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Council’s ‘strategic priorities’ threaten suburban libraries in Wadestown, Brooklyn, Island Bay and Khandallah

by Marie Russell
in the Wellington City Council’s draft annual plan for 2010/11 there is a major threat to our current library system – with potential for Wadestown, Brooklyn, Island Bay and Khandallah to lose their libraries.

Page 24 of the draft annual plan refers to ‘a proposed new policy defining the facilities that should be available for city and suburban residents….’. The regular two-page Council spread in the Dominion Post on 13 April also trumpeted this new policy, and invited citizens to comment.

The 18-page ‘2010 Draft Community facilities policy and implementation plan’ can be found here. It’s available for consultation right now, with submissions closing on May 10.

The Council’s website summary doesn’t mention closing libraries, of course. Instead, it says the ‘strategic priorities’ for libraries are:
• ‘Increasing community access to digital information
• Combining community development and library services
• Strengthening services in high-growth areas, such as Kilbirnie, Johnsonville and the inner city.’

And the ‘spending priorities’ for libraries are:
‘Upgrading the Central Library and Johnsonville Library and investing in library technology and digital material’.

Sounds alright, doesn’t it? But take a closer look at the policy itself. This policy matters, because it is to be a ‘guide for the Council when it makes decisions about future investment in or disposal of community facilities’ (page 1). It covers pools, community centres, halls, recreation centres ¬ and libraries. Once adopted, this is the document Council will refer to when it’s making decisions about what facilities will be available and where, and which facilities will be disposed of.

The guideline and plan for libraries in the draft policy is as follows. There will be:
— a central library and two large libraries at Kilbirnie and Johnsonville. These three hubs are called ‘Central City and sub-regional centres’.
— Four ‘town centres’: Karori, Miramar, Newtown and Tawa, each with a ‘large suburban library collocated with community spaces’.

So far so good, although it’s not clear what ‘collocated with community spaces’ means. But what comes next in Table 2 really rings alarm bells. The other suburban areas will be either ‘district centres’ (these are Churton Park, Ngaio, Strathmore, Hataitai, Khandallah, Kelburn, Island Bay, Brooklyn and Newlands) or ‘neighbourhood centres’ (there are 14 of these including places like Seatoun, Aro Valley and Wadestown). These neighbourhood centres each have a population below 6,000 people.

Some of these ‘district centres’ currently have a library, but note a subtle change in wording: in future, these district centres may not have a ‘library’ as such, but perhaps ‘library services’. Each district centre will have a ‘library service unless the Centre is within 3km of town, or regional centre with a library service. Where library services are provided, these will be located with community spaces’, says the policy (page 7).

On the ‘neighbourhood centres’ (one of which – Wadestown – currently has a library) the draft policy is silent; the cell in Table 2 is blank; i.e. no library and no library service.

This policy, if adopted, spells the end of our suburban library network as we have known it. The number of dedicated libraries (currently 12) could be nearly halved, so that the only remaining dedicated library buildings will number seven: Central Wellington, Johnsonville, Kilbirnie, Karori, Newtown, Miramar and Tawa. Reading what the policy actually says, it appears that other suburbs which currently have a library (Brooklyn, Island Bay, Khandallah, Wadestown, and Ngaio) may no longer have a dedicated library building, but in some cases will have ‘library services’ ‘located with community spaces’. Could this mean a couple of computers and a book delivery box in a corner of the Community Hall? Or is it a fully staffed, dedicated library? If so, why not call it ‘a library’?

The assessments are based on both population size in different suburbs, and distance from one of the seven lucky areas with their own library. The magic number is three kilometers, though it’s not clear if this is as the crow flies, or by road or bus route. According to the policy if a ‘district centre’ is within three kilometers of one of the seven libraries listed above, the district centre will not get its own library.

A quick look at the map suggests that under this policy the following libraries are for the chop:
• Wadestown (because of population size and distance to Central library)
• Brooklyn (because of distance to Central library and Newtown)
• Island Bay (because of distance to Newtown and Kilbirnie)
• Khandallah (because of distance to Johnsonville).

The policy also suggests that the Ngaio library (Cummings Park) could be downgraded from a dedicated building to ‘library service’ ‘located with community spaces’ – whatever that means.

On the other hand, it’s possible that some suburbs currently without library service since the closure of the Mobile Library may end up with some ‘library service’, though not a library as such.

For those who value public libraries as repositories of knowledge and culture, as vital community centres and free civic spaces where all citizens feel welcome, the proposed policy is a vicious slap in the face. If you want to keep our good library system, make a submission now. Public meetings will be held on 21, 22 and 26 April. And, as Council elections come closer, why not ask candidates for a clear statement that they will not support libraries closing or library services reducing. Before you vote, ask candidates for a promise that services will expand to encourage even greater use of the civilising force of our free public libraries.

Marie Russell is a PhD student at the University of Otago, Wellington, and a keen library user.

23 comments:

  1. Celia Wade-Brown, 18. April 2010, 22:10

    I don’t support closing our libraries.

    During development of the policy, there was no expression of an intention at all to close down any libraries. The policy and implementation plan focus on new investment but the presumption (clearly not articulated well enough) was that the existing branch network would remain.

    I look forward to reading and hearing submissions. From what I’ve heard so far I shall be advocating that we rephrase the policy to make the intention of keeping the network intact.

    The idea of co-location works well in Karori for example where the library, community centre and recreation centre are neighbours.

    Local libraries are particularly important for people who are less mobile, who don’t have cars, who have young children and who want to be part of their local community.

     
  2. John Morrison, 18. April 2010, 22:47

    Marie, I can assure you and others — “no libraries will close”.
    There has never been any discussion or intention to close any of our libraries and there is no intention what so ever to even discuss the matter.
    If these consultation documents suggest that closing a library is a possibility they are wrong — simple as that.
    Thank you for your concern but please relax and be assured there is absolutely no chance at all of any of our libraries being closed.
    Best Wishes
    John Morrison
    Wellington City Councillor.

     
  3. Jack Yan, 19. April 2010, 10:13

    The phrasing in the draft plan is, at the very least, confusing. Marie’s argument is convincing, especially on Table 2. One wonders how this clear wording made it in to the plan—or gained some level of official approval—if there were not some intention of closures.

    In a knowledge economy, the worst we could do is to close any centres that provide that knowledge—and libraries are the most obvious source. Let’s act accordingly with making submissions or attending those meetings (which, incidentally, remain an outmoded way of communicating our views when we have become used to commenting on blogs and news sites).

     
  4. Cr. Ngaire Best, 19. April 2010, 11:12

    The Community Facilities policy and implementation plan has a focus on new investment, and future provision of community services, including recreation centres, pools, community centres and halls and libraries.

    It does not and was not designed to send a message of doom, there is NO intention to start closing libraries or other facilities that are well used and that are meeting local communities’ needs. I would refer the author to section 6, p. 17 of the policy which clearly sets out the parameters’ in which council would consider the disposal of any community facility. It is my understanding that currently there are NO facilities that could meet the test set out.

    It appears that there is some confusion as to as to what a co-located facility might look like. I suggest that you visit Karori Library which is co-located with the Recreation and Community Centre, and on the way back to Wellington call into the Wadestown library where you will see a Library with a community meeting space (currently being trialled) provided within the library building working alongside normal library services (a collection, borrowing, information services etc.).

    Most importantly, I too urge Wellingtonians and others interested in Community Facilities to take the time to tell us what you think of our plans (both if you like it or hate it) for the future investment and provision of these community services

    Cr. Ngaire Best
    Social Portfolio Leader
    Wellington City Council

     
  5. Alex, 19. April 2010, 13:57

    It is quite surprising to note how many councilors have responded to this article. I guess it is an election year so everyone will have something to say, including councilors with increased salaries. Then again, where were they when decisions were made without transparency (Kilbirnie indoor sports centre final project cost, Grenada car yard, Wellywood, waterfront toilets, city parking and indiscriminate ticketing…etc? ) This at a time when people are struggling to make a living and now have to face higher rates as well as secret meetings of the WCC. Thanks for nothing councilors!

     
  6. Marie Russell, 19. April 2010, 15:26

    Cr Best refers to the disposal of facilities, and the arrangements for this on page 17, section 6 of the draft policy.

    This section refers to Table 1 where ‘travel distances’ in ‘catchments’ are outlined. I find this Table and the section on catchments confusing…. Taking Brooklyn as an example, an area I know well, Brooklyn is defined as a ‘district centre’ and the maximum travel distance in the catchment (to the centre) is supposed to be a 20-25 minute walk or 1.8 km. I think the distances/ walk times are greater than 20-25 minutes in many parts of the area, e.g. from Panorama Heights to Brooklyn, say, or parts of Kingston to Brooklyn. The topography and steep and winding nature of the roads and walkways need to be considered: it may take 25 minutes on a downhill walk but a lot longer if you are carrying your groceries and library books uphill on the way home! And of course, parts of this district have no weekend bus service.

    Section 6 also enables Council to close facilities ‘if there is low use of the facility’. – But I can’t see where ‘low use’ is defined. Could Cr Best or the people who wrote this draft policy please list the definitions that will be used? Does it mean the library with the ‘lowest use’ will always be a candidate for closure, which is what happened to the Mobile Library in 2006?

    By the way, when Cr Morrison urges us to be relaxed about it, I feel very unrelaxed. Cr Morrison was one of the Councillors who voted against continuing the Mobile Library in 2006 (see Minutes 28 June 2006, page 6-7), and I feel unsure that he would personally support libraries in future. If Cr Morrison is standing for re-election, could he please write on this page his definite promise to vote for continuation of all current library services and facilities at least at current levels and preferably at expanded levels? Thank you.

    Who, in fact, are the Councillors who really support libraries, who want library hours to be extended, the library budget and services to be increased, staff to be better paid, improved programmes with frequent: book-readings, talks by local and visiting authors and publishers, movie screenings, discussion groups, literacy programmes, computer literacy programmes, concerts and displays… etc. These are some of the things I’d want to see and see widely promoted under a community facilities policy and implementation plan that really understands the value and potential of libraries.

    I’d prefer my rates to go into libraries than trips for the Mayor or Wellywood signs or even one-off Rugby world cup events.
    Marie Russell

     
  7. ViV, 19. April 2010, 18:43

    Well said Alex, we all have to make sure as many voters are made aware of all the facts when deciding for whom to vote.

     
  8. Helene Ritchie, 19. April 2010, 19:43

    Well, I am not sure where this is all going..but I will add that I was pleased to have successfully moved an amendment that will see the beginning of planning for a co-located new library in Johnsonville (co-located with Keith Spry swimming pool and possibly sharing some common administration and entrance facilities.)

    A new library in Johnsonville /Northern Suburbs is long overdue, and has been planned and put off for a number of years. The feasibility study is a step in the right direction and hopefully will see a new libary in the near not ( as currently scheduled) distant future.
    This is a Wellington priority.

    Marie, it would be great if you support this and I will read all submissions carefully.

    Regards
    Helene Ritchie
    Councillor

     
  9. Shrapnell, 19. April 2010, 19:59

    I’m know that my story of Wadestown has been duplicated in other suburbs. Whenever we tried to argue for better facilities for our area we were told “You’ll have to wait for the Community Facilities Review”. Well, it’s here now and has brought more confusion, as we can see from the comments above.

    Where do you start? I started with an Official Information Request to Council. Since the provision of community facilities is based on the population in various suburbs (see Table 2, Page 7) I asked for the list of suburbs that the Council recognised and their populations.

    The answer: the population figures come from the Statistics Department and the Council says the last figures it received were in 2005. So the Council figures in this policy document are at least 5 years out of date, despite the fact that the 2009 population estimates have been available on the Stats Website for some time.

    The list of suburbs recognised was supplied by the Council by means of one of the maps on the Council website entitled Wellington City Suburbs.

    I suggest all local groups check out these resources and look at the Council hierarchy for the provision of community facilities again. Look at what’s there and what’s not there. Look at the size of the community your group serves and how it compares with the Council’s chosen few. Why, for instance, is there no mention of Wilton in the policy document? Over 4000 people live there, but they don’t rate a mention.

    There’s Lincolnshire Farm – not a recognised suburb because it hasn’t even been built yet! And then there’s Marsden Village. It’s on the hierarchy list but it’s not a recognised suburb. In fact it’s part of the suburb of Karori. Is this a question of double dipping for some suburbs?

    Once again we have a policy based on a predetermined Council philosophy about a growth spine. It seems to take no cogniscance of the physical realities of where people live, and what public transport is available to them. Whatever happened to asking the people that you represent for their opinion, before you set the policy. You could say “We want to improve access to community facilities for people in your area. How could we do this?” There are people in the Wellington community with knowledge and skills who could and would help if asked if asked nicely.

     
  10. John Morrison, 19. April 2010, 20:05

    Marie, I am very happy to assure you absolutely that I support and will continue to support all library services and facilities.
    Best Wishes
    John Morrison

     
  11. Cr. Ngaire Best, 19. April 2010, 20:45

    To all you readers out there, I would just like to reiterate this policy and its implementation plan have a strong focus on new investment into our libraries and other community facilities, to strengthen the existing network to meet the needs of Wellingtonians both today and into the future. It is proposed to spend an additional $37 million in libraries and $9 million in community facilities over the next 12 years.

    I welcome the comments and debate that Marie’s views have spurred and look forward to receiving both your and her submissions and suggest that she tell us her views on how we should define “low use” of a facility.

    Ngaire Best
    Social Portfolio Leader
    Wellington City Councilor

     
  12. Alex, 20. April 2010, 4:42

    From our salaries, or from the salaries of the councilors and the mayor? Last time I checked, the project costs at the Kilbirnie indoor sports centre got overblown from $36 million to more than $45 million. I thought the WCC was broke? So Wellingtonians can expect more rates hikes and more grandiose projects at the expense of the ratepayer.

     
  13. Marie Russell, 20. April 2010, 10:11

    Thank you Cr Best for your invitation to suggest what constitutes ‘low use’ of a facility. However, I make my comments and inquiries as a rate-paying member of the public and as a library user, with, alas, no expertise in writing policy for a City Council. But you have council officers who do this kind of work, I believe. The draft policy suggests, sadly, that Councillors and/or staff are not doing a very thorough job. Some of the questions I would like answered (and without clear answers to these it is impossible to know exactly what the policy is saying):
    – what is ‘low use’ of a branch library facility? Is it calculated solely by library visits or issues/ per capita? What other measures might be used?
    – what population figures are being used? As the correspondent Shrapnell indicates (above) the figures used in the policy appear to date from 2005.
    – The ‘3 km’ rule indicated in the policy: is this 3km as the crow flies or by shortest road route? If the latter, does it take into account availability and frequency of bus services?

    I look forward to knowing more clearly just what the draft policy means.

     
  14. Hilary, 20. April 2010, 11:33

    Libraries play a vital role in civil society that can’t be measured just in book issues. They are safe civic spaces, places for sharing information, as well as for the pursuit of knowledge.

     
  15. ViV, 20. April 2010, 19:06

    Does Cr Morrison’s staunch view of libraries mean he has already made up his mind prior to…..?

    Does this now mean he now can’t take part in in the decision that councillors must make at some stage in the future? (you know, open mind and all that trivial stuff)

    Is it just election year? Or am I just too darn cynical ?

     
  16. Magsta, 20. April 2010, 20:14

    Great spotting Marie…… be assured some of us in the slum suburbs are keeping an eye on the responses from city councillors. We may lack the swimming pools, large community centres, bush reserves etc of the northern suburbs and put up with foul-smelling dumps and antiquated trolley buses, but I never grumble about my rates when I think of the great service I get from my local library and cheery librarians.

    I especially like your response to Councillor Best……if Council staff can’t write reports/ policy in plain unambiguous language, then Councillors should draw this to the attention of Department managers and request that their staff improve their performance.

     
  17. Alex, 21. April 2010, 0:01

    Maybe councilors should give away their salary increase and make it a bonus for council staff to encourage them to work more efficiently.

     
  18. Keith, 21. April 2010, 10:46

    In my experience, the council often employs ambiguous language to obscure the implications of contentious policy decisions. Thanks Marie for revealing some of the possibilities behind the text. Even if those are not the intentions of council, it’s good to get some discussion going to perhaps clarify what is meant. Is there a ‘Friends of the Library’ or other libraries advocacy group in Wellington that can take up these issues?

     
  19. Polly, 21. April 2010, 11:08

    Many of us remember the submissions, petitions, etc to save the mobile library. We were told we couldn’t afford $200,000 to buy and fit out a new vehicle to provide this service. But ratepayers are now being advised of a feasibility study to spend an unbudgetted $2.4m to create a temporary ‘tensile tent” near Te Papa…..not to mention “designer dunnies” at $400,000!

    I am reminded of a council meeting I attended many years ago to make a submission to stop the council closing a number of suburban libraries and can still hear Cr Parkin refer to libraries as a “middle class culture”. Happily the peasants were heard then. But the threat is obviously still lurking.

     
  20. Observer, 22. April 2010, 20:27

    There appear to be grounds for retention of the Brooklyn Library purely on current population basis as well as future growth. Local population stats from Statistics NZ website: Census 2006. These geographic breakdowns are the areas SNZ use so makes sense to keep with in them.
    Brooklyn / Panorama Heights 3858 people, 1545 households
    Kowhai Park 903 people, 333 households
    Kingston / Mornington 2256 people, 906 households
    Vogeltown / Mornington 1980 people, 762 households
    Happy Valley / Owhiro Bay 1659 people, 579 households

    TOTAL (excludes HV /. OB) 8997 people, 3546 households
    TOTAL (includes HV /. OB) 10656 people, 4125 households

     
  21. ViV, 24. April 2010, 19:15

    Newlands 3800+ Houses 13,000+ Residents NO library.

     
  22. Pauline Swann, 4. May 2010, 21:19

    As a followup to all the concerns raised with “cutback” to funding for libraries, highly recommend the latest from Gordon Campbell in Scoop’s Werewolf “So, why are libraries losing out on public funding”. It should be of assistance to many who have not sent in a submission to the WCC Draft Annual Plan.

     
  23. Karen Parr, 13. June 2010, 21:32

    No fancy arguments, just that Island Bay is an expanding suburb which is increasingly popular with young familes and the library is busy every time I visit. Closing the facility seems ludicrous. Please don’t go the way of the UK and shut down local services – if nothing else, can we learn from their mistakes and see how communities there have disintegrated without common meeting places and crucial facilities.