Topic: Mapua Community Library: A Piece of Local History by Sue England

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A 2013 Memoir and Local History Competition entry.

Archived version here,

Mapua Community Library: A Piece of Local History by Sue England

This is the story of a library.  And it is also the story of a doorstep.

Twenty years before Martin Luther King had his dream, Mary Robb had a vision, a vision of books being available to anyone and everyone that lived in Mapua and its environs.  It was 1943.

The idea conceived by Mary and sanctioned by the National Library gave birth to a regular loan of fifty books from the mobile library service.  Armed with this supply a group of book-loving women opened Mapua Library in the porch of a private house in Toru Street every Saturday for an hour.  With several mutations from those heady beginnings on a doorstep to the present day this ticking heart of the community has never looked back.

A larger space was needed to support the increasingly popular exchange of books.  In 1980 the local Hall Society was enlarging its own facility and when approached agreed to make a room available for the library.  An inner sanctum, luxury unbounded, the library ladies were in heaven until disaster struck in 1987.  The mobile service ceased operating.  No mobile library, no books.  Community libraries around the country were deemed too small and encouraged to close.

The vision hadn’t come this far to be thwarted without a fight.  Subscribers felt that the rural area of Mapua needed its own library.  So they went to the top.  Why not?  A letter written to the Right Honourable David Lange, the Prime Minister of the day, putting the facts before him must have impressed because a visit from the National Library was convened.  But several months of anxious waiting followed until finally, a reprieve. 

With the assistance of local Richmond Library, Mapua was able to continue offering a book lending service.

Whilst books were continually borrowed from the Council-operated Richmond Library, the stock that Mapua was quietly gathering together necessitated several shifts to larger locations.  A saviour was at hand.  The Moutere Hills RSA very generously offered to share their site in Toru Street. 

The strength of a small community was never better revealed than with the flurry of fundraising that ensued.  Additional financial help from the New Zealand Lottery Board and Canterbury Charitable Trust led to the construction of a permanent, purpose-built shared facility and in 2002, with much excitement and ceremony the doors were opened by National Treasure Margaret Mahy.

Mapua Community Library is unique.  It retains its chartered status and is the only such facility in New Zealand to be run totally by volunteers with no paid personnel whatsoever.  There are no joining fees, no charges, temporary memberships are eagerly applied for by local visitors and 90% of all income is spent on books. 

This income is generated by donations, grants and fundraising and the governance of all aspects of the library is undertaken by some ten volunteers, the committee.  The philosophy that facilities are free and available to all is a good one.

The history thus far described is taken from library records, gathered with foresight for just such a moment as this.  But as a patron, working volunteer and fundraiser of the library since 2008 I can now share my own knowledge.

Life continued smoothly with no challenge to tradition.  And that tradition was labour-intensive and totally based on a manual-issue role model.  Book supplies and patrons increased at a gradual rate.  Funding came from grants and specific fundraising events. 

All was sunny in the streets of Mapua.  But it took more radical thinking to make two startling changes that revolutionised the functioning of the library.  The year was 2010.

Expertise and time given on a voluntary basis led to the month of August and the installation of the Open Source Software Koha.  The library was computerised.  Forget the doorstep; it had its own website! 

It is fair to say that there was some resistance to change particularly from the more elderly volunteers but once realisation dawned that the system was simple to use, efficient and effective and enhanced the services that the library could provide, calm prevailed and happy smiles returned.

With every volunteer trained to a working proficiency and able to use the system competently to issue books, enrol new members, place holds and deal with renewals, the library could now provide information services,  literary nourishment and function on an international basis.

Running parallel with the Koha developmental stage a major fundraising initiative was conceived.  The project was ambitious for a volunteer-driven library but its successful outcome was a measure of the willingness and enthusiasm of all the volunteers to play a part. 

A year in the planning and driven by a team of five ladies, the first ever 3-day Literary Festival involving noted authors from throughout New Zealand took place at the end of March.  Margaret Mahy, who else, was invited and accepted the role of patron.  She was outstanding and a major draw for children and adults alike.

The boldness of the enterprise with ideas on a grand scale translated into grand funds and many lovely new books for the library shelves.  It was a huge success and merited the accolade of Tasman District Supreme Winners at the annual Trustpower Community Service Awards.

Children love bears.  They also love B.E.A.R.S. and this reading scheme was implemented into the library calendar in 2011.  Why?  Because the children wanted it. The Be Excited About Reading Scheme’ was introduced from Canada and encourages children who are shy or having difficulties with reading to read to a non-related adult.

I don’t know who had the most fun and pleasure, the children choosing a book and reading out loud or the adults who helped them.  The library was full of happiness.  Many of the adults were library volunteers but friends from the community also joined the reading gang.  Such was its success that it was repeated in 2012 and is now a regular annual event.

In 2012 we discovered that Joe Bennett loved us.  Vanda Symon dressed up for us.  Jenny Pattrick flew from Leipzig to be with us.  And Craig Smith brought his Wonky Donkey to be with us.   Learning from the first experience, a second and improved Literary Festival took Mapua by storm with a full and varied programme.  Sell-out audiences enjoyed three days of fun that produced financial results on par with 2100 and much good cheer within the village.

Children from the pre-schools in Mapua regularly visit the library and in 2011 / 2012 we had weekly visits from 120 children from Mapua School as building work made their own library inaccessible.  This service was offered by volunteers outside normal opening hours serving to strengthen the bond between library and school.

And this brings the story up to date.  In 2013 at the grand old age of 70 it goes from strength to strength with a stock of over 10,000 books and more than 1,300 families registered as patrons. 

The library has 50 volunteers (and a waiting list!) that regularly open the doors of this beautiful library to provide the community with an exemplary service that goes way beyond the provision of books.  The rule of absolute silence synonymous with libraries does not apply.  The volunteers enjoy talking about books.  They like to hear the children laughing in the book corner and try to make it a vibrant and interesting experience. 

Every six weeks there is a new exhibition in the library.  A variety of contributors display photographs, multi-media paintings, textiles, local projects and the art and craft from school and pre-school children.

Mapua Library is very special place and holds a treasured place in the hearts of the villagers.  But the true charm is not in its physical nature and location but in the people that willingly give up their time to serve their neighbours. 

Without all the volunteers the library would not exist.  Without the vision of Mary Robb and the loan of a doorstep, the community of Mapua would be a lesser place.


This page archived at Perma CC in October of 2016:

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