The library is on Pā Street

August 29th, 2022. By Ben Brown

Ben Brown reflects on his first encounter with the Motueka Public Library when he was 10 and the vital role of public libraries in communities.

The only thing you absolutely have to know is the location of the library.
— Albert Einstein

Motueka Public Library in 2008
Motueka Public Library in Tasman District taken in 2008. Image credit: Motueka Library, Tasman District. People's Network on Flickr. Some rights reserved: CC BY-NC 2.0. Image cropped.

Joining the library

On a Friday evening sometime in the early Summer of 1972, I joined the Motueka Public Library. I was 10 years old, just read Twain. The library was on Pā Street, just along from the Memorial Hall, and way back then, the Plunket Rooms, where Baby Benny’s every infant milestone, miracle and minor misadventure was scrupulously recorded by Karitane Angels in the Eternal Plunket Book of Our Beginnings. Such was the mana of Plunket that 5 or 6 years after I joined the library, I wound up doing the practical for my driver licence with a Plunket Book for ID. I couldn’t find my birth certificate on the day, so Mum decided, ‘Here, use this!’ I wasn’t sure if Plunket books counted as ID and I said so. Mum told me, ‘Shut up and get in the car. You’re driving.’

I scraped through the practical and gave the traffic cop my Plunket documentation. He raised an eyebrow, casually noted the record of my early existence, first steps on the journey, first setbacks, first falls. He looked at me like I was someone you had to talk to v e r y   s l o w l y. But guess what, he didn’t. He just shrugged and said, ‘Right. Well, you better sign here then, Mr Baby Brown.’ Mums eh. Just like libraries sometimes. They always know something you don’t know.

Access to a world of wonder

Didn’t need the Plunket book at the Library though. Dad was signing me up while a stern looking Mrs Beatson explained to me the rights and responsibilities of library membership. My attention was already wandering among the shelves and stacks, along the mapped and pictured walls, down the volumed aisles of facts, fictions, myriad imaginings and anything else I’d ever need or want or have to know. Everything was in there somewhere. And ALL of it was free.

‘… Provided loaned books are returned by the due date, which is stamped here,’ said Mrs Beatson precisely, showing me the due date stamped on the Date of Return page pasted into the back of a book. ‘Late returns will incur a penalty,’ she finished. The card from the little pocket in the back of the book would have the same date stamp on it and go in MY very own newly minted library file: Brown G B, Ngatimoti R.D. 1, the next one down from Brown G A, same address — my father.

Public libraries — ever-evolving places of provision and service

A free Public Library service tells us a lot about where we live. It tells us we think being informed is better than being ignorant. It suggests to us that we should expect as a matter of course, universal free and ready access to a comprehensive and authoritative knowledge base and information resource. There should be appropriate, safe, well-functioning civic spaces dedicated to the ongoing dissemination of knowledge across all the disciplines, information to all and any required order of certainty, and vast, diverse, expansive catalogues packed with amazing, authentic examples of creative and imaginative expression.

The Public Library today is a dedicated pro-active public utility. It’s an ever-evolving place of provision and service. It’s a public meeting space with egalitarian ideals. It absolutely understands the value and power of knowledge, which is exactly why it should be free. And why, if you don’t know already where your local library is, you should definitely take onboard what Albert Einstein had to say up there, somewhere just below Pā Street.

Note: Motueka’s new Public Library in Wallace St opened in March 2022.