I've been rather uncomfortable these past few months, visiting and writing about the cheerful surfaces of Auckland's 55 community libraries knowing that all the while, behind the bookcases, many librarians are fed up or even despairing.
The causes for the malaise are various: overwork and perceived service degradation due to "sinking lid" understaffing, delays and uncertainty about the libraries' current restructure and the shrinking of the city's irreplaceable book collection.
One or two librarians I spoke to for this column are among my most frightened interviewees ever, concerned about losing anonymity. But not only are they worried about their own jobs, they're worried about what the libraries are losing.
This month it was officially announced that by July the number of full and part-time jobs at the library will be 926. It was 1100 less than a year ago so the cuts represent a headcount loss of about 174 or 15 per cent. Thus far, no redundancies have been forced but it's decimation plus.
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While no libraries are to close, it's equivalent to losing about seven libraries' worth of staff. In addition, staff will have to work across multiple libraries, complicating their lives and de-personalising the experience for visitors (note, please Auckland Libraries: we're not "customers").
Library bosses don't accept reducing librarians means reducing services. Desk checkouts are declining as are visitor numbers (though management's forecasts seem slightly dubious). Clearly a surplus of librarians now have nothing to do except complain about how their employer has pettily removed their overdue-fines waiver perk.
Er no. It's offensive that this has to be pointed out but librarians aren't just desk jockeys. Their duties range from designing archiving protocols to keeping visitors safe from bloody fights. While fewer visits are taking place, the average visit time is getting longer - so the number of bodies in all 55 libraries at any given moment increased by a whopping 40 per cent in the three years from 2013.
And while many of these bodies are diligently and quietly using the wifi, others are not. Instead they require librarian arbitration of squabbles over the computers, they're consulting librarian research specialists or they're kids using the 3D printing machines, attending Wriggle 'n Rhyme and joining summer reading programmes in record numbers - all under librarian supervision.
Library bosses give the impression they're copping flak for an Auckland Council intent on reducing costs. But instead of seeing public interest in the libraries as a risk to plans, they should have used it as a "get out of rates jail free" card. Their plans will save $1.8 million a year - peanuts for an enormous and complex local body, yet a huge attack on a low-paid sector employing mostly women.
During last year's election campaign now-Mayor Phil Goff stated baldly: "Spending on parks and libraries should not be cut." There's broad agreement on this across the political spectrum.
Hurry - sign the "Save our Supercity librarians" petition online at Action Station and tell Council to put its money where its mouth is.