Councillor fears library plan will irk community

AARON LEAMAN
Last updated 11:00 20/03/2014

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The Hamilton City Council risks provoking community angst and attracting damaging media coverage if it mishandles a review into its library services, a senior councillor has warned.

The council's strategy and policy committee this week elected councillors to sit on a working party tasked with developing a draft libraries strategic plan.

The working party will also review library services across the city.

A council staff report warns the review would cover topics that may be controversial and attract media attention.

"The community has a strong sense of ownership of libraries and so a proposal to consider the number and location of libraries buildings and what that implies for some or all of the community libraries may be strongly resisted," the report said.

Councillor Martin Gallagher, one of four councillors elected to the libraries working group, said it was vital the council handled the review correctly.

"If you get the consultation process wrong it's the Rogers Rose Gardens and I guarantee you national media again," he said.

In 2011 the council proposed ripping out the world-renowned rose gardens in an effort to cut $60,000 a year from its budgets.

The proposal, predictably, caused widespread angst among garden enthusiasts.

"I'm supporting the motion to council on the basis that, where I start, I will not be supporting . . . the closure of the neighbourhood libraries," Mr Gallagher said.

"All the libraries we have in the city have come about because of strong community advocacy."

In reply, Mayor Julie Hardaker said it was important elected members regularly reviewed council services to take into account the changing nature of communities.

"What I'm disappointed by is that already there are comments pre-empting what that discussion might be," she said.

"I'm disappointed we've started a discussion that might colour our objectivity in that process."

Councillors will hold a workshop next month to clarify the future priorities for library development.

A draft libraries strategic plan will to go out for public consultation in June or July.

Councillor Garry Mallett said he hoped the library review would be wide ranging because the definition of a library was constantly evolving.

"I think it needs to go down to the very basics of what do we want a library to do," he said, adding he did not know why staff believed aspects of the review could be controversial.

The council's general manager community, Lance Vervoort, said staff advice was based on the experience of other cities who had reviewed their library services.

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