Cut off from their shiny train station by that menace of a landmark roundabout, the Panmure shops seem shabby and forgotten. Around the corner, however, Panmure Library offers a dramatic entrance.
The anxious doorway wants to make an impression, like a rock opera diva fallen on hard times. When Governor-General Sir Paul Reeves declared it open in 1989, the whole concrete pile was a tasteful cream. Now, with headache-inducing intensity, the entrance mismatches chartreuse green and rusty red, graffiti adorns the Nau Mai Haere Mai sign and plywood covers cracked glass.
A senior on rollerblades glided smoothly through the smoothly gliding automatic doors. I followed him inside and was surprised to find myself in a cavern so "yuge" and empty that it has echoing museum acoustics.
Seriously, where are the books? There's a piano, a three-tier conversation pit/ giant bullseye target, and enough floor space for a whole rollerblading dance troupe to perform Starlight Express. But few tomes.
Many libraries are bright and airy: Onehunga, Mangere East, and Takapuna. Others are coddling cocoons that turn your face away from the garish light of day: Epsom, the other two Mangeres. Panmure joins this Phantom of the Opera crew - the small skylights soar two storeys above the story books.
Several Rummikub players discussed the illegality of mailing birthday cash to grandchildren ("the post office can see it, even if you put it in with tin foil."). They swap theories on why it's easier to swat flies in the evening: "their wings are a bit damp" vs "they've had a busy day".
A short bike ride due north, in Glen Innes Library, a woman chats loudly about boosting immunity: "we're having liver for breakfast, we're having bone broth - the only thing we haven't got is raw dairy."
Some teenagers grapple with physics: "What is the effect on heat absorption if the volume of the container is increased?" One replies by singing The Exponents' Why Does Love Do This To Me?: "I don't kno-oo-ow ... " Nice to hear the canon during New Zealand music month.
Glen Innes Library's pebble-dash exterior isn't shown to best advantage next to the amazing polished-wood geometric-gem sculpture of Te Oro youth performance centre. But it's one of the bright and airy libraries, pleasant and nicely laid out. Hopefully, it's some comfort to the local community, literally unsettled by years of housing evictions.
Outside, someone is having a cigarette, discussing how to get rid of pop-up ads on the internet. The library computers are important: in 2013, only six in 10 Glen Innes households had access to the internet, and the unemployment rate was almost twice that of Auckland overall.
A friendly librarian explains CVs to a visitor: "it's a sales pitch. You're competing with others in the job market." Gawd, how depressing.
To escape, I find a Ngaio Marsh: Died in the Wool - yes, somebody is actually found dead in a wool bale. Macabre bad puns beat late capitalist insecurity any day. Don't cry for me, Bill and Paula.