Dennis Wheatley collection, which included The Devil Rides Out and The Haunting of Toby Jugg.

I also managed to visit the Lady Leverhulme art gallery in Port Sunlight village, which contained the largest private collection of JMW Turner paintings.

Such wonderful facilities and memories, which are sadly being eroded.

As Phil Fitzpatrick has indicated, public libraries are one of the single most important innovations in human history. Prior to their appearance, opportunities for ordinary citizens to acquire even a rudimentary education were severely constrained.

The impetus to create publicly accessible libraries came initially from early Victorian era industrialists, who set up what were called Mechanics Institutes.

The primary objectives of the institutes were, firstly, to provide ordinary working people with an opportunity for self improvement through reading and learning and, secondly, to encourage the development of sober and industrious personal and social habits (as opposed to the heavy drinking and smoking that was and remains a social scourge).

The pay off for the industrialists was that, aside from encouraging moral and social improvement amongst the working classes, it helped create a more knowledgeable, skilful and reliable workforce. It was one initiative of the Victorian era capitalists that enjoyed the more or less unqualified support of the nascent union movement.

The first Mechanics Institutes appeared in Scotland in 1821, with Australia's first institute opening in Hobart in 1827.

It took a while for the UK government to recognise the obvious merit in providing accessible libraries to the so-called lower classes. Thus it was not until the passing of the UK's Public Libraries Act of 1850 that the modern system of public libraries finally began to develop, with the idea rapidly gaining a foothold in it colonies as well.

The USA, rather typically, relied heavily upon private philanthropy to provide what other countries immediately recognised to be important public services.

Luckily for the USA, the ultra wealthy industrialist Dale Carnegie (not coincidentally, Scottish by birth), took up the challenge to create a public library service across the country. Between 1883 and 1929 he funded the construction of an astonishing total of 1,689 libraries, including quite a few for the country's emergent university system.

Australia was not blessed with a Dale Carnegie equivalent but it had started building a library system somewhat earlier than the USA. Melbourne opened Australia's first public library in 1856, with the other states following suit over the next several decades.

By June 2013, Australia could boast 1,439 fixed point libraries, plus an additional 76 mobile libraries. This equates to one library for every 15,000 citizens.

In the 2012/13 financial year, a staggering 174 million library loans were made to over 10 million individual borrowers, with the country's libraries collectively having 112 million visitors each year. It is clear that Australians are very serious readers and library users by world standards.

This service comes at a cost of course, now exceeding $A 1.0 billion per year, but this is widely regarded as a relatively trivial expense compared to the educational, social and personal benefits provided.

As the Victorian era industrials like Dale Carnegie intuitively understood, there is a clear and direct relationship between the provision of library services and an accompanying rise in the levels of knowledge, skills and education for the wider population.

Better still, the socio-economic benefits of even a basic education are greatly compounded if there is a good library system through which citizens can continue learning (and being entertained) through the vast treasure trove of knowledge and information readily available in books and, more recently, through the internet.

With this as background, it becomes very clear why Phil is correct to say that PNG is falling woefully short in its funding and other support for public libraries. In doing so, it is failing the country and, of course, its citizens.

History shows that PNG has little hope of attaining the critical mass of well educated, motivated, creative and innovative citizens it needs to truly launch itself into the modern world if it cannot fulfil at least the minimum requirement for a decent public library system.

Whether the country's policy makers have the competence or insight required to understand this seems to be a matter of conjecture.

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