Report from Austria by Nikolaus Hamann:
In Vienna, where I work, we have now 39 branches of the Vienna Public Libraries (including the Main Library), which is more than 30% less than we had in the 1990ies, with 1.6 millions of media for 1.8 million inhabitants.In Vienna also the rooms are much too small, so our management had the magnificant idea reducing the collections instead of looking for better rooms.
It is clear that Public Libraries in Austria don’t have much support among the people, as only 10% of the inhabitants are interested in their offers.
A glimpse on Public libraries, in Austria called Öffentliche Büchereien or Öffentliche Bibliotheken:
When I use the term Public Librairies, one must not think about Public Libraries as they are known in countries like Great Britain. Denmark, the Netherlands or Finland. In those countries Public Libraries offer a wide range of knowledge and information, have opening times of 40 hours a week ore even more and are frequented by 40 to 80% of the inhabitants. Öffentliche Büchereien in Austria (except in the large cities as Vienna, Salzburg or Linz) exist under rather bad circumstances. As – in opposite to the most European countries – there is no library law in Austria, Public Libraries are a free offer by their supporters. In Denmark for example the communities are obliged to run a Public Library, not so in Austria. And there are of course no compulsory standards which have to be fulfilled.
Outside of the larger cities there would be no libraries at all, if there was not voluntary work. There are 2.357 communities in Austria, nearly 1.400 of them have no library at all. From the 1.479 existing Public Libraries only 40% are run by communities, a bit more than 17% by parishes, and 30,5% are supported by cooperations of – for example – a community and a parish.
Public libraries in Austria
In these nearly 1.500 Public Libraries work 8.575 librarians. Only 10% of them are paid for their work, 560 do library work in addition to their main profession, and more than 80% do it voluntarily or get a small reimbursement of expences.
Public libraries in Austria
Under these circumstances it is not astonishing, that the large majority of rural libraries are very small (nearly 50% are smaller than 50m2), have only few opening hours on 2 or 3 days a week and rather small collections.
Nevertheless there is good labour done in the libraries. Although not getting paid and doing their library work in the leisure time, many of the library volunteers have a qualification as librarians and take part in further education trainings. They cooperate with kindergartens and schools in reading activities, bring into operation intercultural understanding and organize evening events.
If one looks on the conditions Public Libraries work in, it is not astonishing that only 10% of Austrians visit a Public Library at least once a year, although libraries do their best in making public relations, for example organizing a reading festival (“Österreich liest. Treffpunkt Bibliothek”) every year.
To close up with the best Public Library systems in Europe, Austrian Public Libraries dearly need al library law laying down the duty of communities to run a library, and establishing good standards concerning size, collections, opening hours, qualification of staff and rate of replacement of media. They would also need more paid full-time jobs in order to comply with these standards, and they need considerable budgets to be able to fulfil the wishes of the – as we all hope – growing number of users and to guarantee the people a sufficient sustenance of information and knowledge.
The Austrian Public Libraries show, that if an important part of social life is based on voluntary work only, proper supply of the users and good development of the institutions are not guaranteed.
(one of three coordinating persons with KRIBIBI / Arbeitskreis kritischer Bibliothekarinnen und Bibliothekare in Österreich)