Saturday, 23 April 2011

Return Ticket to Glen Eden

Waiting by the library door.
(Photo: Carol Bartlett.)
Mind where you walk when next you enter the Glen Eden library. It’s not that there’s a dog waiting at the door (it’s very well behaved); rather that what’s on the floor is worth noticing: a custom-made carpet whose patterns and colours represent the geological substrata beneath. The carpet follows on from the building’s internal wall, which has similarly subtle, beautiful earth tones.

Though spots comprise one of the patterns, there’s no leopard skin to be seen here. TV’s Outrageous Fortune series, made in and of west Auckland, may have bolstered the Westie* stereotype but it’s one this building seems designed to dispute. 

Architects Warren and Mahoney, whose string of awards includes several for libraries, worked with “lead artist” John Parker — the noted ceramicist and theatre-set designer from Oratia — to create the Glen Eden Public Library in 2004. Incorporating several permanent art installations, it went on to win the Built Environment category in the 2005 Creative Places Awards, presented by Creative New Zealand to recognise local authorities that have enhanced their communities through the arts. 

 Miles of aisles,
with magic carpet.
“Return to Eden”  
With the late, great Waitakere City being an avowed eco-city, this library was also a star in its council’s eco-firmament, and the cover story in a 2005 publication that the council co-produced. (Auckland Libraries appear not to possess ‘Sustainable Buildings in the Auckland Region’ but you may be able to find it online, through Google docs.) Under the heading “Return to Eden”, the building is described as:

incorporating passive ventilation and cooling systems, passive solar heating, optimised natural lighting, energy-efficient lighting and appliance systems, on-site stormwater management systems, timbers sourced from sustainably managed forest resources, and building materials selected for their longevity.

I’m not sure even the Almighty had things that well planned when he created the universe, but he did have just six days to work with (the seventh was for rest). And no doubt the extensive consultation required by the Waitakere City Council meant that the Glen Eden library took a bit longer. Did God “bring together a range of professionals and stakeholders” for his project? Probably not, as he made them — male and female — just before its completion. With necessity the mother of invention, he was forced to DIY. 

The Glen Eden Public Library, part of its community.
Down to Earth...
But let’s get back down to earth. It seems apt that this west Auckland public building makes a feature of the ground beneath our feet, as the geology of the area (the ocean included) is special. 

Come on!
Not only has it provided soil for Oratia’s orchards and Henderson’s vineyards; it also some time back, in the Miocene era, sprouted the Waitakere volcano — “similar in nature to our modern volcanoes of Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro”, according to geologist Bruce Hayward, but “five or six times the size of all three... combined” (A Field Guide to Auckland).

If few people think of that or of the architects’ “energy-efficient appliance systems” when they enter the building at 12–32 Glendale Road, it’s not the end of the world. There’s plenty more going on in this local library.

...and Down to Business
The catalogue and the book-issue machines are right by the door. Brilliant: borrowers can get straight down to business. There’s no confusing these with the Learning Centre computers, which are down the other end of the building.

The Learning Centre coordinator is trained to help with computer and internet use through classes or individual support. As with other libraries, computers are freely available, but at Glen Eden I noted that one is marked for ‘express’ use — a great idea when others are booked up.

That end of the library is shared with the children’s section (strangely deserted the day of my visit), and a wall-length window best viewed from outside, with sail-like shade cloths. Also outside is the six-metre-tall pou whenua carved from a single piece of kauri, by John Collins and Sunnah Thompson of Te Kawerau A Maki.

Pou whenua and flax by the library window.
Staff are visible, not just out in the library but in their office area too. This not closed off by such an out-moded thing as a door; instead there’s a wide, wall-high opening. Patrons appeared to respect the invisible boundary when I was in the library, though if I worked there, I wouldn’t keep any treasures on my desk.

Love Letters in Large Print
The Large Print section bookshelves, which a friend had urged me to check on, are the first you come to after entering the library, another good idea. Her dad Bert, an avid reader, struggles in some libraries’ Large Print sections — the aisles are too narrow to manoeuvre his walking frame — but at Glen Eden these books get a lengthy outside row, with plenty of space around them.

It’s the Thursday before ANZAC Day when I visit. Near the issue machines there’s a nod to the solemnity of the event (and consequently to Bert, a returned soldier), in the form of a book display. It may be the only such feature in this building right now, but as with a number of modern libraries, there’s space to display some books face out on the shelves where they naturally reside, and slanting top shelves are completely dedicated to face-out displays.

An Obama backlash?
Here at Glen Eden is something rarer: books ‘face out’ on the shelves look as if they’ve been selected rather than put there for convenience. Consider the Leaf, on garden foliage, deserves good marks for a clever title and attractive cover. A well-reviewed biography of Barack Obama, The Bridge, stands by Madam Lash, prompting conjecture about an Obama backlash. 

Another intriguing book that faces out is Four-Letter Word: New Love Letters, in which fiction writers ranging from Atwood to Le Guin to Zapruder (no, I don’t know who he is either) explore a classic form. If I’m surprised to see this in the large print section, it just shows that residents of Auckland’s west are not the only people subject to stereotyping.

A One-Time Drive-Through Village?
Glen Eden used to be a ‘drive through’ village. En route to Piha beach or the Dalmatian-owned orchards, where Mum would buy the best of the season’s apples and pears for stewing and bottling, we’d pass streets named “Fruitvale” and “Westward Ho”, whizzing through Glen Eden on the West Coast Road. It’s worth stopping and spending time there, however. 


Within walking distance
of the library.
As well as the library, there’s the enormous, historic Waikumete Cemetery, the subject of a small book written by poet Michael O’Leary while he was employed him by PEP.** Some stories in Gone West may be too good to be true, but it seems verifiable that with the railway and cemetery established, people assumed Waikomiti (as Glen Eden was then called) would thrive:

the Weekly News during 1886 said, “the rites, ceremonies and requirements of the cemetery will be sure to attract fresh residents to the township and so around the city of the dead will arise a new city of the living.” Unfortunately, while the not so fresh residents kept arriving, it was not until after the Great War that any sort of real population and commercial growth occurred.

The railway station built in 1880 still stands near its original site, though it’s been altered and currently houses a cafe — perhaps not such a different enterprise from the tearooms that were once the station’s neighbour, together with the local library and Buchanan’s stonemasons.

Last Stop in a Long Journey 
Glen Eden’s station is distinctive in having once been the very last stop for many Aucklanders. Funeral trains had coffin-bearing boxcars marked by white crosses and, according to O’Leary, mourners travelling in ordinary carriages. 

One of Glen Eden’s surprises: the Iglesia Ni Cristo (Church of Christ).
This Filipino denomination has two congregations in New Zealand.
Timespanner blogger Lisa Truttman writes that from November 13 of 1918, special trains conveyed some of the flu epidemic’s victims from Auckland to Waikumete, stopping first at Mount Eden for another contingent of both mourners and mourned. (Sometimes Waikumete’s dead were buried unmourned, but that’s another story.)

The stonemasons’ business and the tearooms may have benefited from Glen Eden’s industry of morbidity, but the library? Well, there’s nothing like having a good book to read during a long journey, though at some point in local history the library (rather than the train) moved on.

The Playhouse Theatre,
once the town hall and library.
Arts in the Community
Traces of another former library location can be seen at the Art Deco-style Glen Eden Playhouse Theatre. Built in 1935 as the local town hall, town board offices and library, it still has “PUBLIC LIBRARY” engraved above an external side door. You can peer through the ex-library window into what looks like a single room.

Today’s Glen Eden Public Library is directly across the road from the theatre, and on another corner opposite the library is a book exchange that appears to thrive, large, light and airy. This part of town bordering the Glen Mall shops is a small but perfectly formed arts precinct — with library patrons, in a way, also patrons of the arts. 

A mural on the book exchange wall.
* Westie: “often (derog.) a person from the (north-)western suburbs of Auckland, esp. perceived as being uncultured and uncouth [also attrib.]: westie chick).”
“westie n.” The New Zealand Oxford Dictionary. Tony Deverson. Oxford University Press 2004. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. Auckland City Library. 22 April 2011 <>

** PEP — “Project Employment Programme (a state-subsidised work scheme)”, according to The Oxford Dictionary of New Zealandisms, a new book that defines approximately 6500
Kiwi terms.


  1. I enjoyed this entry. I enjoy the local history with the library commentary.

    The juxtaposition of Obama and Madam Lash has comical (or serious?) connotations other that the "backlash" ones - especially given the image on the cover of Madam Lash.


  2. It would be interesting to find out if all the eco-engineering in the building actually worked. Was the temperature OK when you visited?
    I've been in several eco-buildings with passive ventilation and cooling, and positively sweltered in the heat build-up.

  3. It seemed fine, but it was a very mild autumn afternoon - temperature neither hot nor cold outside.