Friends to make new ones or disband

Friends of Wānaka Library marched in Wānaka streets in 2013 to protest cuts to library staff. Now...
Friends of Wānaka Library marched in Wānaka streets in 2013 to protest cuts to library staff. Now the friends say they need more support. PHOTO: MARK PRICE
Once upon a time the Friends of Wānaka Library could whistle up 150 supporters for a protest march in the blink of an eye.

In 2013, the Queenstown Lakes District Council and Wānaka Community Board came up with some restructuring proposals that threatened to cut the number of Wānaka librarians.

The 15.2 fulltime equivalent (FTE) jobs were cut to 10.68.

There was also a suggestion the library be turned — partially — into a customer services bureau where people could pay their rates.

The proposals were staunchly opposed by a group known as the Wānaka Public Library Association (now the Friends of Wānaka Library, or Fowl for short).

There has been a lot of water under the Bullock Creek Lane bridge since then and a reasonably happy ever after, despite further cuts in library staff.

No-one pays rates at the library and librarians still reign supreme.

The team is now at 5.6 FTEs (12 permanent and part-time staff).

The Wānaka library was built in 2003 next to the Bullock Creek at the north end of Dunmore St.

It was a replacement for a very small library built in Ardmore St in 1887.

It is now the busiest library in the district, with 170,000 books issued in the 2022-23 financial year.

More than 80,000 people entered the library in the same year.

But the few remaining Fowl members are now in their 70s and the group is in serious danger of disbanding.

Wānaka poet Kate Bariletti wants to keep the Friends of Wānaka Library running. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Wānaka poet Kate Bariletti wants to keep the Friends of Wānaka Library running. PHOTO: ODT FILES
"I want help to keep it going," Fowl co-founder and writer Kate Bariletti, 75, told the Wānaka Sun last week.

"So at the AGM, I am going to call for new members.

"If that new crowd does not appear, Friends of Wānaka Library will be finished within 30 days."

The possibility of Fowl disappearing forever is an anathema to Ms Bariletti, whose late wife Jan Janata wore her military medals proudly on her lapel during the 2013 library street march.

Ms Bariletti believed Wānaka librarians still needed their friends to support local book programmes, events and community initiatives. 

"I loved that we could be so supportive of our librarians, that we could ask our librarians ‘what do you need, how can we help?’

"The first thing we did was survey the community about what they wanted or expected to use in their library.

"We got so much feedback about that."

The library programme had included things that came from the survey suggestions, such as a late  evening, music events, readers events and books in other languages, she said.

She still could not imagine the library being anything but a library, and thought it was great so many people used Wanaka’s library as a place to hook on the the internet and study or write.

"To me, it is a hub of a community, and extension of welcome to Wānaka.

"A new group of Friends can go in any direction they want." 

Queenstown Lakes District Council library services manager Sue Gwilliam said  she hoped Fowl would continue to support library events, author visits, history talks, cultural events and art displays. 

Group members had facilitated many social English sessions, funded cups of tea and coffee, provided nibbles and helped librarians set up and pack down events, she said.

"We couldn’t do without their assistance at the library stand at the annual A&P show and book sale.

"They provide library bags, which we sell at the library.

"These few things spring to mind and I’ve probably missed a few ... We consider them true friends of the library," Mrs Gwilliam said.

As for the Sun’s question whether Wānaka would soon need a new library to accommodate the increase in visitors, that would have to go through a planning process to determine its need and location, Mrs Gwilliam said.

"As a fast and ever-growing population in the Upper Clutha, at some stage in the future the discussion around a new library or expansion of the existing library services will need to be discussed with the community," she said.

The Friends of Wānaka Library’s — possibly final — annual meeting will be held at the library  at 4.30pm on February 29.

Ms Bariletti said for her and other co-founders, it would be a time to celebrate and let go. 

"There will be a cake. And there will be a call for new people — just in case there are some younger people who feel being a friend of Wānaka Library is something they could be for a while."