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Losing our libraries is a sad ending

Like many New Zealand buildings with creaky joints and old bones, the Eketāhuna Library has been determined as an earthquake risk.

Hearing this news made me nostalgic for the Wellington Library, which has been out of action for almost four years now.

I still remember when I found out it was closing, lying in a 12-bed hostel dormitory in Sri Lanka, 10,000 km away from home.

A man in the bunk bed next to me was in the middle of a solo snoring competition, so I couldn’t sleep and resorted to scrolling Facebook on my phone.

Catching up on local news, it was sad to learn about the immediate and indefinite closure of somewhere I had been a regular patron of since high school.

Progress is slow but apparently on the go, according to RNZ, where a thorough update written in December states the rebuild project is “on programme and within the approved budget”.

With a budget of $189 million, I do have hopes that one day [in my lifetime], its doors will reopen.

Libraries have been a hot topic nationally, with their purpose, running costs and relevance being poked and prodded at due to ongoing council needs to scrimp and save.

The community in Featherston became significantly upset last year when it was pitched that the library hours would be cut to save costs.

Last year I had the pleasure of interviewing a long-time librarian for Eketāhuna, Corinna Carew, who has since left to pursue exciting adventures overseas involving a caravan.

As a parting gift, Carew urged the importance of libraries in healthy, connected communities.

“There are a lot of locals who come in and do jigsaws or just want to chat and check events because they haven’t spoken to anybody all week,” Carew said.

“It’s so much more than giving out books, it’s a space where people feel comfortable and they can connect with others.”

She noted the problem with community assets like libraries was that although they provide many services, there often are no tangible benefits, and there is a danger that with ongoing running costs, they’re considered as financial “black holes”.

“You can’t put it on paper, you can’t quantify it.”

In Masterton, one of the first stories I wrote for the Times-Age last year was on how the library on Queen St had noticed that times were tough for people, so staff had organised a scheme to provide free food for anyone struggling.

Libraries have always been about more than books.

People who have it rough can know it’s somewhere they can go for warmth, connection [both social and digital] and in some cases, help with food or advice.

Let alone the value in having a wealth of information – and people to help dig it out – at our fingertips.

It’s sad to hear about the Eketāhuna library, though one does wonder why it took seven years to conclude that it doesn’t meet regulations since the Earthquake Prone Building [EPB] system came into effect in 2017.

Hopefully actions to address it – and the other buildings which aren’t up to standard – are approached with a little more gusto.

Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age, originally hailing from Wellington. She is interested in social issues and writes about the local arts and culture scene.

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