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Elderly disheartened at the proposed closure of mobile library

Claudia Toxopeus
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Rest home residents may soon lose their beloved library service  Flickr

Rest home residents who can’t go to the library, instead bring the library to them.

For more than a decade Christchurch’s mobile library has been visiting 19 locations, bringing reading to people's doorsteps.

But to the dismay of Russley Village residents, this may soon change.

As part of its next 10-year budget, the council is planning to turn the page on this service.

The annual operation cost sits at $75,000. This does not include vehicle maintenance. 

The van, a diesel Mercedes Sprint, was set to be replaced in 2022, after running since 2012.

Russley Village manager Tim Dearsley said residents looked forward to the bus' arrival.

“They could be found on the side of the street waiting.” 

He said losing it would be another thing they would have to come to terms with.

With other services, like banks, cutting back on human interaction, reading helps keep their brains agile, especially since many residents are unable to drive.

The van visits areas with rest homes, schools, high-social housing, or those a long distance from the library.

Carolyn Robertson, council head of libraries and information said she understood the value of the service.

“Should this proposal be adopted as part of the Long Term Plan 2021-31, we will liaise with customers and external partners to explore how we can continue to meet customer needs.”

She said there were a number of alternative services that may become available.

These included delivering crates of books, offering digital options, allowing a nominated relative to collect books on behalf of a family member, and group visits to Shirley Library. 

Research by Age Concern NZ indicates half of older Kiwis experience feelings of loneliness, with eight to nine percent feeling lonely the majority of the time.

In another study, researchers at the University of Canterbury found “the absence of companionship” was the leading contributor. 

But Dearsley knows the first-hand benefits of the books on wheels service, including a sense of companionship.

Librarians would bring books tailored towards the needs of residents. Genres they prefer and books with enlarged print were offered.

When he first heard they were thinking of closing the library he thought, “oh golly, that’s another thing”.

Submissions on the council’s long-term plan closed on Sunday. Submitters are able to speak to the council at hearings in May, and a final decision will be made in June.

For now, residents will just have to wait, cross their fingers, and hope their beloved library doesn’t drive off forever.