reading matters, so let's make public library reader services awesome!
When’s the next time that Australian public libraries will get this quality and reach of promotion about reading (or anything)?
This was a difficult week in Australia with #bustthebudget trending because there was so much anger and disbelief about so many national budget decisions. With unwelcome news for pensioners and people with disabilities, university students and people needing a doctor, there is a lot of understandable community upset. Ironically, just as the Queensland Premier’s axing of the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards (and here) in the early days of Australia’s National Year of Reading stunned the arts field after he had been named as an ambassador of NYR12, this week just two years after the much anticipated but quickly fleeting National Year of Reading, the federal government cut the most well organised, popular, multi-platformed promotion of reading in this country. The Guardian reported that ‘the government didn’t follow the lead of the Queensland premier and cut the major literary awards; instead it cut the Get Reading! program.’
Goodbye Get Reading! Goodbye awesome (and real) ambassadors of reading who built that program up to be truly national and all about reading.
Cessation of the Get Reading! program was documented in Budget Paper no. 2 –
The Government will achieve savings of $6.4 million over four years by ceasing the Get Reading! Programme which duplicates activity in the media and publishing sector. The programme will cease from 1 July 2014. The savings from this measure will be redirected by the Government to repair the Budget and fund policy priorities.
I am not alone in having no idea what activities Get Reading! duplicated since it was the standout program, and can only confess to feeling confused and duped with the fact that the government’s responsibility towards its citizens’ literacy development can so easily be cut. Certainly the strong history of a program like Get Reading! was a rare gem for Australian public libraries and booksellers alike – it had the strength of a national campaign and the advantage of being well-known outside the library profession. As a librarian with an interest in contextual readers advisory (and the belief that one book will not suit everyone), I have started to veer away from literary awards results which result in one much publicised book, and am moving toward championing those awards’ shortlists. I am concerned that my support of Love2Read’s Our Story program in 2011-12 was pointless if it took away from Get Reading! which was already promoting Australian fiction with something for everyone. I valued the opportunity to be part of the Queensland team reading from the longlist to create a shortlist, but the program needed longevity to succeed and sadly National Year of Reading was just a year. I have long felt that Love2Read and Get Reading! should have merged, and such a move matched one of the NYR12 strategies: A joined up approach, linking all the government agencies, organisations and programs engaged in reading and literacy. Earlier in the year at VALA, delegates were discussing the legacy of NYR12 with ALIA and the idea was raised to have an annual reading month or something to extend the legacy of NYR12. Well, we had it. And now we don’t.
Ironically, another strategy from the ABS feature article was Good government policy and practice. The NYR will give all three levels of government – local, state/territory and federal – the opportunity to showcase best practice from family literacy initiatives through to reading therapy for people in aged care facilities. This campaign provides the opportunity to create a new level of cross-government, cross-council involvement in literacy, which it is hoped will continue far beyond the end of 2012.
And from Love2Read’s strategy post-NYR12 : that libraries, centres and supporters are building a unified national literacy network working together toward the shared goal of Australia becoming a nation of readers.
In 2012 Australia’s literacy was a funding priority. You can’t achieve much in that area in a year, and with a change in government.
I saw in Love2Read the foundations for Australia’s tilt at a lasting legacy of reading. I still cling to this hope. I look at the UK’s The Reader Organisation, The Reading Agency and The Scottish Book Trust and Canada’s national reading campaign and see the potential. I’ve seen a few comments on twitter about the GR! cut and a budget overview from ALIA. Today, the Meanjin site includes an Open Letter on the Future of Arts Funding. You’re invited to sign.
A major national program that celebrated reading, promoted Australian authors and their works, and was public library friendly has been cut in the budget. Who cares? What can we do about it?