Richard Moore: Library fund books don't balance

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Surprisingly, I have a few weaknesses - I know, it is hard to believe.

One is modesty, another is having Moet tastes on a Lake Chalice budget, but my greatest fault is having a rubber elbow in bookstores.

I just can't help myself.

Whether they be photographic books, cookbooks, military histories ... I go weak at the knees and my wallet comes out faster than a rates rise notice.

Like most men I favour non-fiction titles and, when it comes down to it, I rarely get a chance to read anything other than books on my main passion - Napoleonic military history.<inline type="recurring-inline" id="1003" align="outside" enforce-sites="no" />

In this I am fortunate in being sent Napoleonic books to review but, over the years, I would have spent many tens of thousands of dollars on titles covering the era. My home library is a thing of beauty and if I want to get my hands on some tidbit of information on the Napoleonic Wars, then the likelihood is it will be somewhere in there.

That means I have no need to wander out and try to locate what I want in a public library, as my field of interest is too specific.

However, there are tens of thousands of people in our city who would be lost without our libraries for their mental stimulus, education or straight-out pleasure of reading.

Books are just so damn expensive to buy nowadays that the only source of them is in our libraries and not just for old folk. Young parents need them to help educate their kids by starting them into books early. Who hasn't read The Very Hungry Caterpillar to their littlies, or Are You My Mother?, or any of the Harry Potter books to their kids.

And let's not forget one of Tauranga's great luminaries - Hairy Maclary and Co, soon to be immortalised in bronze.

It is wonderful stuff and to trigger a love of books in youngsters is just so important for them. Sometimes people are unable to get out to libraries - they may be in rest homes - or will only get to see books in their schools and then, in lower decile ones, have limited opportunities to borrow them.

In Tauranga that's where the Mobile Library comes into service, taking books to those who would normally not be able to use a library.

The service costs about $127,000 a year to run and is used by 22,000 people. That's about one in five people here.

More than half are schoolchildren who, according to experts, desperately need to have the bus service to improve their literacy levels.

They often live in areas where money is extremely tight and, unfortunately, education is not so highly regarded.

Tauranga council has suggested user fees for the Mobile Library Service, but neither rest homes nor schools in low-income areas can afford them.

Take much-maligned Merivale, for example, a school there is being asked for $3206 in fees - that is more than its library budget for the year.

So how to pay for the mobile library service or, in fact, boost any of the libraries in this city? Well, how about taking the money from a little publicised fund paid in development contributions and earmarked to go towards the now-shelved libraries in Welcome Bay and Bethlehem?

There is about $1.8 million that should be sitting there and part of that could easily be used to keep the mobile library on the road. Now when I say should be there, it seems the monies paid into the fund have been sidetracked.

At a meeting in front of a large public gallery on November 29, the council was quizzed over using those funds for extending Greerton library, only to be told the money had been loaned out and if the money collected for libraries was actually to be used for libraries then those libraries would need to reimburse the lost interest from the loan!

Take from that what you will but, if I were a developer who paid money into that library fund, I'd be spewing and asking for my money back. With interest.

Now while Tauranga City Council needs to cut expenses, it must be sensible and not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Education levels, culture and the arts are all severely undervalued in this region, and if people in the Western Bay want to stop being looked down on as provincial clods then its chiefs need to lead the way to promote education.

And you don't do that by running a mobile library off the road.

richard@richardmoore.com

- Bay of Plenty Times

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