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Bookish backlash over library hours

South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] is consulting the public after a recent decision to reduce library opening hours is proving unpopular.

The move comes as ratepayers face an increase of 19.8 per cent, and SWDC’s announcement on Friday that it has acquired the assets of a local campsite.

The council announced the reduced library hours last week but has since brought forward public consultation on the issue.

The move follows hundreds of critical comments on social media from people who are “upset and disappointed” about the “gutting” decision to restrict hours.

Former SWDC councillor and South Wairarapa resident Lee Carter has raised questions about the decisions.

“What sense does it make to close a library on Saturdays altogether for Featherston and every other Saturday for two other libraries and keep Carterton open as usual? It’s a shared service between four libraries, which should mean even distribution between libraries,” she said.

“Why close a Library in a commuting town such as Featherston where most people would use the library on a Saturday? Why close any library on a Saturday? This demonstrates how disconnected the council is with its communities.

“It would have made more sense to close libraries for half days, such as Monday and Tuesday mornings for example.”

Last week the council advertised the new opening hours at its three libraries effective from 1 July: Featherston will be open on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday between 9:30am and 5pm, and Martinborough on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday between 9:30am and 5pm, and every second Saturday morning. Greytown town hall and library will be open on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday from 9.30am to 5pm, and every second Saturday morning.

According to SWDC interim chief executive Paul Gardner, the decision was made because “a change in the funding model for the libraries in the 2023/24 Annual Plan budget has meant that there are insufficient staffing numbers to maintain the same service level as previously”.

“We are very mindful that the library service is an important part of our community and we are doing the best we can to keep all our libraries open within current constraints,” Gardner said.

After public consultation on the annual plan, SWDC had excluded $165,000 from this year’s budget for library staff.

A council announcement at the time reported the decision as follows:

“Not [to] fund a casual pool of library staff to provide backfill as needed so that libraries may remain open six days a week. This has saved $165,000, however, libraries will be closed at least one day a week,” it said.

Carter questioned whether SWDC had a plan if the $165,000 for extra library staff was not approved.

She said the consultation documents in the annual plan had not adequately explained the libraries’ financial situation.

SWDC is now reviewing the library schedule and has called for public feedback on the hours.

“We are hearing robust debate from the community on the decision to change library opening days, and in particular the decision to not open Featherston Library on Saturdays,” the notification said.

“We accept that communications on the changes to our library hours could have been better for the level of community interest in these services. As a result of your interest, we have made the call to review the library scheduling sooner than planned and will come back to the community with options before the end of July.”

Feedback on the library hours can be made at [email protected] by 6pm, Sunday 16 July 2023.

– NZLDR

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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