REGULAR readers of PNG Attitude will be familiar with the blog’s continuing criticism of the Papua New Guinea government’s commitment to literature.
We all know that literature provides one of the essential ingredients that gives a nation its soul. The Papua New Guinea government, by its indifference, obviously prefers the nation to have no soul.
In searching for a way to quantify this appalling attitude you only need to look at the state of public libraries in the country.
When Australia departed Papua New Guinea in 1975, it left the new nation with a vibrant library system, including a national library in Port Moresby and libraries in all of the main towns and centres.
It also gifted the University of Papua New Guinea a large, well-stocked library. This gift was a measure of the Australian administration’s opinion about the importance of literature to the new nation.
Like many things in Papua New Guinea the library service has lofty ideals. The current functions of the Papua New Guinea library service, as directed by Cabinet are:
To maintain and develop a national collection of library materials, including a comprehensive collection of library materials relating to Papua New Guinea and its people;
To provide library services to Parliament and to Government departments, authorities and institutions;
To promote literacy, encourage reading and disseminate information and ideas by the establishment of public libraries, mobile library services and rural library services and by other means;
To advise on, coordinate and rationalise the resources and services of government libraries;
To make available such other services, in relation to library materials (including bibliographical services) which the National Library Service thinks fit and;
To cooperate in library matters with authorities or institutions concerned with library matters, whether in country or elsewhere.”
How these lofty ideals are realised is another matter. So too is finding any information related to them.
The best I could find was a National Library Service of Papua New Guinea Annual Report to the 22nd Conference of Directors of National Libraries in Asia and Oceania on 27 February 2014. It runs to all of three pages.
In that year the service had a budget of K1.3m or about AU$500,000. It had a staff ceiling of 23 and had holdings of 100,000 books. There were 7,292 visitors to Papua New Guinean libraries in that year and 2,760 people were members of a library. These figures are for the whole library system in Papua New Guinea.
I live in a moderate-sized coastal town. We have six well stocked local libraries. If there is a book that they don’t hold that I want to read, they order it from another library and it will turn up in about a week. They have a good collection of local histories and resources like maps and government reports.
They also provide free internet access and skilled people who can help those who have trouble with computers. My elderly neighbour rides her bike to our local library once a week to check her emails.
For vision impaired people there is a substantial stock of large-print books. For people who can’t read well there are audio books. National and local newspapers are there to read as well as many popular magazines.
These six local libraries service a population of about 200,000 people. Their budget is AU$2.7m, or K6m, and they are staffed by over 30 people, not counting volunteers. There are about 300,000 volumes and a membership of 39,000 people or about 40% of the population of our area. These are regular users and borrowers and do not include casual visitors.
Queensland spends about AU$41m on its libraries annually. In my home state of South Australia the figure is AU$56m. Overall, Australia spends about AU$337m on its libraries. We have a population of 24 million people.
On this basis, with a population of 7.3 million Papua New Guinea should be spending about AU$98m or K235m on its libraries, Let’s say half of that because it’s a developing country.
But it spends K1.3m.
Those figures give you an idea of how the Papua New Guinea government regards literature.
It is worse than pathetic.