A senior manager at South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] has apologised for the furore in relation to recently reduced hours and Saturday closures of the district’s libraries.
The apology comes as an interim solution is being put in place to deal with South Wairarapa’s library hours while the council conducts a detailed review of the facilities’ business, funding, and other drivers.
Stefan Corbett, the SWDC general manager partnerships and operations, made his apology at the start of yesterday’s SWDC infrastructure and services committee meeting.
“I did want to start by apologising for the confusion that we have around the impact of a decision around additional casual staff for the libraries,” he said.
“I acknowledge this has caused some frustration and confusion for you, and made life difficult for you [the council]. But also amongst our public. And I do regret causing that, and I’d just like to apologise for any inconvenience that has caused you,” he said.
The apology comes after library opening hours were abruptly cut earlier this month following a SWDC decision not to approve funding of $165,000 for casual library staff in this year’s annual plan.
Public feedback on the reduced hours was almost exclusively negative, including criticism citing Saturday closures, negative impacts on community wellbeing, and Featherston’s status as a ‘booktown’. The temporary fix to the library woes agreed at the meeting involves putting a revised roster of library opening hours in place for 12 weeks, during which a full review of the district’s library services will also be done.
The SWDC committee, chaired by deputy mayor Melissa Sadler-Futter, did not pass recommendations to increase library hours and funding by $50,000 in a related report that had Corbett as the contact officer and had been reviewed by Paul Gardner, the council’s interim chief executive.
Sadler-Futter said she was disappointed with the contents of the document, called ‘Libraries: operating model and opening hours’.
“I am disappointed it has taken, in my opinion, a very surface-level view of the library service and the options it has presented back to us. Essentially all of the options are a reconfiguration of what we already have. Just presented in slightly different ways,” she said.
Sadler-Futter said although she understood the impact of decisions made by Carterton council on SWDC library services as a shared service, she did not think that impact was widely understood.
“I don’t think that we as a council have done a good enough job of explaining that back to our community.
“I don’t we have currently done a good enough job of looking at the overall options yet,” she said.
Councillor Olds said he had voted for the extra library funding in the annual plan and said if there is to be a district library service, it needs to be adequately funded.
“The reality is, it is still an underfunded service,” he said regarding roster changes recommended in Corbett’s report.
“We need to look at the funding model.”
Olds said while he supports shared services if the model is broken, the council needs to go back to basics.
The committee asked Corbett a range of questions around necessary library staffing levels, what work library staff are required to do, and the use of volunteers to help out. A number of committee members queried health and safety considerations raised as resourcing issues within a library context.
Following discussion, the recommendations in the paper Corbett spoke to were not passed. Instead, the committee resolved to:
Delegate to deputy mayor Sadler-Futter, councillor Ellims and interim chief executive Gardner to adopt an interim roster for the library for 12 weeks;
Require the interim chief executive to conduct a thorough review of the library services management and shared services and report back to the committee within three months;
Delegate to the interim chief executive to approve the use of the remuneration budget for the period of the review if needed.
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