Library to stay open in evening

The Dunedin Public Library. Photo by Gerard O'Brien.
The Dunedin Public Library. Photo by Gerard O'Brien.
Opening hours at the Dunedin City Library seem set to survive the Dunedin City Council's scalpel, following a public outcry against a proposal to close the doors earlier on weekday evenings.

However, plans for the new Blueskin Bay library have not fared so well, with councillors moving to defer the $860,000 project - of which the council was to pay $500,000 - until 2012-13.

Councillors have also approved revised capital spending plans for the city's libraries, subject to approval, which would see $4 million spent refurbishing the central city library and another $10 million on the long-awaited South Dunedin library.

However, the development of the South Dunedin branch could yet be further streamlined, with council staff exploring the possibility of public-private partnerships for the library and other projects, council city property manager Robert Clark told councillors.

The developments came as councillors yesterday resumed deliberations on the 2011-12 pre-draft annual plan.

The proposal to reduce the library's opening hours on weekday evenings was quickly defeated, with Cr Bill Acklin recommending the hours remain unchanged following a public backlash against the idea.

"In my whole time being on council, I have never received so many letters than I have about this," he said.

The move would have seen the library closing at 6pm most weekdays, except Thursdays, saving $33,500 in 2011-12 and $50,000 annually after that.

Those opposed to the move worried it would rob some city workers and others of access to the library, with Dunedin Public Libraries Association president Merle van de Klundert describing the idea as "wicked".

A report by council library services manager Bernie Hawke warned the reduced hours would inconvenience 712 people per week, or 35,600 people each year.

Cr Syd Brown, chairman of the council's finance, strategy and development committee, argued the council needed to make unpopular decisions if it was to make savings, or risk "bowing to the interests of interest groups".

"That does mean each area of the community is going to have to tighten their belt and be prepared to help the city through the period of restraint."

However, other councillors argued against the proposal, with Cr Lee Vandervis describing the proposal as "a cut in the wrong area", while Cr Richard Thomson said significant savings had already been found from within the council's libraries capital spending programme.

"The degree of disruption to the public's ability to use the library is simply too large for the savings that are envisaged," Cr Thomson said.

Cr Teresa Stevenson said the "very healthy habit" of working parents taking their children to the library in the evening should be encouraged, while Cr Andrew Noone said public demand for evening opening was evident.

Cr Kate Wilson supported investigating a targeted rate for libraries funding, which won support from Cr Paul Hudson, who argued some ratepayers paid thousands of dollars for libraries through their rates but never used them, because they lived too far away.

He asked staff to report back on the possible use of targeted rates to fund libraries.

Councillors voted to keep central city library hours unchanged, and asked the council's rates funding working party to review the use of targeted rates for libraries and potentially other council services.

Any changes would be included in next year's long-term council community plan deliberations.

Councillors also voted to defer the Blueskin Bay library project until 2012-13, after hearing fundraising for the $360,000 community share of the project was yet to start.

The proposal to scrap the central city library redevelopment, helping reduce libraries capital spending to 2014-15 from $29.6 million to $14.5 million, would still allow for an adequate refurbishment of the "tired" central library, Mr Clark told councillors.

That could include creating more cafe and retail areas around the library, boosting revenue, he said.

Refurbishing the central city library - including installing new technology - would also free up staff to transfer to the South Dunedin library, allowing both libraries to be run from existing budgets, council community life general manager Graeme Hall said.

Main points:

• Evening opening hours at Dunedin Central Library unchanged.

• Blueskin Bay library project deferred to 2012-13.

• Plan to refurbish Dunedin Central Library and build South Dunedin library approved.

• Council staff investigating public-private partnerships for South Dunedin library and other projects.

• All decisions subject to final approval following public consultation and public hearing May 4-6.



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