As a librarian (and because it was just down the road from where we were staying), I had to check out the national library. It is important to say, before I go on, that the Cook Islands covers 2million square kilometres of ocean and has a population of only 25,000 spread over 11 of its 15 islands. Kind of like a national library for a place the size of Swift Current, if Swift Current was spread across the prairie provinces. Anyway, we went into the national library, and my librarian heart was sad. The children’s books were worn. Government reports were stacked in piles on shelves. The upper mezzanine had more piles on non-fiction books on tables. There were no public computers and (of course) no wifi. To keep the library cool, the building had openings to let in the cool ocean breeze but the effect of that salty air was all around: books were damp, the metal library shelves were rusting and so were the spiral metal stairs (a little dodgy to even the most able-bodied). The challenges of managing a library in that kind of climate seem enormous – and trying to manage a collection that is current and relevant on a tiny budget is hard to imagine.
As far as I could tell, the library serves as the public library for the island as well as its role as national library. The library was empty, except for us and one small child. It felt like the library was struggling for relevance and fighting against the forces of nature. I know nothing of island culture, Maori culture, dealing with a tropical climate, or working within the kind of funding challenges that they must have to work with, but still I wanted to step in and ‘fix’ things – and how patronizing is that!