Stories from the Tauranga library

Library manager Sue Pharo issuing councillor John Cronin his book on the day of the library opening, May 8, 1989. Photo: Tauranga City Library Archives.

With Tauranga’s city library soon moving from Willow St to a temporary base at He Puna Manawa, The Weekend Sun is running a series looking at the facility’s history – this time from a former library manager.

Sue Pharo was library manager at the Tauranga City Library for nearly 18 years, from 1979 until 1996.

This era was an exciting time to manage the library, as Sue was experiencing the world change around her. “I was told when I became the library manager in 1979 that I would have to bring in a computer.”

This marked a turning point for the library, which was accustomed to using typewriters back then when the facility was housed in an Art Deco style building on Willow St that also had council offices and Tauranga Municipal Electricity Department.

Not only did Sue bring in the first computers, she also saw through setting up of the mobile library. “We used to have this green van that would go and visit people, but we talked to council and they ended up getting a truck.

“There was so much excitement with the staff choosing how it was going to be painted. We ended up going with a variety of animals from children’s story books.

“The fact that we were able to convert it from an ordinary vehicle into a modified truck was a huge step, and it’s been able to back the mobile library ever since.”

Sue also recalls memories of moving to the new library building at 91 Willow St – which this month closed while it sets up a temporary base at He Puna Manawa – including some complications with the heavy books.

“When we moved to the new library the trucks took lots of trips to take all the books over, unloading the stacks. The books were so heavy that one of the trucks ended up with flat tyres.”

When the new library was about to open in 1988, Sue says she received a phone call from the national newspaper. “It was about 6am and I received a phone call from ‘The NZ Herald’. They asked me if I knew that the new library building had been occupied by protestors.”

The occupation was a land claim protest, and five men had barricaded themselves in with books and furniture, according to the New Zealand History website.

The five men had lit a small ceremonial fire, which was knocked over during their arrest, setting alight some books and starting a fire on the stairwell.

“A large number of books were thrown into the stairwell with meths, paint and wall paste,” says Sue.

“We spent a lot of time dealing with the books that had been damaged, and we had a lot of help from the library community. Some books were held on a fishing line to dry out.

“It was tricky because we were managing public response as well as staff. I had to manage people and talk with council. We all started some training on communication with the local iwi too.”

Sue says the new library had a low-key opening because of the protests, but there was a lot of progress afterwards. “We had set up a waiata group in the library with Mererina Murray, and the Māori Women’s Welfare League gifted the 19 tukutuku panels that are hanging on the wall and made them with the library staff. They are beautiful and are now part of the council’s art collection.”  

Sue also recalls the most popular book from when she was the library manager being ‘The Bone People’ by Keri Hulme, first published in 1984.

“It seemed like everyone was trying to get it at one stage; it was hugely popular when it was published.”

Sue also says that she’s excited about her former workplace getting an upgrade, as she thought the new library built in 1989 would last about 25 years, taking it to 2014.

“I do really believe it is time for Tauranga to upgrade its library.”

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