Public toilets and public libraries

Today I went to the Wellington Central Library to get a library card and use the internet.

The location is excellent.A   The library is part of a civic square, right beside the municipal office (where I need to go on Monday to purchase a recycling bin and the yellow council approved garbage bags so that my garbage will be picked up), and the tourist office.A   There is a beauitful silver coloured globe that is suspended above the square.A   There were dragon boat races happening nearby, as well as a free performance for the jazz festival or the children’s festival.A   it’s a lively and central location.

Wellington Civic Square by Velvet Android

I like the physical space.A   On the level where I entered there was a bustling cafe.A   There was also a citizen’s advice bureau (not run by the library), where you can get information about tenancy laws, employment laws and health services.A   You can look over the railing and see lots of books and people.A   The signage is bright, and the space is colourful and organized.

Inside the library by *TreMichLan*

After providing picture ID and something showing my local address I was issued a library card.A   The friendly staff person explained borrowing limits and fees.A   She explained that a request cost $2, it cost $1 if I returned an item to a different location from where I borrowed it from, it cost $0.50 to borrow a magazine, $4 to borrow a DVD (with a week limit), $1 to borrow a CD (with a week limit), and $5 for bestseller books (with a week limit).A   I was gobsmacked.A   when I expressed my shock at the price to borrow a DVD, she replied that the libraries rental rates were lower than a DVD rental store.A   My partner asked if it was free to borrow regular books.A   She replied that it was.A   The staff person was very profesional and knew the library policy well.

These user fees are problematic for two reasons.A   First, these fees are obvious barriers that hinder or completely obstruct some people’s access to these materials.A   I realize that economic times are tight, and that public libraries need to be creative with their budgets, but to me these fees are unacceptable.A   Second, these fees undercut the idea that public library is an information center, and reinforces the notion that the library is primarily about books.A   Information found in non-bestseller books is free, but information in other formats is not.A   This is silly.

I expected internet access to be free.A   While I’ve set up my home account, I will be waiting for another 10 days for a technician to come and set it up.A   The internet is my information lifeline and I’m having trouble without access at home.A   Most internet cafes charge $4/hour.A   I was completely shocked to learn that the public library charges $6/hour.A   The staff person explained that the library doesn’t have a lot of computers, so higher price is to encourage people to go elsewhere.

I’m not sure about what influenced the library’s policy on this, but I think it is extremely classist. For middle class people who have high speed internet at home, this is a non-issue.A   However, for people who don’t have access (people with low incomes, transient people like migrant workers and travellers), this is a major problem.A   Again, I think this distinction between information found in books, and information found on the internet is highly problematic.

Wellington has many free and clean public toilets that are open 24 hours a day.A   I think this is fantastic andA   is obviously a priority for the council.A   In today’s information society, access to information is an equally important need, and should be a free public service.


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