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Fears as Takapuna Library’s future reviewed

Flagstaff Team

Repent at leisure… A survey on the Takapuna Library and other services seems hasty, ex-library manager Helen Woodhouse warns

Entering Takapuna Library, the first sight is the gleaming white of the newly installed council service desks, seen by some as taking up valuable space.

To your left are newspapers of the day, with puzzles copied for patrons’ enjoyment. Rows of CDs and DVDs are available to rent for a few bucks, and, in the rest of the room, row after row of books, which some adore and others, including the local board chair (see page 7), have relegated to the past, as declining patronage appears to confirm.

You go upstairs, possibly accompanied by dulcet guitar strums from Wriggle and Rhyme, to be greeted by an expansive view of the sea.

Here Takapuna Library offers desks and computers, where anyone can work, study or otherwise pass the time for free, with a view over Takapuna Beach.

While some people are going to the library only for the free wifi, statistics show these visits are falling, too, probably thanks to cheaper home-data plans.

On this floor, one of two totalling 2000sqm, there’s currently an exhibition of New Zealand artists’ books, from the library’s extensive Angela Morton collection of Kiwi art books.

You can browse the classics and older books in the open stack, where the most popular books include one on millinery and another on trapping and skinning.

Beyond is that treasure trove for researchers – the Auckland North Research Centre, which houses local-history archives, including newspapers, photograph collections and important historic papers.

“Miss Pat Alexander, who was the Takapuna City Librarian [1957-1984], used to call the library ‘the lounge of the city’,” says former library manager Helen Woodhouse (1989-2019).

“So we want a good lounge for Takapuna in honour of those people who supported community things.”

From the first mention that council organisation Panuku might develop Takapuna’s Anzac St car park, people associated with the Takapuna Library feared it could be moved there, and likely downsized.

Developed largely through the generosity of local donors, the library is now under review by the Devonport-Takapuna Local Board.

A survey was launched over the Christmas period, which Woodhouse and Friends of the Takapuna Library, believes was an unsuitably busy time.

Woodhouse herself didn’t fill it out, because she didn’t hear of it until a time when family commitments took priority.

“I’m more invested in the future of the library than most, so think of the other people who didn’t even know about it,” she says.

The survey sought views on the library, but also other council buildings managed by the local board, including the Mary Thomas Centre, which houses community coordinators, and the Takapuna Memorial Hall, plus a few other small centres.

A report on the survey, completed by 560 people, was likely to go to a local board workshop, held behind closed doors.

Auckland Council says the survey is intended to see whether the requirements of the community have changed in relation to the service buildings in Takapuna.

“With the community engagement phase complete, which included the survey, we are now undertaking analysis,” head of service and asset planning Justine Haves says.

“Our findings from this work will be set out in an assessment report. The report will be presented to the Devonport-Takapuna Local Board and inform options and recommendatioins for the facilities.”

The report is expected to be ready by May.

Woodhouse fears the public is being shut out of an important decision about the library’s future.

“If it’s for the greater good, and something really well designed is built, then I’m not against that, but it’s hasty,” she says.

Woodhouse is concerned the community has not been given a decent chance to have informed input into the future of the library to help ensure it is a good fit for community needs.

“When a new library was proposed for Devonport, there were concerns, and it has turned out beautifully.

“But there was consultation after consultation and the whole community was asked what they would like to have. Why is Takapuna not getting as good a consultation?”

She believes Takapuna Library has been allowed to get run down, with the idea it will be replaced. When it was refurbished in 2014, it was a “bare bones” job, she says. When the Auckland libraries were restructured, Takapuna’s staff dropped by around 25 – more than other libraries.

More recently, the method of counting patrons coming through the door was changed, so they have to actually enter the library, rather than return books or look at noticeboards in the foyer, whereas other libraries count every person who enters. This reduced the figures by 4000 a month, Woodhouse says.

The new door-count method supports a narrative the library is less used than it used to be or than others are, she says.

Woodhouse also points to an unattractive cream paint job, a new roof put over the old leaky roof, delays before air-conditioning was repaired and a lack of adequate street signage.

Despite a move towards online services, Woodhouse says the library should, if anything, be larger, with more rooms that can be booked for events and others shut off.

“It needs a proper quiet space, where people can study or take time out. In some ways, libraries can replace churches.”

With more noisy activities in the library, this was the most common request, Woodhouse says.

Devonport-Takapuna Local Board member George Wood sees the Anzac St car park development as an opportunity to relocate the library and build something that could be a better fit for the future.

It was something he and other board members were keen to investigate in the last board term, Wood says.

The survey is the first step towards understanding whether that would be a good option.

“There would be a considerable amount of public consultation. It would go back to the community for feedback on options for the future.”

The other aspect will be looking into the financial details, as “optimisation’ projects, run by local boards, have to be cost neutral.

Woodhouse believes some of the council buildings may not well enough used, including the halls in the building next to the library and the Mary Thomas Centre.

Authentic news… Libraries house reliable information that’s needed more than ever, says Friends of Takapuna Library chair Jenny Cole

Friends of Takapuna Library chair Jenny Cole believes libraries are needed more than ever as places for education, information and entertainment.

In particular, as the news media goes through major changes, libraries offer a place for reliable information.

They are also community hubs, used by people of all ages, including those hard-to-reach teenagers, who come in after school to study and participate in activities, such as poetry slams.

Cole is concerned by a trend towards council selling assets to pay down debt and fears for the Takapuna Library, with the poor timing of the survey, and the prospect of it being discussed in secret workshops and having a budget set by a newly elected local board.

Mirla Edmundson, head of Auckland Libraries, says the Takapuna Library is a busy, well-supported, highly valued part of the community that receives ongoing positive feedback. “All decisions on the Takapuna Library, whether it be to keep the status quo or look at new locations, will be made by the local board after consideration of options at the end of the community assessment process.”