Chance to create something special

Book now: Marlborough Mayor Alistair Sowman stands in High St, where a library could be built
Book now: Marlborough Mayor Alistair Sowman stands in High St, where a library could be built

What would a new library look like and where should it be, asks Marlborough Mayor Alastair Sowman...

Our libraries are overflowing.

Demand has outgrown available space in our libraries, both in Blenheim and Picton.

The council and the public need to start talking about the big decisions to be made over the future of our libraries - what they should look like and where they should be located.

The books, the people, the atmosphere - who doesn't love our library?

About half a million issues - books, tapes, CDs, magazines, puzzles - were recorded in 2013. The majority of these are issued free of charge, but free space is increasingly at a premium.

At both Blenheim and Picton, it's quite clear we have a space problem, particularly noticeable when whole class groups are visiting the library or when the weather brings our young travellers indoors.

I love that there is a real buzz in the atmosphere and that our libraries have developed into such lively places. It underlines the fact that libraries everywhere are changing.

They're just as much learning and information centres as a source of reading material.

Just as traditional booksellers are being forced to adapt to a world where more and more people are downloading books, so our libraries are tuning in to technology.

At the same time, libraries are seen as valuable, non-commercial public space for meetings and public talks, discussions, programmes and various other community activities.

So, given the significant shift in the way people access information and that libraries are, increasingly, becoming community hubs, it's time to consider how much more space, and what kind of spaces, our libraries will need for the future.

How exciting it would be to have our libraries as welcoming civic amenities, wide open to all, the information meeting place for each town.

In Picton, there are particular issues with space and location which the council will have to address soon. More room is required and we will have to consider just where the building should best be located.

Would the wise decision be to extend from the existing Picton Library site or plan for a new purpose-built library in the future?

In Blenheim, the future location of the library came up in the big public discussions in 2009 around the "Growing Marlborough" project. We brought together a large number of ideas and submissions from many people about the future shape and design of Blenheim's town centre.

At that time, the public feedback supported the thinking that the old Civic Theatre-Noel Leeming-Shoe Warehouse block in Queen St could be a good site for a new library, perhaps with an art gallery attached.

The council purchased that block as part of the Civic Theatre arrangements, but with the thought very much in mind that this block of land would be a key to the future development of Queen St and to the overall shape of the town.

But planning for public facilities requires us to look at the CBD as a complete entity, not focus on one street alone. The council should not be making decisions about the future site of a new library until we've had a good hard look at all the options.

The Queen St site has some advantages. But it's not the only possibility.

Since the Growing Marlborough Strategy was prepared, we've had our earthquakes and that has affected planning and design requirements - and some existing buildings. In the High St-Wynen St block, there are a number of buildings requiring major repairs or demolition.

The council also has extensive carparking in the High St-Wynen St area. This land has remained in parking, in the absence of any other development options.

Given all these factors, there is space here for the town to create something special - to turn and face the river.

Our Growing Marlborough Strategy highlights the need to link the Taylor River with the town; perhaps a "Taylor precinct" could deliver that linkage - public green space with river views and pathways, with the library at its heart?

Room for small events, outdoor exhibitions, sidewalk stalls or performances - the kind of activity that would bring life and energy to this end of town.

Accessibility is an essential - so parking, the bus stop and the walking routes from the shopping streets would all have to be worked in to such a plan.

But I see the library as one of the most important pillars of the town; a key civic amenity. We have our theatre, well positioned and with river views.

Perhaps we use the sweep of the river to set to best advantage another equally important public building?

The Marlborough Express