Red Alert

Now for something completely different

Posted by on November 2nd, 2012

Next Members’ Day, my bill, the Local Government (Public Libraries) Amendment bill will have its first reading in parliament.

The bill, originally drafted by Labour MP Grant Robertson, was drawn from the ballot a couple of months back and as its sponsor, I’ve been on an exploration of the wonderful services our Public Libraries and librarians provide.

I admit that while I’ve been a fan of public libraries for years, going back to my childhood and the childhood of my son, I haven’t been a regular visitor recently. So this bill has re-ignited my passion for libraries, for books, for knowledge, for history. It’s been wonderful seeing the national treasure of our public library services, from the small local library to those with bigger collections.  These are indeed national taonga.

Public libraries play an important role in our communities. They give everyone access to information and improve literacy and reading.  They are community hubs for a range of activities, and they help strength local communities.

Who could ever imagine that our libraries could be at risk, yet with the government’s focus on Local Government costs, with a nasty bill due to be reported back soon, increasingly, strapped Local Authorities may turn their attention to library services and more charges.

New Zealand has no legislation that guarantees free public libraries. We are out of step internationally with countries such as Australia, the United Kingdom and Canada – all of which protect free public library services via legislation. We are not meeting UNESCO guidelines where public libraries in principle should be free of charge and the responsibility of local and national authorities, financed by national and local governments.

My bill will help New Zealand meet UNESCO guidelines, address the issue of user charges and ensure that NZ’s public libraries are an essential component of any long-term strategy for culture, information provision, literacy and education.

Our Library services should not be bound by an individual’s ability to pay, but that is becoming increasingly the case. Statistics show that introduction of user charges result in lower usage of public libraries and this in turn directly impacts on our communities’ literacy outcomes – it adds to inequality by denying access to those who can least afford to pay.

Then there’s our precious collections, which store our history.  Imagine these being developed on a user pays basis?  Do we really want unbalanced, profit-driven libraries that cater only for immediate, popular choices, rather than non-profitable alternatives?

We are becoming an e-society, but without libraries and free access to e-government and other services, the digital divide will expand.  It’s almost impossible to do anything these days without access to the internet – even looking for a job, where advertisements and applications are usually done on-line. Information about government services are increasingly only available through the internet.

Libraries play an important role in bridging the digital divide for those without personal computers or other devices.

There’s many reasons for this bill, but the most important one is keeping our public libraries free for all users.

If you want to support the bill, go to the Keep Public Libraries free facebook page or the website for the Library Information Association of NZ (Lianza)

Most important of all, let your MP know where you stand on this issue.

12 Responses to “Now for something completely different”

  1. Ehoa says:

    Passionate about this bill. Love libraries, love librarians…nothing like being surrounded by books, books and more books.

  2. Tim G says:

    I was pretty disgusted to see some negative comment on your championing of this bill (you did have a pretty incredible run of luck on other bills) in the blogosphere.

    When I was living in London, a bunch of libraries in North London (LB of Barnet) were up for the chop because their tory controlled local authority was cutting funding for some spurious reason (if they could have blamed the Christchurch earthquake, I’m sure they would have).

    Anyway, a bunch of respected authors (Alan Bennett, Philip Pullman, et. al.) joined a campaign to save the libraries that attracted huge media attention and public interest (I can’t comment on whether that stopped the great big tory steamroller, but it certainly continued the erosion-cum-landslide of tory support).

    I suggest you/NZ-based activists with a line in to the literary world look for allies amongst authors in championing your bill.

  3. Ianmac says:

    While staying in a city in the UAE I was staggered to find no Public Library or private one either. Nowhere to check out information or read a book. Boy when it isn’t there don’t you miss it!

  4. bbfloyd says:

    Yet another example of how incredibly anti-intellectual the tories are….. I have fond memories of spending hours in my local library, from the age of seven, right through to about three years ago, when it became obvious that the range of choices on the shelves was narrowing….

    That was when it I first discovered that the fines system had been “updated”.. I had left a book under a stack of other books, and consequently, forgotten to take it back.. the fine rushed past $10.00 within weeks… I was then to find out that once fines had gone past that figure($10)that Until I reduced my “debt” to below $10, I was not allowed to take any books out…

    The system has become even more expensive, and collection of fines more draconian….We aren’t that far from schoolchildren being harassed by collection agencies for their overdue library fines…..Tha library is currently harrassing me for an overdue fine from last year…. I havn’t bothered with the libraries since then, as it has become easier, and cheaper to access the information I used to use the library for, on the internet…. Or buy the books i want….

    I wonder how well schoolchildren of this day, and age will fare now once they have no choice but to go online to find information… And where are they going to discover the joy of reading?, and the stimulation their imagination gets from that now? From Wikeapedia?

    I suppose there are benefits to having a population with truncated vocabularies as a result of not having thousands of interesting books to look at, and read…

    It makes it harder to enunciate on issues that are important to “ordinary” people… Or, indeed, to elucidate on their opinions, and concerns regarding bad governance practices that disadvantage large groups of “lower class” citizens….

    Now, who would benefit from THAT situation, I wonder?

  5. Mac1 says:

    They had a go at privatising our local provincial library two decades ago and we fought it off. Do we have to fight this fight every time that a new generation of conservatives get near the levers of power? Stupid, narrow-minded and disempowering! So, they are- but that is also how they want the people to be (read ‘disempowered’ here).

  6. Bob-in-Akl says:

    It’s not free, somebody pays, the rate payers or the tax payers. What is the cost of what you are proposing? I have nothing against subsidized libraries but am interested to know the cost, is it a million a year? 10 million? 20? 50? 100? With the changes in technology do we need all of the current libraries? What about in ten years?


  7. bbfloyd says:

    @young bobby… Cost is relative… Does it become a “cost” to give access to information to oue children? the patterns set in childhood tend to stay with us for life…..

    Most of my freinds have fond memories of discovering previously unknown knowledge in the library… simply having books laid out before you has advantages over the internet….

    The books I have found, just wandering through the aisles, and the subjects that I was inspired to learn more about, wouldn’t have happened if I had had to access the internet, or rely on my teachers to inform me of what i should be learning, and what my interests should be….

    My story is by no means an isolated one…

    And that is something that we should be “costing”? Any suggestions on how the cost/benefits analysis would be constructed?

    As usual, the “cost” brigade utterly fails to appreciate just how important it is NOT to put a monetary figure on the development of a scholarly environment, and how that has flow on benefit for society as a whole, for many generations to come ad infinitum….

    On the other hand, it is relatively easy to measure the cost to society of deliberately cutting off avanues of self improvement to the masses… One just has to look at the Justice/Health/police budgets to see the proportion of cost resulting from policies that disconnect portions of that society….

    So…are we going to assign costs to educating our youth properly, with the attendant responsibility to encourage independant thought, which libraries assist greatly with, or is it going to be cheaper to just lock up the “failures”?

  8. A Mother says:

    I love libraries. When I move cities, it is the first thing I do is join up.

    If there wasn’t access to libraries, I would become poor, with all the books I would have to buy for my children to read (my son will read a few a day) I don’t understand their reasoning.

  9. John says:

    Bob-in-Akl asks a fair question, and does so quite civilly. In response, bbfloyd (who claims not to use libraries any more…) calls him names and talks a load of horseturd. Putting cost in “quotation marks” doesn’t magically make things “free”. Nor does calling a cost an “investment”. But I guess this is imposing costs on councils and ratepayers, so its a “free” policy for Labour?
    Labour has a problem when it keeps banging on about fiscal discipline, but each and every spokesperson acts like they’ve never seen a proposal to spend money that they didn’t want to double down on.
    I like libraries too – but how many we need, what services they should provide for free, and whether some vaccuous UNESCO guidelines should dictate our spending priorities are all legitimate questions.

  10. The Al1en says:

    “I guess this is imposing costs on councils and ratepayers”

    Damn librarians with their books, coming over here and taking all our money 😆

    “Bob-in-Akl asks a fair question, and does so quite civilly. In response, bbfloyd (who claims not to use libraries any more…) calls him names and talks a load of horseturd.”

    2012 and Kiwi kids are going to bed hungry in garages and sick homes, and you’re bothered by a few stiff words on a blog. Dry your eyes, mate.

  11. Darien Fenton says:

    First reading later today.

  12. The Al1en says:

    Good luck.

    My daughter (11 and not a rate payer), despite having an e-book reader, gets taken to Deanwell library in Hamilton at least once a week to access what she’ll never have otherwise, by her father, a rate payer who’s never borrowed a book in his life.

    Less white elephants from local councils reduces debt and rates bills much faster than laying off staff who provide an essential public service.