And then there was the library. Every Friday night the four Armstrong kids would troop down and get our books. The librarians were friendly and though the library was small, it had a copy of my favourite book – Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel. It’s about a steam shovel operator who digs a great big hole but forgets to create a path out. Little did I know that Mike Mulligan would provide me with a perfect metaphor for the Wellington City Council in the second decade of the twenty-first century.
I grew up in Island Bay, and the Island Bay Library was an important part of my childhood. I was a fast reader and would visit there almost every fortnight to borrow more books. Because it was in my neighbourhood, I could walk there on the way home from school. There is no way I would have gone to the central library in town.
But if you investigate further you find that this pillar of the Brooklyn community is at risk from a far greater natural disaster than earthquakes – city councillors. Brooklyn Library’s services have been deliberately run down by cutting staff hours and stock circulation. Though Brooklyn is categorised as a District Centre, which entitles it to a library, this apparently conflicts with the council’s recent Centres Policy, which sees Brooklyn as a Neighbourhood Centre. And under this policy, because Brooklyn is (just) less than 3 kilometres from the city library, then it doesn’t qualify for a library. To think our rates pay for this ridiculously bureaucratic way to define a community. You wouldn’t read about it – especially now that they’re wanting to close libraries.
Wadestown’s excellent library is also under threat, though community facilities portfolio leader Justin Lester said recently that closing Wadestown Library would not be worth “the amount of hurt that you go through trying”. I would prefer that the councillors I elect to say things like “Wadestown Library will close over my dead body” than to tell me that they don’t want to engage in a bitter public fight over its closure.
I doubt there is a lot Dave Armstrong and I agree on politically, but community libraries may just be one of them.
I think it is vital that kids can easily access a local library and borrow books at no or low cost. The benefits of having kids be enthusiastic readers is massive. I do regard this as a clear public good, which should be funded by ratepayers.
Kids should be reading as much as possible. Few families can afford to buy scores of books a year. That is very libraries are so brilliant, with temporary borrowing. They make it easy for all families to have kids who read. Of course there are other barriers such as parental attitudes, but libraries at least remove the barrier of cost.