Congratulations to Pene Walsh and her staff at the public library. Over the past year the number of library visitors has grown 27%. This increase has brought with it a range of challenges, not least of which has been the disruptive and offensive behaviour of some library users, many of them young males.
While Councillor Alan Davidson recently suggested a strategy of exclusion and shame by ordering trespass notices and posting pictures of the offenders in public places, the staff have taken a more constructive approach. Library staff – with the support of the City Watch team – have been committed to building positive and mutually respectful relationships with the young people. As a result, most of these young people have improved their behaviour around the library, accepted the right of other library visitors to enjoy civic spaces without being disturbed and no doubt have also developed a greater sense of belonging to their community.
I was also impressed that Pene sent a couple of staff members to a youth worker training workshop we organised last year. One of the key messages from the day was that every young person in their transition to adulthood needs to experience (a) a sense of belonging, (b) a sense that they are good at something, (c) a sense of taking responsibility for themselves, and (d) a sense of making a positive contribution to their community. It is clear that library staff understand it takes a whole community to raise healthy young people and have been able to find ways to support positive youth development within the public service responsibilities they have at the library.
If there were awards for positive youth development in Gisborne (or even nationally), our library staff and the City Watch team should be first in line.
We urgently need to find the funds, within or outside of Council, to extend the space of our library so it can better cater for the growing number of visitors and properly house the great resources it has available for all of us. While we’re at it, the connection of the library to an outdoors civic space in the CBD seems commonsense.