Letterbox Library Serves Australia's Outback

Book deliveries provide an important connection for residents of remote areas.

Feb 2, 2024


Letterbox Library Serves Australia's Outback | Book deliveries provide an important connection for residents of remote areas.

When you live in remote Western New South Wales, it isn’t easy to get to places that provide services, like libraries. But the Outback Letterbox Library in Broken Hill delivers books directly to the people who live in these isolated communities, according to the Broken Hill City Council website. The library covers a 238,000 square kilometer area. The Outback Letterbox Library has been operating for 47 years.

Special delivery service
All of the members of the Outback Letterbox Library, which is funded by the Library Council of NSW, have full membership in the Broken Hill city library. They are entitled to receive books and other items available at the delivered straight to their mailboxes in large green bags by freight companies. Library members also can access the digital library collection 24/7.

People can borrow books for six weeks and this can be renewed if no one else has requested the item. There is a slip inside each delivery so that people can place an order for their next delivery. To return the books, people can flip the address tag over – the back has the library’s address on it – and put it into the post. It’s really that simple.

Over the years, a special bond has developed between the library staff that pack the books and the people who receive them, reported ABC News. This is especially true of Karen Fobister who has been packing books for close to 40 years.

“It's very rewarding. I love it,” Fobister told ABC. “It's just lovely being in contact with nice people and having that special little bond.”

The library has become a lifeline for many of the outback residents, to have access to the services provided by the library, according to Broken Hill City Library administration officer Jessica Picken.

She said, “Sometimes they're trapped on their station if the roads are out and they can't make it to town… getting that little or big green bag is something that they look forward to and connects them to the outside world.”

The internet is cutting some of the demand
Having worked for the library for so many years, Fobister is well aware of changes including a decline in the number of people using the service. “I don't think it's quite as busy as it was back then,” she said. “There wasn't internet. All they had was books.”

Despite the growth of the internet into these remote communities, the library service still has 329 clients and the arrival of the green packages continues to spark joy for people. “They get so excited. They love it when they see the little green bag,” Fobister said.

While most of the packers have never met the people they are sending the packages to, every so often a family will visit the library when they come to the city. It is always a special moment when the packers can put a face to a name.

“It's so funny when you get this perception of what someone's going to look like,” Fobister said.

“You've been packing their bag for 20 years and then they rock up and you think, ‘Oh, I didn't think you looked like that.’”

Like the Outback Library, Fobister has no intention of quitting anytime soon. They play a vital role in the life of the isolated communities and stations they serve.

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Bonnie has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.