Library support rally turns into march

Wanaka residents march in support of maintaining the town's library services. Photos by Mark Price.
Wanaka residents march in support of maintaining the town's library services. Photos by Mark Price.
Close to 150 people took to the streets of Wanaka yesterday in an impromptu protest march to the offices of the Queenstown Lakes District Council.

What began as a rally outside the Wanaka Library to show support for the town's librarians - facing a proposed reorganisation and, in some cases, redundancy - turned into a good-natured but determined march through the main street.

In the absence of one of the main organisers, who was called away for family reasons at the last minute, former Dunedin mayor Dame Sukhi Turner stepped into the role of speaker.

Noting council communications manager Meaghan Miller was quoted in the Otago Daily Times on Saturday as saying ''stakeholders'' had been consulted over changes at the Queenstown and Wanaka libraries, Dame Sukhi asked the crowd if any of them had been consulted. There was no response.

The council's draft report reviewing all council operations - leaked to the media on Thursday - suggests staff at the two libraries be reduced from 15.12 to 10.68 full-time-equivalent roles.

Libraries would also become council service centres and staff would handle rates payments and consent applications, in addition to library work.

The council maintains the plan is not about reducing library services.

When that was put to Dame Sukhi by the ODT, she laughed.

Dame Sukhi Turner.
Dame Sukhi Turner.
''Really? When you cut staff in half and expect the people to do other work, as well?''Dame Sukhi said the proposal would contribute to the ''dumbing down'' of society.

''And who asked for it? No-one asked for this to happen.''

Once the marchers had displayed their banners to staff at the council office they signed a petition and then dispersed.

Several plan to speak in the public forum of the next council meeting, in Wanaka on Friday.

One of those is 10-year-old Drew Pilkington, who said he relied on librarians to make suggestions about which books might suit him.

Kim Tomlin believed the added services staff would be expected to provide would reduce the amount of time they could spend being librarians.

And John Wellington asked how the council could avoid reducing services while reducing staff by between a third and a half.

A staff member at the Queenstown Lakes District Council office in Wanaka photographs protesters'...
A staff member at the Queenstown Lakes District Council office in Wanaka photographs protesters' placards.
Queenstown councillor Jude Batson was present during the protest and said the librarians themselves still had the opportunity to respond to the council's draft report.

Mr Feeley and Queenstown Mayor Vanessa van Uden sent an ''open letter'' to the ODT last night saying it was important to recognise cost-efficiency and quality services were not mutually exclusive.

They considered there were ''a range of ways'' the council could remove ''unnecessary'' costs from library services.

''This includes centralising administrative and operational functions currently replicated in every library, and better managing the hours of operation relative to the time worked by staff.''

They said it was important to get the best possible service at the best possible price.

''Throughout this change people can be assured that the role of libraries as a core function of council, and the level of service that is provided, will remain constant.''

mark.price@odt.co.nz

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