Cost-cutting reduces towns' library hours

KATHRYN KING
Last updated 08:07 05/07/2013

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Library hours in Shannon and Foxton have been slashed by almost half following declining visitor numbers, raising the ire of their respective communities, which say it is a blow to efforts to make the towns more attractive.

From Monday, the opening hours of the libraries in both towns will be reduced from 38 hours a week to 22, and Levin's $7 million culture and community centre Te Takere will drop its opening hours from 60 to 56.

Te Horowhenua Trust chief executive officer Joann Ransom said an additional $200,000 was needed from the Horowhenua District Council to meet Te Takere's operating costs based on a draft budget presented during annual plan hearings. During that process ratepayers were clear that rate increases needed to be kept under control and the budget was instead revised to include cuts to library opening hours, Ms Ransom said.

The revised budget was accepted at a Horowhenua District Council meeting this week.

Ms Ransom said it was hoped the reductions in hours would be an interim measure, provided enough income was generated over winter to allow a reassessment.

The changes meant the hours of five paid staff would be reduced, two fixed-term contracts had not been renewed and two staff who would retire in the next six months would not be replaced.

Two previously fulltime positions would now be part-time after those staff members volunteered to reduce their hours in response to a call for ideas to reduce expenses, Ms Ransom said.

Visitor counts had been falling at both the smaller centres for months, and that trend had been exacerbated since Te Takere opened last September, she said.

Foxton was the worst off, with fewer visitors per month than Shannon, despite a larger population.

"Loan statistics and trends played a small part in the decision to reduce hours.

"We have also observed that more books are being returned at Foxton and Shannon libraries than are being borrowed; people are choosing to visit Te Takere and borrow their books from there."

Te Takere's success - more than 50,000 visitors in May compared with the old library's average of 18,000 a month - had meant it had grown faster than its ability to generate income, Ms Ransom said.

"No-one, least of all the trust, wants to shut libraries or reduce hours. This decision had to be based on a purely objective analysis of the actual usage data to ensure that we directed resources where they were most required."

Ross Campbell, who is Shannon Progressive Association chairman, said people in Shannon were "very upset" and a petition had been started to push for retaining the library's existing hours. "We've worked really hard over the last few years to get Shannon buzzing and make it a happening place. We're proud of the way it's going and we don't want the council to cut the hours of the service," he said.

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The cuts were "protecting Te Takere at Shannon's expense" but the buzz about the new facility would die down eventually, he said.

In Foxton, Christina Paton said the Foxton Community Board should have been consulted before any decision was made.

"I find it extremely unfair . . . small communities are being targeted because Te Takere can't manage itself."

David Clapperton, acting chief executive at Horowhenua District Council, has supported the cuts, saying: "By making these small changes to the opening hours of Te Takere and our district libraries, Te Horowhenua Trust is leading the way in providing cost-effective and first-rate services for the Horowhenua district."

NEW HOURS

New library opening hours from July 8, 2013.

Foxton Library: Weekdays 1pm until 5pm, Saturday 10am until noon.

Shannon Library and Service Centre: Weekdays 1pm till 5pm, Saturday 10am till midday.

Te Takere: 9am until 6pm Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Wednesday 10am until 9pm, Saturday 10am until 4pm, Sunday 1pm until 4pm. 

- Manawatu Standard

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