Australia’s cultural institutions will play an important role in the nation’s COVID-19 recovery as states and territories set about easing more restrictions in June.
Public libraries, museums and galleries have been shuttered since March after they were deemed non-essential during the coronavirus pandemic. Some states have moved to reopen them and others are set to follow.
Libraries will provide support for people affected by job losses helping them upskill to help get them back into work post-pandemic.
“We have people coming through to do short courses and informal training, particularly around technology, which helps them get back into the workforce if they’ve been away for a period of unemployment,” Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) CEO Sue McKerracher told AAP.
Small businesses and entrepreneurs could also benefit from library resources, Ms McKerracher said.
“You can access marketing databases and small business support resources. We’re very much about helping the economy as well as helping society.”
While libraries can help people and businesses get back on their feet, museums and galleries are focused on the nation’s cultural healing.
“It’s not just building a bridge or a gas pipeline, it’s actually understanding people, giving them spaces to talk about themselves and their experiences,” the Australian Museums and Galleries Association’s national director Alex Marsden told AAP.
“A new national identity that’s forged around this experience as well as others.”
The sector has been supporting “badly hit” artists amid the crisis, despite also floundering.
“While (museums and galleries) had to cancel or postpone exhibitions, they’ve been commissioning other work from artists,” Ms Marsden said.
She warned a lack of government support will lead to many artists being forced out of their profession.
“Lots of people who work in galleries and museums aren’t eligible for support schemes. The government knows this, everyone’s been saying this, and yet, they still refuse to support us.”
However the pandemic has led many institutions to embrace innovative means to maintain their services.
Libraries offered e-books and downloadable films, moved activities like children’s story time online and provided ancestry services remotely. Joining a library online is now more accessible than ever.
Museums and galleries took the opportunity to digitise their collections and held virtual tours and digital excursions.
And it seems absence does make the heart grow fonder, with a survey by ALIA finding 87 per cent of library users miss being able to borrow books while 40 per cent have been yearning for the return of social interaction.
“It’s the place you can go where you can connect with other people, whether you’re somebody with a young family or whether you’re senior,” Ms McKerracher said.
THE STATE OF PLAY FOR PUBLIC LIBRARIES, MUSEUMS AND GALLERIES:
* NSW – Public libraries, museums and galleries reopen from June 1.
* Victoria – Public libraries, museums and galleries reopen from June 1.
* Queensland – Public libraries reopened on May 15. Museums and galleries will reopen from June 12.
* Western Australia – Public libraries reopened from May 18. Museums and galleries set to reopen in phase three with dates yet to be finalised.
* South Australia – Public libraries reopened on May 11. Museums and galleries set to reopen from June 1.
* Tasmania – Public libraries reopened on May 18 for click and collect services, but remain closed for general browsing and visiting. Museums and galleries to reopen on June 15.
* ACT – Public libraries reopened on May 18. Museums and galleries reopen from June 1.
* Northern Territory – Museums and galleries reopened on May 15. Public libraries reopened on May 21.