Hub of the community
Finding your way in a new town or city is easy with a visit to the library.
“You get a feeling for a community when you venture into a place where doors are open seven days a week and everyone is welcomed. We began by delighting in new books and by exploring interesting new spaces and things developed from there. As my family was added to and as the children grew, we used the library spaces for other reasons than just books; a place to have social interaction, holidays were filled with at least a couple of visits− to alleviate boredom and world war three− for my highly active children. The library was a great place for them to meet up with friends and make new ones.
“I did an Amazing Race style challenge for one of my children, where I put clues and challenges around the library and they had to follow each instruction. Unfortunately, we lost one, which had something like ‘go to the wharf and retrieve a red package and wait for your next instructions, it was meant to be in the spy biographies! Hopefully, the note didn’t make its way into the self-help section.
“The library has had a daily influence on my life, I say daily as there is never a time when I do not have a library book of some description on hand to read or look at. Historically, I am a greedy customer at the library, piles of books crammed into my ridiculously heavy basket, has given way to being a bit calmer more selective purely because I was putting my back out with the weight of them.
“It was one such more frugal visit last March, when I got a few select books, in a matter of days we were in lockdown, and I had friends calling and saying, We’ve checked out a huge pile of books, we’re all good for lockdown.
“I was aghast! I felt like I had two logs and a piece of string for my life raft! I had to go and have a lie-down. Further salt was rubbed in the wound when all those same books were renewed for months.
“When given an opportunity to document the various libraries throughout the bay to celebrate Tauranga Library’s 150th anniversary, I felt like I had been given a golden ticket. Charlie and his visit to the wonderful Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory indeed sprung to mind. Initially, when planning this project, I was guided by all those times in the library, when I passed various doors and wondered, “what do they do in there?” I quickly found there were too many activities and spaces to photograph. So I took the approach of let’s see what works and ran with that.
“First up, a morning at Greerton Library, I was checking light to get a feel for it, and within the space of an hour, all these interactions happened: staff planning for the day, a meeting of home-schooled teens in the beautiful expansive meeting room, Toddler time (Iti Pounamu in Te Reo) in the children area, business mentors working with emerging entrepreneurs, Justice of the Peace offering advice, computer use, interaction between customers and staff, and of course, checking out books.
I didn’t record all those events, some felt too private, so I turned the lens elsewhere. What I noticed was that at any time of the day there is constant community interaction planned and unplanned. I cannot think of one other place that does this so seamlessly.
“So, getting back to that Golden ticket, later in the week, I entered the archives section, where staff and volunteers were busy preserving historical treasures, both physical and informational− letters and photos holding information that would not be in formal documents, keys to how life was lived a hundred years ago, intriguing dialogue and photographs that made me want to stop for an hour or more to take it all in.
“I then moved into the quiet but continually active workstations of library managers, researchers, designers− sometimes behind huge piles of books. Understandably, wary glances fell in my direction, before graciously resuming whatever they were doing. It felt hallowed, there was a sense of respect for the work being engaged in.
“As I worked throughout the public spaces. I would see those staff members from upstairs checking books on the shelves or turning up at scheduled community gatherings, another aspect of their role. It was important to see this interconnection between public and private spaces.
“I witnessed the release of a brand-new mobile bus into the community, and able to record the Bus Blessing at the Mount Library with many staff members and public attending. A couple of weeks later, I recorded the bus’s regular visit to Cherrywood shops. I listened as two regular customers talked of past fears of the bus services not continuing and how grateful they were to witness not just the ongoing service, but something even bigger and better.
“As I have reflected on how the Library has grown from a place of issuing books to one as a central hub of our community, I am amazed at its quiet evolution into a space for where all are welcomed. The library means different things for different people, for the love of books written and pictorial, it can be a place for the lonesome, the exhausted, the bored and even for the warm dry physical place that it offers.
“I would say that I have expected a lot of the library, perhaps even taking it for granted. I feel it is my right to have such a place - for my family, my friends and for my community, a place that extends knowledge, information, inspiration entertainment and social interaction.
“I want to acknowledge the libraries uniqueness, its services whether within walls or on wheels. My library is a place where we journey alongside each other, we may not talk or even look each other in the eye, but we witness each other by being in the same space even though we walk different paths and experience life differently.
“I hope this helps you as staff and volunteers …when on a cold winter day, you have to drag yourself out of bed and into work, to remind yourself that this is a meaningful thing to be part of and an integral part of a healthy and vibrant community.”
Photos with the kind permission of Pene Coleman and Tauranga Library.