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