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Costing the South African Public Library and Information Services Bill

Authors: Conrad Barberton, Jonathan Carter and Carmen Abdoll
Date: 2013-08-30

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In 2012, the national Department of Arts and Culture drafted the South African Public Library and Information Services Bill, 2012, which aims to ensure that a prescribed level of library services is provided to the public. According to the Constitution, this function falls within the mandate of the provincial governments, and this report investigates the funding levels required to meet a prescribed set of minimum norms and standards for delivery of public library and information services.

The aim of this paper is to cost the financial implications of the South African Public Library and Information Services Bill, 2012 across the three spheres of government. The Bill aims to ensure that service delivery is of a consistent standard nationally, to ensure redress of inequalities in the provision of services, and to specify a set of minimum norms and standards. The report looks into the impact of the legislation from an implementation and planning perspective. Given that it is a Schedule 5A function, a provincial function, the ultimate aim of the Bill is to create a framework for implementation, to ensure adequate provision and articulation of the various aspects of the function.

Library services are legally the responsibility of provincial governments, but initial findings showed that municipalities, with de facto control, were being required to take primary responsibility for these services without the required institutional and financial support. This indicates an urgent need to formalise arrangements between provinces and municipalities, and four potential approaches are outlined.

There is a need for provincial and local government to engage constructively in the delivery of library services, and for provincial governments to ensure that support is provided to those municipalities with inadequate capacity or other priorities. Essentially, there is a need to take a differentiated and focused approach to funding where funds are provided to local governments for this specific function.

Spending on public libraries is reviewed for the period 2005 through 2011. An analysis of the provincial expenditure on public libraries – which includes the Community Library Services Conditional Grant – concludes that, since this critical function is funded primarily through the Equitable Share and is thus at the discretion of the provinces, funding norms need to be prescribed at the National Level. This is largely because it is shown that the provincial allocations for library services in six of the nine provinces had been decreasing since the implementation of the Community Library Services Conditional Grant. This is an act of wilful non-compliance of a key condition of the grant, which requires that the provincial equitable share contributions remain above the 2007/08 baseline. The provinces are therefore under-funding a function that is critical for the public to access information and opportunity.

The total spend by government on library services in 2011/12 was R2.3 billion, which is broken down by sphere. Although the overall growth rate of expenditure remains at around 10 per cent, the analysis found significant differences between provinces. In Mpumalanga, the analysis found a concerning overall decline in expenditure. The North West, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal and Northern Cape demonstrated extremely low rates of expenditure growth, in most cases substantially less than inflation. At the same time, when considering the expenditures as a percentage of overall government expenditure (within the province) on these services, one finds that some interesting figures emerge. For example, at the local level, the Western Cape contributes 77 of the funding, and Gauteng 84 per cent. Thus, on aggregate, provinces contribute just 18 per cent of the total government spend on the libraries function, with the burden of expenditure falling on local governments, which receive very little institutional or material support.

In order to cost the function, norms and standards needed to be specified. To achieve this, the different types of library needed to be identified. These include:

  • a simple wagon-based library, known as community book units, which hold up to 2 500 books and are used to serve areas with the lowest population densities.
  • Container libraries are cost-effective for testing the demand for library services, as they serve as temporary means of service provision.
  • There are basic public libraries, branch public libraries, central public libraries, regional public libraries and mega public libraries, which cover a range from basic purpose built libraries to major libraries in urban centres.

The types of libraries are also specified by the numbers of people served. Classifying the modes of service provision in this way allows for an understanding of unit costs, which enables a costing of the national provision of services.

The need for a standardised but differentiated institutional framework requires an understanding of the norms and standards. These norms and standards, according to the Bill, should consider issues of accessibility, redress, the promotion of mother-tongue languages, aspects pertaining to physical infrastructure, a specification of the types of materials and information services provided, and a provision for technical services, including a classification and cataloguing system.

The costing model uses a four-step filtering process, based on population size and density, in order to assess the positioning of libraries and allocation of services. An overall need for 4 170 libraries is identified, with only 1 408 libraries in existence. There is thus a backlog of 2 762 libraries, with atotal capital cost of R16 220 117 to implement. The report presents a 5-year roll out plan for libraries infrastructure based on these unitary costs, and develops a strategy for a workable implementation to scale-up nationally. Implementing the plan would require the participation of all three spheres of government.

Given the proposed implementation plan, the question exists of whether or not the funding levels are realistic and achievable. The following table compares the total annual operating cost of the libraries function as estimated by the Library Costing Model to the total annual budget of each province for 2013/14.

Table E8: Total operating cost of Bill versus 2013/14 total provincial budgets

This table indicates that, were all 4 170 libraries proposed by the costing in place, provinces would need to allocate about one per cent of their 2013/14 budget to managing and operating the libraries function. It is submitted that all provinces are capable of achieving these levels of funding.

The implementation plan could enable government to affordably add substantial value to service provision around information and library services. This benefits literacy directly, since the plan includes adult and child literacy programmes as well the promotion of indigenous languages, job seekers, and community development on a broader level.