Wellingtonians on the march to save library

Wellingtonians on the march to save library
Hilary Beaton
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Wellingtonians on the march to save library

Protestors picket the Manners Street Pop-Up Library

The decision by Wellington City Council to cut the book budget by 40% and privatise the planned floorspace of the Wellington Central Library, has raised concern across the public library sector, and rightly so. The difficulty facing the Council is not one of finding ways to make savings, the difficulty is whether this decision is in the best interests of the city and its citizens. These self-imposed budget cutbacks are occurring at a time when customer demand for library services is increasing. 

Prior to COVID, public libraries across New Zealand were facilitating 32 million visits a year. Because of the restrictions imposed by lockdowns, libraries experienced an exponential increase in online engagement (online memberships increased by 40%, ebooks and audiobooks were up by 65%, and one public library recorded a 1400% increase in online traffic). But it would be unwise to think that this is the only future of libraries. The growth of library tourism (domestic and international visits) demonstrates peoples’ interest in our cultural institutions as places where they can connect, learn and find trusted information, as well as access to government services. In fact, the continued economic upheaval points to a continued rise in library usage online and in person. 

Around the country, many public library managers are currently going through the process of developing a Long Term Plan (LTP) for their councils and face the same challenges of doing more with less. While many councils recognise the need to invest in their local libraries (and have done so with refurbishments and new builds) they do so because they value the role libraries play in their communities. You only have to look at Christchurch to see the importance local and central government put in having a world-class library that meets the contemporary needs of its citizens. More importantly, it brings people in to revitalise the city centre.

While budget cuts to library collections have a major impact on library users by limiting access to new books and magazines (which are the resources for contemporary and current thinking), privatisation raises quite different problems. In Britain during austerity, budget cuts led to the closure of 800 libraries and branches in just over 10 years. Is it any wonder the populace of that country has had great difficulty discerning disinformation from trusted information, whether Brexit or the pandemic? Significant cuts to the WCL of 40% pose an existential threat to the very viability of WCL as a trusted institution.

Read the full article HERE.


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