Libraries, ‘The Beating Heart Of Community’ – Mandy Hager

Over the past week, we’ve seen Wellington’s mayor and some councillors vote to undermine the city’s public library, leading a call for the privatisation of half the building and a 40% reduction in book buying budgets, says Mandy Hager.

Mandy Hager at the Children’s Bookshop in Kilbirnie

‘In response, a group of writers, myself included, penned an open letter to the mayor and council to remind them of the value of this amenity and the value of books and reading in people’s lives.

Beware — bureaucrats at work

It occurs against a background of similar moves around the country and the world, where bureaucrats and elected officials appear to ignore the huge public support for such amenities, instead viewing them solely through the lens of ‘nice to have’ not ‘need to have’, granting themselves permission to gut budgets based on this flawed thinking.

Yet, one only has to look at the many poverty-torn countries whose citizens do not have access to books and literacy to see how highly those without such access value them and fight to gain them.

Our libraries provide a safe space, a place to expand horizons and to feed hungry brains, provide comfort, excite interest, teach, learn, and dream. 

In the past year, library loans have risen sharply, especially electronic and audio books, and even though Wellington library’s books have been dispersed around the community, people have supported this and made good use of the service.

Foster forgets

What Mr Foster and his ilk seem to have forgotten is that libraries nurture wellbeing and often form the hub for vibrant communities.

Andy Foster — Mayor of Wellington

Just as the teaching of arts has been degraded in neo-liberal-led societies, the backing away from books and free access to books is the stance of those who place an economic price on everything, while ignoring the human values that underpin healthy societies.

How will we be able to solve the overwhelming problems humanity is currently faced with if we allow bean-counters to stifle creative thinking and learning?

How will we build cohesive societies if we destroy civic spaces that the public feels ownership of, spaces where all are welcome?

And here on the Kāpiti Coast

As our own Council continues its debate over book budgets and the remediation of Waikanae library, I hope they won’t fall prey to the same flawed thinking.

The former Waikanae Library, closed after the discovery of toxic mould in the building and the book stocks

Our libraries, and the books they house, are as vital to strong, healthy communities as any other crucial infrastructure and deserve to be funded and maintained with the same level of commitment.’

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Clean up the library till it is bright and shiny again. Refresh its internal arrangement of furniture layout (the space not the furniture) to reduce COVID risk. Try to get a variety of “customers” of all ages from small children and youngsters to the elderly, and from different cultural (ethnic?) groups. Make special “library days” days for each group, with a few (5-6) mouthwatering examples of book titles, one per month. Use Neighbourly website and a small ad board (one that stands like a small ladder on the kerb in front of building on the kerb) to spread the news info to the folks. I believe that every now and then a special day will attract readers. It will work for a time, then it will fade and then we get another special day. Best wishes.

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