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Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications
27/05/2011
Role and potential of the National Broadband Network

HUTLEY, Ms Sue, Executive Director, Australian Library and Information Association

LITTLE, Ms Vanessa Kaye, Director and Vice President, Libraries ACT; Member, Australian Library and Information Association

[10:05]

CHAIR: The point at which we finished with our previous section—on cyberbullying and online privacy and so forth—is probably a good segue into the next submission that we have received. I welcome representatives of the Australian Library and Information Association to today's hearing. Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I should advise you that the hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and therefore has the same standing as proceedings of the respective Houses. We have a written submission from you. Do you want to make some opening comments to that submission? We are keen to ask questions, so we will go to a question-and-answer session after that.

Ms Hutley : Yes, I will provide a brief opening statement. ALIA is the peak body representing the Australian library and information services sector. We represent 6,000 members. We also represent the interests of over 12 million public library users—around 50 per cent of the population. The Australian library and information services sector operates in the local, state, territory and federal government; school; TAFE; tertiary; research; health; and business sectors. We believe that, with its high usage of electronic information services and public access points, the library and information services sector is a major stakeholder in the national broadband strategy.

Community expectation for internet assistance continues to grow at an exponential rate. There is a demand for assistance from public library staff in using electronic services, not only for government information but also for everyday living skills, including e-banking, setting up mobile phone accounts, online shopping and setting up email accounts. A large part of this demand comes from people at low socioeconomic levels, the unemployed and the elderly. Government agencies are still sending people to their local public library for government information and to access social assistance forms and income tax forms, renew their licence and fill out driver testing forms.

I want to give three other points at which libraries are involved in cybersafety. It is Library and Information Week this week and we appreciate the work we do with ACMA. We have also been working with the Allannah and Madeleine Foundation on the prospect of advancing their e-smart schools projects into libraries. ALIA has also been working with FaHCSIA on the library initiative, which is getting digital playback players into public libraries. I also wanted to mention libraries' role in disaster recovery, most recently in North Queensland. The best example was where the library was one of the few buildings standing and people were coming in to access the internet but also just to charge their mobile phones. It was a great location where all of the community could come to access the internet and have a safe place.

We also should note that the National Library of Australia is the only federally funded public library and has Electronic Resources Australia. We are very pleased with the tabling of the school library inquiry report this week. One of the first recommendations of that was access to electronic resources for all Australian schoolchildren through Australian schools. We have provided an extensive list of recommendations and we also note some of the recent discussions at this hearing with regard to digital literacy skills. We would like to talk to you a bit more about initiatives for that in the library sector.

CHAIR: We might just go to that issue, if you like. Can we go to recommendation 12. You mention that you think the Australian government could develop national programs like the UK Race Online 2012, where libraries are utilised to encourage greater uptake of the National Broadband Network and programs for digital skills development are delivered through public libraries. Could you just describe for us what the UK Race Online 2012 was and what you think was of value that we could look at here?

Ms Hutley : Both the UK and Scottish programs looked at the fact that there were about 10 million people who still had never experienced the internet or got online. It is looking at places like public libraries and partnering with public libraries, companies and government agencies to work together on literally getting those people within our society to actually get a piece of equipment, potentially, or come to the library to access it; get trained in literally the basics of how to use a computer; and also to get an email account. I think one of the things that elderly people or perhaps disabled people do find quite difficult still is getting an email account and knowing how to use it. One example at the moment I think is Jetstar's check-in—you actually have to be quite digitally enabled now to travel. Race Online and other similar programs use the extensive network and skills of public libraries' infrastructure and staffing to really provide that encouragement on individual assistance and group training levels, and they provide a social place to do that. We are looking forward to working with the Australian government on a similar Australianised version and we hope that comes to fruition sooner rather than later. It is one thing to get the pipe to the house, but, if you are not encouraging people now to use it, the delay factor will just be exacerbated.

Mr NEVILLE: You paint a very interesting picture, but you are appearing before this committee which is looking at high-speed fibre broadband. What do you see as the possibilities for library services with the high-speed broadband? What is the next level of service that you will be delivering with that?

Ms Little : Perhaps that would be twofold. First of all, as Sue has mentioned, the National Library of Australia and all of our other major cultural institutions around the country—obviously, our museum colleagues as well—hold a great deal of what we would call Australiana, which are important documents and items that only very few people can access. The ability for us to build and sustain a national identity is reduced because all of these things are generally locked away in places that you cannot access. A mass digitisation project on behalf of those cultural institutions would be a very important thing for access. I am not sure whether you are aware that there is a competition going on this month hosted by the National and State Libraries Australasia called Libraryhack. We have asked generally I think young people to take images and information from all of our services and all of the stuff that we have been able to digitise so far and create new content. We believe it is very important not only for the historical record of the country and for building national identity but also for creating new content. We should be able to do digitisation in a much bigger and more effective way than we are able to do at the moment.

I wear two hats—I am a member of the National and State Libraries Australasia but I am also in charge of the public library here in Canberra. The public library, as you would have seen from our submission, is a very important place for people to come and access services. As these services become richer in terms of the offering, we are absolutely going to need to be able to access that broadband to be able to deliver those services. My staff spend much of their time—

Mr NEVILLE: Who will drive this digitising of documents and rare books and so on? Are you getting grants to do that sort of work?

Ms Little : No—that is the problem at the moment.

Mr NEVILLE: That is the linchpin. Should that be one of our recommendations?

Ms Little : Absolutely. We are not only wanting to digitise that historical record so that it is much better available but we are also trying to capture what we call the 'born digital'—the stuff that is coming out today that never, ever, hits a piece of paper and has only ever been produced digitally. We are losing a lot of that. We are losing a lot of the historical record for the reason that we do not have enough funds to be able to capture that. The National Library has a fabulous project called Pandora and they do try as hard as they can to capture everything. But it is not all of it. And that certainly needs a lot more resourcing.

Mr NEVILLE: You are the major Canberra library, are you?

Ms Little : Not the National Library; I am Libraries ACT.

Mr NEVILLE: Yes, ACT—that was what I was referring to. I suppose you have the major libraries in capital cities as well that would have services additional to the run-of-the-mill libraries. But is it implicit in what you are saying that libraries will have their own—

CHAIR: Online version?

Mr NEVILLE: Yes—their own storage of data? Each library will have—

Ms Little : Do you mean a digital repository?

Mr NEVILLE: Yes.

Ms Little : We share one. We work collaboratively with the National Library of Australia. They have a project called Trove. If you ever want to find anything Australiana, you go to Trove.

Mr NEVILLE: Can most libraries be accessed by their members or communities, allowing those people to access what is available at the library?

Ms Little : Yes. Most libraries in Australia would have a website and an online catalogue. It is a very popular service here in Canberra. In some of my libraries, almost 50 per cent of the loans come from people who order online.

Mr NEVILLE: You would still have to physically attend the library to access—

Ms Little : Not if you borrow e-books. We run an extensive e-book program as well. If you are a library member here in Canberra, you can type in your—

Mr NEVILLE: Can you transfer things to Kindles, can you?

Ms Little : Yes—Kindles and laptops. It is very new.

Mr NEVILLE: What do you charge? Do you charge people?

Ms Little : No.

Mr NEVILLE: In other words, people can come to you and take a Kindle version of a book at no charge?

Ms Little : That is right. It is just like borrowing a book. After a certain period of time, it self-destructs.

CHAIR: Not the implement but the book?

Ms Little : Yes, the book. So it is not like you are getting to keep it forever.

Mrs PRENTICE: It would not be good if you had not read the last page.

Ms Little : Exactly.

Mr NEVILLE: You would have to get the book out again, so to speak.

Ms Little : That is right.

Mr NEVILLE: I am interested to know where you see the pluses in the high-speed. What capacities will the high-speed give you to deliver services?

Ms Little : Some of our services are around reading materials and reading books. One of our really important roles is giving community access to information and services that are provided by government or the private sector or whatever. Where we are seeing a really important role—and I guess I declare an interest in that I have Gungahlin library in my portfolio and that is an NBN area—is in providing that access to services much better. So, if the NBN is brought into my library at Gungahlin, the people who cannot afford to have the broadband to their home at the moment or who do not understand it and are quite nervous about it can come into my library and receive and access and training on how to use it. If you are looking to build community engagement and use of this technology into the future, we are the place where people come now, so, with better access to the broadband services, we will be able to be, if you like, promoting it and its various uses. It starts at a very simple and very sweet level: we have a cohort of grandmothers now who have discovered Skype. They come in and borrow picture books and Skype story time to their grandchildren overseas. So you get from that end right up to the other—

CHAIR: I just do not recommend that you try doing it in Parliament House. You cannot Skype here. I just had to get another dig in about it.

Ms Little : The ACT government does not let its employees do it either. But we have a public network. Can I just say also that we do not actually filter, so you can actually get a broad range of services from our public libraries generally. We have set up in the new Gungahlin library really funky-looking sound domes that are connected to the internet. We started out thinking: 'We will do this for these grandmas, because they like to Skype. Under the sound dome, they can talk away but nobody around them can hear.' But, if you take that out to the last speakers and think about young people wanting to talk to a health professional about their mental health issues, they can be sitting in my library at Gungahlin accessing that totally unknown. Nobody knows what they are doing. They are in a sound dome. They have the visual, but they are not talking to their GP.

Mr NEVILLE: What sort of speed do you need for that?

Ms Little : Now you are asking a technical question. I might pass over to—

Mr NEVILLE: I am not trying to be tricky with this question. We are talking about people having services now of about three, four, five or six and we are talking about wireless going up to 12 and perhaps in time to 20. But what sorts of speeds do libraries need?

CHAIR: Do you want to take that on notice and come back to us?

Ms Little : Yes.

Ms Hutley : In terms of what we need, I think the response is also that we need whatever can be delivered in the best way.

CHAIR: You will take what you can get.

Ms Hutley : And we are happy to provide you with a particular speed. But I think we have some other bigger issues in terms of access just more generally to propose initially. We have also indicated in our submission that we are concerned about populations under 1,000, so we have requested a dedicated NBN link of a minimum of 100 megabits to small communities. Our members really did feel that that was going to be an issue for public libraries, as they see rural communities especially, so that gives an indication of speed.

Mrs PRENTICE: You are asking for fibre to the node to the libraries?

Ms Hutley : At least, yes.

Mr NEVILLE: Do you envisage that coming from the home or the workplace to the library or do you envisage that in each community, say, at the council or the community centre, there would be a dedicated room or facility that was linked to the library? Which way do you see that being delivered?

Ms Hutley : First of all, I would like to note that we have also asked that libraries always be in the NBN footprint because at this point they have not been. To actually get the pipe to the library location is one point to note. Then libraries already can provide a room, if you like, or a space that can be designed and developed with funding to completely service the range of e-health, education and other social interactions that fast-speed broadband will deliver. And the great thing is that they are already buildings that have disabled access, they are open later at night in some cases if the council can fund opening hours, and it is a community space.

Mr NEVILLE: So that would have a couple of computers and one or two of these domes and that sort of thing, and perhaps a room where you could do conferencing?

Ms Hutley : That is what we would like to see more of.

Mr NEVILLE: We have been told that initially in the rollout of the fibre—and I do not want to stray, Madam Chair, too much into the rollout; it is not the role of this particular committee—some small communities are going to be bypassed initially. The fibre may go through a smaller town but not be connected to the town. The model that you propose would run contrary to that. You are saying that, in terms of library delivery, for that delivery to be ubiquitous, you are going to have to get into those small towns with facilities such as what you described. Do we need to make a recommendation that, as we roll out the fibre, there at least needs to be a high-speed connection to the council or to the community centre of each town, if not to the whole town?

Ms Little : We would be very strongly recommending that, in small towns, if there were only one connection, that connection would be the public library because everybody in the community, from schoolchildren to seniors, uses their public library.

CHAIR: Have you done an analysis of how many towns under 1,000 actually have a library?

Ms Hutley : We can provide that to you.

CHAIR: That would be useful to us in thinking about the deputy chair's point, I think.

Mr SYMON: What is the connectivity at the moment between your 1,500 public libraries? Are they connected at all? Is there a sharing of digital information between them?

Ms Hutley : ALIA has conducted a number of surveys. We are just about to conduct one in 2011 and we are looking forward to providing you with that information. In terms of the range of speeds, we are also happy to provide you with that exact information as best we can.

CHAIR: What is your time frame on that?

Ms Hutley : We can probably provide that within 10 working days. However, the surveys indicate that whether the council has a particular speed and how that council IT infrastructure is set up does have quite an impact on the library. So I guess the answer is that there is a wide range. Obviously, each public library has different internet demands depending on its particular clientele. In those inner-city suburbs with potentially a lot of multicultural communities that are wanting to Skype relatives and that are high-end internet users, there is going to be a lot of demand. The surveys have always indicated that there is just a huge demand for the time. You get your one-hour timeslot in your public library. We need to deliver millions more one-hour timeslots for our communities.

Mr SYMON: If a library, for point of argument, in Perth has a digitised version of, let us say, an historical book and your library does not, is there a connection between them at the moment so that it is a nationally shared system?

Ms Little : Yes. Anything like that is of historical significance like that that is digitised is accessible through the National Library's Trove system. If you have a chance, do go on, because it is fantastic. It is a single portal and a single search engine through all of the major institutions in Australia—all of the state and territory libraries.

Mr SYMON: If your library did that with a non-historical book—just with something that you had got off the shelf and you had managed to scan the file et cetera—is that then shared across the system with other libraries outside of the territory?

Ms Little : Of course, we would not do that if the book were in copyright. At the moment we only digitise things that are of historical and community significance. We do not scan anything off the shelves. Certainly, there would be a lot of copyright issues.

Mr SYMON: I suppose my question is really the delivery from one side to another. You have spoken about the central Trove archive, but in terms of digital information going along from where we are now, when people not too far from this day will say, 'I would like to borrow this book from home and not leave my lounge room', where do they go to get that?

Ms Little : At the moment in Canberra, if it is a novel that you want to read or a biography or something, you come onto my website and with your borrower card and you type in your borrower card number and your PIN and you can download it onto your computer or Kindle or something. There is a significant growth in and demand for those services in places like Canberra because of the nature of some of the community. To follow on from what Sue was saying about the multicultural communities, one of the things we struggle with greatly in public libraries is that we get a lot of demand, obviously, from people from other countries wanting to be able to read in their own language as well as in English. All of the studies show that, as people get older, they revert back to their own language rather than English, even though they have been good English speakers throughout most of their lives. We can never, ever, keep up with the demand. My previous job was in Hume in Victoria. We had 150 different nationalities in that one municipality. The opportunities for online access to reading material in different languages are unbelievable. There is a terrific website, which is again a collaboration between the National and State Libraries Australasia, which is called MyLanguage and which helps people find information that they need in their language. But the opportunities for us to be able to deliver reading, reference and research materials to people in their own languages via the technologies is unbridled, really. It is very hard in a jurisdiction here of Canberra with 350,000 people—how can I afford to have a full collection in Chinese and a full collection in Hindi and a full collection in something else?

CHAIR: Let alone a current collection.

Ms Little : Correct. As you might know, when we opened the new Gungahlin library last Saturday we had 500 Hindi DVDs on the shelves. By the end of the day we had none. That shows the pent-up demand.

Mrs PRENTICE: The other angle I think Mike was heading to was that people can go to you and get a book and you have it in the digital repository, but hopefully not every library is doing that. This Trove thing is one central point for all those books?

Ms Little : Trove is for historical material which the particular library 'owns' and can reproduce and do those sorts of things. If you are talking about the latest Wilbur Smith or the biography of a cricketer or something, they are commercially owned titles, so we cannot share them across jurisdictions. We have a licence to use them. We certainly are talking—it is very early days—about coming together and trying to buy single licences across multiple jurisdictions. That is where we are heading. But at the moment it is such a new area that—some of us, as in the ACT, have been early adopters and others, for financial and other reasons, are not so early.

Mrs PRENTICE: Storage spaces, for one.

Ms Little : We do not store it; we go straight through our website to the website of the supplier and download it. We just buy the licence to use.

Mr NEVILLE: That is centrally held somewhere else and you access it?

Ms Little : Yes. There is a service that we buy out of the US and there is a new service out of Australia that we have just contracted with here in Canberra, which is a terrific little Australian publisher that is now moving into this area.

Mrs PRENTICE: Do you have to be a resident of Canberra to use this?

Ms Little : Yes, you do.

Ms Hutley : Always one of our continuing points is that we believe that it should not matter where you live in Australia; you should have access to the same resources Australia wide. That is where the National Library and Electronic Resources Australia come in. We do not want to see you not having access to something just because you live in a particular place or have a particular socioeconomic level. The provision of funding to ERA will completely wipe out that issue, especially for accessing material for the Australian school curriculum. Accessing quality text, data and research material is where ERA comes in. To provide not only schools but also the Australian public with that information the figure is $20 million to provide access to everyone equally all the time.

Ms Little : I can support that. In the last 12 months just people in Canberra have downloaded 200,000 pages from those databases for research and educational purposes.

Mrs PRENTICE: This is not a question, just an advertisement that the National Archives is doing a great job in digitising historical records. We are leading the world.

CHAIR: Yes. My father types in ship manifests, I think, from home—a task that retirees are doing—and gets great pleasure out of doing it.

Mr STEPHEN JONES: You have provided the committee members with an additional flyer or so. In one of the documents, headed 'Where's the strategy', you make some points about the need for the government to be doing more to encourage the take-up of a ubiquitous broadband service. Do you want to make some comments about what you mean by that?

Ms Hutley : The National Broadband Network will be nothing without take-up—and take-up where you can have digital literacy skills to find the right website at the right time, to not just use Facebook, to access quality Australian full-text material at a fast speed and be able to use it to improve your life. To do that we have got to convince millions more Australians to get a piece of equipment and learn how to use it. But we also know that people will not be able to afford this. Australian libraries will need a lot more places and facilities and services for people to access it. Also there will come a day for even the most wealthy people when their piece of equipment breaks down or they lose it, and the public library and other community locations are where they will pop in and reconnect.

Mr FLETCHER: Thank you for your very interesting submission. I just want to make sure I understand correctly. I think what you are putting to us is that a priority for connectivity would be all of the physical libraries around Australia.

Ms Hutley : Yes.

Mr FLETCHER: Is it fair to say that you argue that to maximise the effectiveness and accessibility of a broadband policy strategy it makes sense to focus on particular types of institutions to connect to as a priority, and that libraries would be one of those types of institutions?

Ms Hutley : Very much so.

Mr FLETCHER: The other thing I am interested in is the cost implications for libraries of the increasing importance of digital services. Can you provide us, presumably on notice, with some indications of the kinds of costs that libraries are incurring in paying for connectivity?

Ms Hutley : Yes, I can provide that. We did a number of costings for the Department of the Prime and Cabinet last year. We estimated that around $8 million per annum would provide internet access to every Australian public library.

Mr FLETCHER: That is to cover the ongoing cost of connectivity?

Ms Hutley : Yes. That is the connectivity to the library.

Mr FLETCHER: Have you done any estimates of the cost of connecting every library?

Ms Hutley : I would say that they are connected already in some very basic form.

Mr FLETCHER: Of the libraries in Australia, how many are connected to fibre? Is that known?

Ms Hutley : That one I could provide to you on notice. I can tell you that there are still libraries with dial-up.

CHAIR: Are you easily able to access percentages for who is on fibre, who is on ADSL and who is on dial-up?

Ms Hutley : The survey that ALIA will conduct shortly will go a long way towards answering that.

CHAIR: I am just conscious that our closing date for information is about a week and a half away because we have to start writing the report.

Ms Hutley : We can provide it by then.

CHAIR: Just what you have currently would be a help.

Ms Hutley : And also local government will be able to assist us in that.

Mr FLETCHER: A report by the Commonwealth department of education recently showed that over 60 per cent of schools have fibre connectivity but a great many of them are using much less than the potential bandwidth that would theoretically be available, because of cost constraints. I would be interested in whether there is any evidence, either anecdotal or statistical, of librarians saying, 'We are constrained by the amount we have to pay for connectivity' as opposed to the physical link.

Ms Hutley : We can definitely provide that feedback, yes.

CHAIR: It is appreciated. I am sorry to impose a time frame on you. Another area of research that strikes me as being very difficult is our film based historical information. I am thinking, for example, of WIN TV news items in my local area that have gone for decades. If you ever wanted to research that, it would be very difficult because they are not labelled in a way that allows you—unless you had the time or you knew the day or whatever. I am wondering whether there is a particular project—and I am assuming that you might have connections—that a film and television library or something like that might have. I am picturing retired people sitting at home entering ship manifests. Why could they not be watching some of our archival film material and identifying what it is so that people could access that, which they will be able to do with good-quality broadband?

Ms Hutley : Yes. The Digital Deluge proposal to government included the NFSA. The NSFA is working with all of the film components of that archive. Also Trove has recently subsumed a lot of the NFSA material. Now when you go to Trove it searches NFSA. That is one of the reasons why the Digital Deluge proposal included archives, libraries and NFSA.

CHAIR: That is great. Thank you very much. As always, both your submission and your presentation were very useful. You will be sent a copy of the transcript of your evidence, to which you can make corrections to grammar and fact. The transcript will also guide you on any additional information that you undertook to provide. It would be appreciated if you could forward additional information to the secretary as soon as possible, as we are commencing the process of formulating our report—as best you can; we understand the tight time frame. Thank you very much for your written submission and presenting before us today. We will take a short break.

Proceedings suspended from 10:41 to 10:53