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Librarians upset about council plan to sell part of Central Library building

Report from RNZ
Wellington librarians are upset and angry with their employer – the city council – after it voted to sell part of the Central Library building, and cut the collections budget by 40 percent.

The council voted in favour of both measures in a Long-Term Plan committee meeting a fortnight ago. Neither decision has gone down well with librarians.

“We’re pretty worried about things, it doesn’t feel good,” a librarian who wished to remain anonymous said in a statement. “We’re quite dissatisfied. It’s interesting that at this point libraries are being treated as a ‘nice to have’. Plenty of members of the public think we are vital. The library is a place you’re a citizen, not just a consumer.”

The council is contemplating one of its most expensive budgets ever, and the Mayor is looking for where savings could be made. Substantial investment is being put into water infrastructure, improving resilience, and trying to reduce the city’s carbon emissions.

But to keep money tight, a number of cost reductions were put forward: one was to sell part of the Library building to a private company, to help pay for the $180 million strengthening.

Another, to cut the collections budget by 40 percent. Both were passed.

“A 40 percent drop in the collection is significant,” the librarian said. “I don’t buy the argument that the current library buildings will not be able to house new materials. The public also demands new stuff. I get that things are precarious financially, they need to fund pipes etc. But it would be interesting to see if there are other areas that could be trimmed (other than staffing levels of course) rather than taking the easy route.”

What would a 40 percent budget cut mean?

The cut to the collections budget would just be for the first two years, but it would take $1 million away from them each year.

Public Service Association national secretary Erin Polaczuk said that would represent a real loss in terms of the services libraries provide to their communities. She said it means less books being purchased, which would mean longer queues for people to get the trendy ones.

It would impact how libraries provide book club programmes for dyslexic people, and people with dementia. It could mean libraries miss out on discounts from vendors. And it would affect the services which the collections budget helps keep afloat – such as internet and digital capabilities.

Another librarian said it would go back on all the progress libraries have made.

“Our libraries are such valuable spaces, not just for the literacy aspect, they’re a space for people to connect, engage with digital tech, come together. The work that we do in Wellington libraries is pretty cutting edge. Sometimes there can be a temptation to politically target libraries as a legacy institution. It’d be a real shame if we took this area where we are being so innovative and decided it’s just a cost burden to eliminate.”

The Public Service Association has for the past fortnight been holding meetings with union delegates representing librarians.

Erin Polaczuk said there’s real disappointment that despite the council’s enormous budget, library services is where they looked to make cuts.

“If you’re looking for $1 million, in the scheme of things, there are a lot of places you could look.

“To hone in on the collections budget is to say this is an area we think is expendable. And that is really deeply problematic, and part of why our members are feeling so upset about the proposal, and oppose it so deeply.”

Councillor Fleur Fitzsimons, who holds the libraries portfolio, agreed.

“The conversation should be about how we can increase the resources available to our library, so they can open more at the weekend, so that they can open in more convenient hours, across the whole city.

“That’s the conversation we should be having. Not short-sighted cuts in our book-buying budget.”

Polaczuk said their members want the council to rule out going through with either change.

“They think that the community hasn’t really been considered in this, and that it isn’t looking towards future generations and the type of city we want to be.”

With the budget still up in the air, it is possible that the decisions could be overturned.

The vote held two weeks ago is not binding – the Long-Term Plan still has to go through public consultation before it is formally adopted by council before 30 June.

Fitzsimons – who voted against both the library’s partial-privatisation and the collections budget cut – will be tabling amendments during the meeting on Thursday to rule out budget cuts or partial privatisation.

“Other libraries around New Zealand look to Wellington to be a leader investing in our libraries, so it’s an important message, not only to Wellington residents but to people all over New Zealand about the value of libraries. I’m certainly optimistic it will be overturned tomorrow.”

2 comments:

  1. Claire, 4. March 2021, 12:22

    I think this is over the top. The actual Library was never going to be privatised. Just part of the building. There will still be the Library and Librarians and books.

     
  2. Kara, 4. March 2021, 15:29

    The Central Library was built with Wellington rates so selling part of the building to a private company would see our library resources squeezed. Public libraries are a “must have”.