The woman who read Auckland visits Waitakere Library

By Janet McAllister

Waitakere Cdentral Library for Weekend
Waitakere Cdentral Library for Weekend

"Just keep swimming, just keep swimming."

Dory, from Finding Nemo, can be heard throughout half the quaintly-named Waitakere Central Library (c. 2006) in Henderson. It's Children's Day and lamentably even here, it seems, book-free movies are special treats. But only one kid is actually watching the screen. My faith in humanity is restored - until I spy two leaflets: "Books for Girls" and "Books for Boys".

I get dumber just reading those restrictive headings; my understanding of the world gets worse. I have read Books for Boys' Artemis Fowl - clearly it's fouled me with boy germs, ew yuck. Cure: label the lists "comedy", "action adventure" and "school drama," and let each kid choose their own genres. (Reflecting a deeper problem in post-picture-book children's literature across the Anglo-American world, these author lists in multicultural Hendo are also very, very white.)

Fun sticky-note window art depicts Captain America. Beyond him are shabby buildings housing a barrister ("Criminal and Traffic Law"), a laundromat and the Morning Calm church - places to cleanse your legal record, clothes and soul.

Near the withdrawn books sale table, two young women talk theology and depression: "Sometimes I wonder why God puts us through things". To strengthen us, apparently. (Just keep swimming.)

Upstairs, where general non-fiction sits with the West Auckland Research Centre, opaque blinds obscure an immense window wall view of suburban green, in case the sun damages the books. Given this is a purpose-built library - a joint project between the then-Waitakere City Council and Unitec - the need for blinds seems a bit weird.

In fact, the whole building is a bit weird. Outside, it seems warm, modern and welcoming; stylishly streamlined in glass and canopied in wood, proudly emblazoned with "LIBRARY". But instead of an entrance in the obvious place, on a civic square full of art, you must walk around a boring old chain cafe at the front to find the actual library hidden behind.

Then, once inside, the library's ground floor feels too long and narrow, all elbows, no cosiness. As if they dreamed a dream to star in Les Miserables, the bookshelves barricade the space so that people are forced to tiptoe around the edges.

The teenagers have it better, quarantined in their own room adorned by handwritten book reviews: Juno Dawson's "awesome" Mind Your Head "is if you need ideas to figure out life. Also if you are mental."

The first floor is also better: cosy sitting spaces and two portraits that complement each other: a Pacific woman triptych and a European gumdigger.

Unexpected benefits of taking the train to WC library: "wheel-clamping sharks" in the neighbouring private carpark prey off unsuspecting car-carried library visitors, according to an endearingly wet, 8-month-old YouTube video by classical guitarist Sasha Witten-Hannah.

I wasn't going to watch all eight hippie-kitsch minutes but I did, because he makes a good point, about the appalling stranding of breastfeeding mums. And then, hilariously, he gets photobombed. Sometimes, even in the library, the lure of the tragi-comic screen is irresistible.

- NZ Herald

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