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Volunteer Rakaia librarian Liz Depree in the town's transformed and popular reading space.

By Linda Clarke

Rakaia’s community library is an unrealised gem in the town – it stocks great books that are free or ridiculously cheap to borrow and is also a communal social space that welcomes readers of all ages.

Volunteer librarian Liz Depree said while books were the obvious focus, teenagers often dropped in to use the free Wi-Fi and others simply for a chat.

The library has been a part of the town since 1882 and the committee still has the original minute book dating back to that time. Records show that in 1876, the library had 273 books, including titles such as The Book of Snobs, Turkish Harems and the Rise and Fall of the Emperor Maximilian (he was Mexican, in case you’re wondering).

Today, the library stocks well over 2000 books for both adults and children. Many are new releases. Those on shelves around the outside walls are free to borrow, as are large print books on loan from the Ashburton Library.

The latest releases have a loan charge of 50 cents for three weeks and include books like Life as a Casketeer, the Other Bennet Sister, Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments (for the Handmaid’s Tale fans) and the popular Seven Sisters series. Waiting lists are very short.

Liz said they spent an Ashburton District Council grant of $3000 last year entirely on books and they would buy more if they had the money.

The library opens to the public at least three times a week and Liz said the space had been modernised and transformed in recent years, with the support of the Rakaia Community Association and other local groups.

It operates out of a purpose-built building as part of the Rakaia Community Hall and has been fortunate to receive grants for new carpet (the Lion Foundation), new blinds (Rakaia Community Association), and new heat pump (Ashburton District Council).

The Rakaia Lions paid for material and labour to make new shelves, Ultimate Broadband provides free Wi-Fi during opening hours via a modem paid for by the Rakaia Four Square, across the road. The food store is also a dropoff for returns after hours.

“All of this community support means the library has been able to offer a quality service to the readers in the district.”

Liz said a team of volunteer librarians ran the front desk, where a simple but old-fashioned issuing system operated. Books were stamped with the date they were due back and recorded similarly on a borrower’s card, held at the library. Low-tech, but highly efficient and easy for everyone to use.

Down to 25 members a few years ago, the library’s core users were worried about its future, so they stepped up and offered their support.

“It had a long-standing committee who knew and loved the printed word – they appreciated others joining to support and take the library into the future.”

The result has been an explosion in membership (94 adults and 52 children), as well as a new children’s reading corner with the latest books and old favourites.

Liz said the children’s corner was popular and a great way to sow the seeds for a lifetime of reading.

The library runs on a roster of volunteers and shoestring budget, though a used book fair at the end of this month should raise a few dollars – which will be spent immediately on more books.

The Rakaia library is one of three supported by the Ashburton District Council, through their annual rural libraries grant scheme.