Perhaps poet David Hornblow has Botany Downs in mind when he performs his masterpiece The Next Prophet: "The next prophet will be born before their high school is built," he declares. "This is almost a grid reference."
Half a generation ago, the building of raw young suburbs — Dannemora, Flat Bush — spurred the creation of (privately-owned) Botany Town Centre in 2001, Botany electorate (2006) and Botany Library (2004). If they pre-date their high school (Botany Downs Secondary College, 2004), the next eastern prophet is also older than their library.
Fittingly, as this is the city's cutting edge, Botany Library is future-licious, all neon snazzmatazz and IT dazzle. It was the first library in the country to e-tag its books, paving the way for the self-checkouts and the scary beeping doorways we all now take for granted.
Upstairs in the Town Centre, its entrance crowned by neo-psychedelic colour-morphing fluoro tubes, beats its cinema neighbour at the game of high-stimulus attraction. You're allowed to eat and read at the same time. Pass the popcorn.
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Inside, the library's unusual angles contain meeting rooms, a closed-off large "peaceful place" and a beautiful children's nook held up by wooden dinosaur ribs; there's nary enough space left over for the books. A shiny, narrow mezzanine is dimly lit dystopian blue. But its best unique feature is that, to align with the shopping centre, the library is open most public holidays. No need for book withdrawal! Nibble your Easter eggs and read.
Botany's people are new as well as its amenities: about half were born overseas and young families abound. Together, Pakeha and Asian people make up more than 90 per cent of the population, with Pakeha the largest group by a whisker. Yet only 6km southwest, most of the population are Maori and Pacific — and Otara's library warmly reflects this.
Whakairo frame the entrance like the front of a red wharenui. Eye-catching relief carvings dominate the walls, showing volcanoes and factories, waves and maybe a goddess. The two friendly and helpful librarians at the desk didn't know who had made what amounts to some of Auckland Libraries' most fabulous art: both had been coming to the library since they were kids (such continuity helps the library's great vibe) and the carvings have always just been there, beautifying their lives.
On paper, Otara Library seems like the Mangere Town Centre Library: both are in southern shopping centres, with their backs to the light (although Otara Library does overlook the famous Saturday market carpark); both display exceptional local artworks.
But where Mangere's library feels sparse and dim, Otara's library feels special.
Gracefully middle-aged (it's in its 40s at least), it combines lots of space and table tennis with homey reassurance; comfort with a touch of reverence. Cushioned chairs and intersecting bookshelves make the high-ceilinged space cosy. Along with the celebrated Fresh Gallery and Otara Music Art Centre (both neighbours), in my opinion the library helps make Otara the strong cultural heart of South Auckland.