Return yourself to the Library

Jane Cowell, Chief Executive Officer from Yarra Plenty Regional Library discusses how to be both global and local, and the need to ‘return yourself to the library’ and the library to the community.

What makes a Public Library a public library? For me the answer is simple. It is people. People using the library as spaces to study, read, work, connect with each other and learn. Library people staffing the library to deliver storytimes, tech help, events, engage visitors with our collections, with authors, with trusted information and with local stories all the while connecting people to each other.

Here at Yarra Plenty Regional Library (YPRL), our new four-year Library Plan1 has been developed to focus on the road to recovery from the impacts of the pandemic on our communities. Our community focus will be on Knowledge and Learning, Wellness and Connection and our organisation focus will be on investing in our staff and the way we work. These have been identified with our three member Councils who fund our regional library service as priority needs. For YPRL the Library Plan has been designed to make sure our service meets community needs to encourage people back into the library as we have what they need when they need it.

Yarra Plenty Regional Library 2021 – 2025 Library Plan on a page - #ThisLibraryCan


From the plan we have developed our Programming Framework comprising 10 streams as our community has told us they want to enjoy safe events, want them to be free and need support in some areas of their lives to recover. The framework is to guide our library staff on what events and types of community partners to approach to ensure our efforts make a difference and meet community needs at the local level.

YPRL programming framework – 10 Streams

Early-years-literacy Supporting children’s early years, with a focus on literacy development
Family fun Fun, free, accessible activities for the whole family, and for kids after school
Growing healthy lives Focusing on health, sustainability, environment, and gardening programs, including food production and security
Learning technology Activities to challenge and empower everyone in the areas of STEM
Life Skills Activities that focus on financial literacy, life skills, job readiness and back to work programs, lifestyle, mental health and wellbeing
Local-and-Family history Research skills for new and established historians and genealogists, with speakers, walks, and more
Local Writers Activities for authors and writers, including writing groups, writing for wellbeing, collection, Booklovers, and events that get everybody writing
Small Business Support Programs and networking opportunities to strengthen and support local small businesses, startups and entrepreneurs
Creating Connections Encouraging the community to come together and form connections, over a chat or activity. Programs that let our communities celebrate and share their culture with the wider community
Creative minds Programs that power creativity. Craft, all things literary, author talks, book clubs, Maker Space events

Meanwhile, here in Victoria, Australia we are emerging from the longest lockdown in the world. Our communities remain anxious and after 6 significant lockdowns2 over the last 20 months our communities are feeling socially disconnected, worried about their children, their futures, with some having experienced significant losses of income through job losses, or business closures due to the pandemic and ongoing restrictions. Around the world public libraries are finding our communities slow to return to public spaces such as libraries. In a recent library survey, our community told us they were:

  • Concerned about COVID (either hygiene, or health issues)
  • Many were happy using eResources
  • Were out of the routine of visiting a library
  • No longer had the same need to borrow items
  • Had issues with distance to the library
  • Were more likely to now access information through their own technology

So at Yarra Plenty Regional Library we are responding to this by working with other Public Library services across Victoria on the Return Yourself to the Library campaign. This campaign is designed to address the reticence by some library users to return to the library, as pandemic restrictions are eased across Victoria. A range of 20 second long videos will follow a stick person exploring all the services on offer at public libraries.These storybeats explore:

  • Beautiful study or work spaces available
  • Tech Help and Access to digital tools
  • Focus on inclusive and safe library spaces
  • Digital services
  • Storytime and Events
  • Get that good book
  • Get social with each other in safe spaces
Return yourself to the library

Why a stick figure? They are gender neutral and appeal to everyone. Colors were chosen to blend with the Public Library Victoria’s previous very successful Library Change Lives campaign.3

The marketing collateral will be disseminated throughout our communities in shopping malls, community organisations, partner organisations and through local government eNewsletters and digitally through our social media channels and those of our partner organisations.

And all this is designed to help our libraries be filled with people, rejuvenating our spaces and their own lives through their interaction with the library in whatever form they need.

Yes, Libraries Change Lives but without our library members returning to enrich our library spaces, and our programs our services will not continue to be funded. Libraries will struggle to argue that we are relevant and essential at the local level without the stories of people’s lives being changed and the statistics to prove we are used and useful.


Author BIO

Jane Cowell, Chief Executive Officer
Yarra Plenty Regional Library

Jane Cowell is the CEO of the Yarra Plenty Regional Library which recently featured in The Guardian article about her library service reaching out to families without the internet in Victoria with home wifi. Known as an innovator in the library world Jane worked for 8 years at the State Library of Queensland as both the Director of Engagement and the Director of Regional Access & Public libraries. Key projects during this appointment were the development of the First 5 Forever program which attracted $20 million investment for early literacy in libraries over 4 years, employing a Creative In Residence, Dr Matt Finch, to drive new thinking and the creation of the Impact of Creative Spaces toolkit for libraries to measure their impact. Jane is currently serving on the International Federation of Library Associations Public Library Section committee and has previously held a director position on the Australian Library Information Association Board. Jane is passionate about public libraries as creative community spaces and their role in connecting communities with technology trends and sees many opportunities for libraries presented by the rapidly changing digital, social and economic environment. Jane’s blog on Medium discusses Library issues and library innovations and she is known for her Twitter library presence.



1 Yarra Plenty Regional Library, Library Plan 2021-2025

2 Melbourne passes Buenos Aires' world record for time spent in COVID-19 lockdown by Judd Boaz, 3 October 2021 ABC News

3 Libraries Change Lives Campaign

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