Let librarians look after Auckland

By Ewan McDonald

Rates demands.

Transport glitches.

Water bills that would have Noah going "Hang on a minute, Lord, are you sure this Ark thing is a really good idea?" There's a lot not to like about the way the new Auckland was set up.

But amid the gloom is a shining light; an example of what amalgamation, shared services, municipal cooperation and a halfway decent IT system can offer to the previously and - in many other spheres of everyday life - currently benighted citizens.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: Auckland Libraries.

It may be argued that Auckland Libraries is not only the best thing about the new council, but also that the folk who work there are so on to the whole concept of regionalisation, or whatever the local government graduates call it, that they should take over the whole bureaucracy - transport, rates, local boards, dog licences - from Te Arai to Pokeno.

One disclaimer, before we go any further than Pokeno: this fantasy was hatched when my cousin Paul and I drove from his place in Orakei to see our cousin Luke in Hamilton. If there is anything that will warp two Auckland ratepayers' minds, it is driving through the mist and fog and downtown Ngaruawahia with the prospect of lunch in Hamilton at the end of it. Not to mention the drive home.

Paul mentioned how much he liked that he could read about a new book in the Herald, go onto the library site, request it, and pick it up from a library just around the corner in Remuera a couple of days later, if the person reading it in Whangaparaoa had found the killer around page 327 and seen justice done. And if Paul was going to the only decent fruit store nearby, which happens to be in Glen Innes, he could return it to the library there, and the next closet-psychopath, possibly in Papakura, would be able to satisfy his/her bloodlust in another day or so.

I fell to thinking: one library card. Which works in Wellsford, Swanson, Howick, Manurewa. These people are on to something. If they got the contract for the bus and train passes, we wouldn't have a $20 million lawsuit from the Snapper people. Or is it the Hop? Give the libraries the one-ticket contract.

That booking system is superb, so why aren't the people who designed it running the IT systems for all of the council, instead of the mish-mash of systems inherited from North Shore and Manukau and wherever that don't talk to each other.

Say I lived in Mt Eden and was interested in buying a property in Albany: I could go online and use the system to find out about the LIM, wind vector causative factors, 1000-year flood plains, possible new highways or rail lines (just joking there). Of course, there is a vague possibility that I might end up booking the seventh volume of Harry Potter by mistake, and having to pick it up from Glenfield, but you get my drift.

Guardians of heritage, too

We Aucklanders fret about heritage, the depredations visited upon Spanish cottages in St Hels, villas in Herne Bay, California bungalows in Shackleton Rd. Our city planners don't appear to. However, no one in the Queen City is more exercised by the thought of displaced fretwork upon a villa in the Avenues than a city librarian.

The very thought of mucking about with, let alone permitting the demolition of, No. 27 John St where Maurice Gee once paused outside to light a cigarette, using the heelplate of his shoe to strike a match, is a declaration of cultural genocide to a librarian.

It is probably not so much the historical loss as the thought of hours, yea days, of re-cataloguing black-and-white photographic exposures upon glass plates. So, if there is one person in modern society who doesn't need to be given free rein to their innermost sociopathic tendencies, it's ... yep, flick them responsibility for heritage, too.

However, one has to add a rider. There has been quite a bit of chat about the impersonal nature of the new council system and its remoteness (is that a word? I shall have to check out a grammar reference book from the library) from the everyday Aucklander.

Let me assure you that your local library ticks the box on that one. These folk know their stuff and, if they don't, they know the person at the next counter who does, and who will be only too happy to take you up to shelf 941:647 and find the very tome you're looking for.

Community engagement, or community consultation, I suppose they call it. Whatever it is, these chaps have it in spades. Which is probably why the Mayor realised he was on to a loser when someone floated the idea that the Grey Lynn or Snells Beach libraries might be "retired" before next year's elections.

If there's two constituencies that no local body politician wants to irk, it's ... well, every pressure group you care to name, as in Grey Lynn, or people who actually get out and vote, as in Mt Roskill-by-the-Sea.

Some of you may be thinking: this is all very well, fine if you want to drop into the Titirangi branch and rent The Psychotherapy of Whippets or The Tao of Macrame, but what about the cost?

Brothers and sisters, you are reading the right column, for I shall illumine you: this very week I ambled, for such is my wont, into the Central library of a lunchtime to pick up a CD that I'd reserved some weeks before.

I handed over my card, the librarian swiped it, and before she would release three hours of relatively obscure and rarely requested Canadian folk music, harrumphed: "Before I can give you this, you'll have to pay the $1 fine for an overdue book from May."

Now that's the sort of person I'd like to be keeping the city's books. Not to mention our heritage. Or the bus tickets.

Visit Auckland Libraries.

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- The Aucklander

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