Editorial: Mobile library saved by pressure

By Annemarie Quill

Tauranga's councillors have listened to the community and made the right decision to keep the mobile library - for now - while a review takes place of all library services.

It shows the importance of making your voice heard in council decisions. Two years ago public pressure forced the council to scuttle its library cost-cutting plan. Now the mobile library has once again galvanised the community, which passionately opposed another cut to flagship services.

Once again, the attack on the city's library services has also highlighted some councillors' issues not only with reading, but with maths.

It is the accessibility of libraries - and other flagship services - that adds social and economic value to the community.

It was always going to be a false economy to remove the mobile library when, as Friends of the Library president Kate Clark states, 26 per cent of Tauranga children leave school with poor literacy skills, according to a Priority One survey. Why remove a service which for many children in low decile schools delivers the only library books that they will ever see?

It is sad if a child doesn't have the opportunity to discover the magic of reading.

Sentimentality aside, Merivale School has reported that in the five years the mobile library had called, literacy levels had risen from 35 per cent to 70 per cent. The mobile service costs about $127,000 a year to run and is used by 22,000 people. That equates to around one in five people in town.

The mobile library is also used by the sick, or rest home residents, who cannot easily visit the library. Both these groups - the schoolchildren and the elderly - are unlikely to access technological services.

Arts facilities also add value to a city that is harder to measure by numbers.

Tauranga is losing its historic reputation as a cultural backwater. The city has shed its provincial clodhoppers and is developing its own cultural heart, which is valuable both to residents and to tourists.

We have a thriving fashion, music and arts scene. While there are still pockets of rednecks, for the most part Tauranga is maturing into a stroppy city with attitude.

In the past, its journey has not helped by some - including some of our council, who seem determined to keep us enshrined in Hicksville.

This has seen funds poured into sports facilities but bled from them from equally important community services such as the art gallery, the building of a museum, theatre and dance facilities and library services.

Sport facilities are also vital. But when money is tight, when they can read, build them the drag racing track.

I recently heard a councillor enthusing about how Tauranga's most famous characters, Hairy Maclary and friends, are to be immortalised in bronze.

Let's hope councillors listen to the community and figure out a way to increase our cultural value, or the closest some of Tauranga's children will get to the magic of Hairy Maclary, is swinging from his tail on the waterfront.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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