Saturday, 26 February 2011

Arriving at the Rainbow

“Manukau City Centre” has long been visible from State Highway 1, with the ginormous pirate ship ride at Rainbow’s End theme park in full swing. But for me, getting there from my home suburb of Avondale was far from plain sailing.

In the square, by Manukau’s central library.
My destination was the two newest libraries on the globe or, more accurately, the newest location of libraries: a week earlier (February 12), the existing Manukau City Centre Library and South Auckland Research Centre had re-opened in a single building just a couple of minutes from their previous premises, which were streets apart from each other.

Charting a course from Avondale (north west) to central Manukau (south) was easy. Google Maps told me the trip by car was only 23 minutes using State Highway 20, the south-western motorway that’s now accessible from Mount Roskill. I’ve used SH20 heaps of times to get to the airport... and I’ve lived in Auckland all my life.

But it took almost a lifetime to reach the library. Google Maps hadn’t factored in route deviations that included two unscheduled arrivals at the airport — from the west and the south. I can only blame my own geographical incompetence, as at the library, the nice person behind the issues desk looked closely at Google’s step by step directions and gave them the thumbs-up. She tried to soothe me by saying there’ve been complaints about the signposts along the route.

I’ve never connected South Auckland to criminality as did a desperate MP in a by-election, but my ignorance was such that until I consulted the South Auckland Research Centre, the only Manukaus I knew of were the harbour and the (former) city. Today I also know “Manukau” is that city’s main commercial precinct. It used to be called Wiri, which is now the name of the neighbouring industrial precinct to the west. Confused? 

At the shopping centre, children’s tiles
depict their community.
 The research centre is a place of quiet industry on the first floor at 3 Osterley Way, next to the town square and a couple of minutes’ walk from what I suspect most people still call the Manukau City Shopping Centre (now officially just another Westfield). The Saturday I visited, a couple of guys were at the computers — possibly for purposes other than research in the narrow sense — and a woman and a boy were reading microfilm. The woman seemed to know her way around; an able librarian showed the boy of about 10 the ropes. He looked up, once: “I’ve found my mum!” he said, with a big grin.
The librarian kindly gave me a guided though impromptu tour of the research centre with its reference items — historic New Zealand Herald issues, government publications, but also materials (in various forms) specific to South Auckland: Manukau Courier archives, local genealogical resources, heritage information. There are rooms for meetings and study, too, available to students and others.

Some of the South Auckland Research Centre’s most wonderful resources are online, and that’s where I read about South Auckland’s history, from the instructive to the oddball — including that it has its own “Bridge to Nowhere”, and that at the birth of Manukau City in the 1960s, one serious contender for its name was “Churchill”. Team leader Bruce Ringer has written much if not all of this, and has also helped oversee Manukau in Poetry, featuring work by poets ranging from national names to... well, a relative of mine whom I didn’t realise is a writer.
In the ground-floor library.
The Auckland region’s formerly separate public library systems still have their own websites, though these now link to the umbrella site and catalogue. Manukau’s is really impressive: it’s visually stunning, not at all clunky in appearance or navigation, and I’m not surprised to hear it’s won an award. If driving to the bricks and mortar library had been like touring the website, I’d have arrived in a couple of mouse clicks (‘two shakes of a lamb’s tail’ have been superceded). Another recent discovery is the Manukau Libraries’ Top 5 Goodies blog. It offers bite-sized book advice that’s entertaining and often cheeky, though a recent piece (to which I linked below) struck a sombre note about earthquakes.

Like the research centre, Manukau’s digital librarians have moved and are now on the first floor at 3 Osterley Way. Tosca, one of the blogging staff, noted this week that before the move, “every day was like my own personal Christmas” thanks to Manukau Libraries’ cataloguers (with whom she shared premises) and their trolley of new books. Now, she says, “I feel slightly guilty that I so easily look to Manukau Library (on the floor below me) to take their place”.

The beautiful ground-floor library was buzzing the day I visited. Locals obviously had no difficulty finding it in its new location, and had made themselves at home. Manukau City Centre’s library is bigger than before, I understand. It’s not huge, but like my local, it has a great mix of spaces — for spreading out with magazines or study materials, for computing, for browsing the bookshelves or for engaging in armchair travel (courtesy of the travel section, brochures about Manukau’s parks, and some very comfy seating). I was quick to help myself to a gazillion brochures (well, 17) about the parks, so my Manukau adventures may well go beyond the area’s 17 libraries.

New next to old in the children’s section.
What really drew me, in this particular library, was the children’s section. I’m sure it helped that it’s just inside the entrance, rather than distant and invisible behind the grown-ups’ stuff. The shelving design allows a lot of books to be displayed face out rather than spine out: as a former bookseller, I know that makes a big difference. So at Manukau’s central library I was suddenly a 40-something kid, grabbing Lulu and the Brontosaurus by the delightful Judith Viorst, The Composer Is Dead by Lemony Snicket, Russell Ash’s Top 10 of Everything 2011 and three New Zealand books — Kyle Mewburn’s Crack in the Sky, Des Hunt’s Secret of Jelly Mountain and a teen novel, Dog Tucker by K Drinkwater. 

Needing, eventually, to devour something other than books, I made my way across the square to the shopping centre, where I sampled a strawberry yoghurt smoothie, wandered around and happened upon the old Manukau central library premises, now completely empty. The former library is tucked away on the mezzanine between businesses that I suspect receive relatively few visitors. It has a view straight across to The Rainbow, Shona McFarlane’s gorgeous stained-glass window that depicts Manukau’s harbour, landscape, day and night in a 12 metre panorama.

Both the window and that library location date from the shopping centre’s opening in 1976. The stained glass is less likely to leave the building, and I wonder who will look up at it now that the library’s moved on? I’m glad, though, that the library’s made itself visible in the community — even, in the end, to this outsider.

Day (top) and night, details from Shona McFarlane’s Rainbow
at Manukau City Shopping Centre. It’s something to look up to.

1 comment:

  1. I've also been to this new library and I too enjoyed the children's section - my greatest pleasure came from the contrasts - the older books in the adult section compared with the many, many brand new ones in the kids area and the juxtaposition that your photo shows of traditional (and, in the example shown, oft denigrated) children's books with the very modern - all beautifully displayed for young eyes to find and young hands to pick up.