Wednesday, 6 April 2011

You know you're a librarian when ~ Sumner's library remains closed and you get mad!

Quake damaged Sumner's excellent community library remains closed: sandwiched uncomfortably between two buildings in immanent danger of collapse the decision to keep it closed requires no brains at all - it's absolutely necessary, right, proper and all the rest of it.  But does this mean that Sumner need go without a library service - No, No and No!  

Christchurch has a mobile library service in the form of a book bus, which I'm sure is working its wheels off in various locations around the stricken city, or at least I hope it is.  But I hear it can't get to Sumner due to the state of the roads.  Pardon?  Can't get to Sumner?  I know the road is very damaged, reduced to one lane in areas and access is difficult, but the vehicles of locals come and go, so where exactly is the problem?  Maybe that particular vehicle can't get through, but others certainly can and do - on a regular basis.  

In a time when digging holes in the back garden to use as toilets, and sewerage a hot topic of general conversation I strenuously suggest that library administration get its heart out from behind closed doors and actually apply one of its own dearly beloved maxims, the one about Libraries Without Walls! 

I left library work years ago but I know how they function: the simple equation is this:
  • Books plus community plus willingness to share equals a library service, pure and simple.  
Forget about computers, audio and security if that's too hard at present, and just get the books out there.  A former colleague and I were discussing this the other day, and we would have got the books out there in suitcases if we had had to.  Get the army, get tanks, get pack-horses, carry them on your head if that's the only way, but Get The Books Out There!

I put the following problems to readers and librarians alike, and offer the obvious solutions:
  • Library building closed: no problem: find a cafe, a school hall, an empty house, a garage which can reasonably be made available for the purpose of people coming and going for some months.
  • No computers: forget it.  Do without them.  Forget backup, forget the lot.  Get customers to write their own lists of items borrowed if that's the best solution.
  • No due date dockets: forget it: get half a dozen date stamps and some stamp pads and get customers to stamp the inside of the backs of their books themselves.  Yes, straight into the inside of the back of the book.  It's been done before.  Most things have been done before. 
  • No security for the stock: forget it.  Long before the invention of computers or even before the days of books being housed on open shelves books were going missing.  From having worked in New Zealands largest library network I know exactly what the average loss of stock is per library, despite all efforts to contain it.  But, the fact is, that most people bring most books back.  Most people treat borrowed items well.  Some don't, but they are a minority.  Accept the potential loss and get on with providing the service.
  • No staff: oh dear, well, love will find a way: organise a roster of volunteers to at least vaguely supervise whatever place is set up.  
  • No shelves: well, put books out on trestles, as at book fairs.  People who go to these do manage to find masses of stuff they want enough to lug home by the bagful.
  • No order: doesn't matter.  See above. 
  • No furniture: this does matter.  It can be found, borrowed or contrived.  
  • No tea room: Here again, this does matter.  I suggest conversation be opened with one or more of the local cafes.  I'm sure something can be contrived.  
  • No budget: that I simply don't believe.  Come on people: extraordinary times require extraordinary measures.  
One of the big problems of living in Christchurch at present is that so many of the usual places that people like to go either no longer exist or are closed due to damage.  People need places to go for outings and refreshment: places to gather to chat or to linger for a while; places which are neutral yet friendly, to cheer them up and give them a change of scene; and then something nice to take away.  Books and libraries are great for all of that. 

Come on, Christchurch City Libraries:
If the Christchurch library administration can get an informal set-up of some sort up and running in areas where their libraries are closed they will prove their worth as well doing their public a great service.  It will be proved, yet again, that libraries are a vital and very much alive organ of a happy and healthy community.  

Waving a flag for the staff:
I am well aware of how hard front-line library staff work.  Very likely this is continuing although a large portion of libraries remain closed.  The unusual circumstances prevailing in Christchurch shouldn't bring more pressure to bear on them.  At such times it's a matter of finding different rather than harder ways of working, which I hope is the case. 

If they can't, you can!!!
If the library administration can't rise to the occasion, I challenge private individuals to give them a run for their money.  Start your own informal clubs.  Many households have at least a handful of books they're not actually valuing much anymore.  Pool them and have some fun.  And when your local libraries are open again, take them back if you still want them, or donate them to the next book fair.  Which makes me wonder, where exactly are all the books destined for the next one?  if they're sitting idle in a warehouse somewhere accessible maybe they could be got out and put to work!  
Note: Newspapers supplied in libraries are always very popular, so if you're thinking of what to have to hand newspapers will be well received.  If you can't afford to buy them in to have available for free, consider getting some to on-sell.  And my guess is that any one of the first half dozen takers will donate their copy anyway.

Prepare for the rush:
I know how much Sumner values its library, so any equivilant establishment would do well to prepare for immense popularity...  I'm also well aware that Redcliffs has lost its library and that Mt Pleasant has never had one.  There is no reason whatsoever why impromptu library-cum-book-exchange fairs couldn't spring up all over the place like the farmers markets which are proving so valuable.  

I no longer live in Christchurch, or I'd be there at the front with this one.  Go Christchurch! 

All my articles about the Christchurch earthquakes and aftermath can be found via the page linked to below, or at the upper right of this screen:


Grace Dalley said...

Bravo, Leigh, great thinking! Perhaps you could post a link here?

Rachel said...

Leigh, I think you should consider forwarding this to the Canterbury Public Libraries website or The Press.

Rachel said...

...on checking, I see it is the Christchurch City Libraries :)

Leigh said...

Rachel, you are right both times: it used to be Canterbury Public. Thanks to you and to Grace for your encouragement to forward links, etc.