By Dan Satherley
A bill that would have prevented libraries from charging for borrowing and internet use has been narrowly defeated in Parliament.
Last night MPs voted 61-60 against Labour MP Darien Fenton's Local Government (Public Libraries) Amendment Bill in its first reading.
Labour, the Greens, Mana, New Zealand First and the Maori Party were in favour of the bill, with National, ACT and United Future opposed.
President of the Library and Information Association of New Zealand (LIANZA), Heather Lamond, says keeping the status quo means New Zealand is not meeting UNESCO guidelines to keep essential library services free to use.
"This means libraries that are under financial pressure from councils are able to introduce charges for borrowing and internet use," she says. "The people that are affected most by charges are the ones that need the library services the most."
At the moment, libraries commonly charge for items such as CDs and DVDs, internet access and best-sellers. The law only prevents councils from charging residents to join their local library.
Ms Fenton says the vote shows what the Government "really thinks of our public libraries".
"I'm extremely disappointed, and I think the debate last night showed the real agenda of the National Government."
She says the Government's view is that libraries should be "user pays".
National Party MP Michael Woodhouse said the party did not support Ms Fenton's bill because it would "enable central Government to impose obligations and costs on local government regardless of cost implications".
"National is of the view that decisions about libraries are best made at a local council level rather than by central Government."
He says the Government's reforms are aimed at focusing local government bodies on "core roles" at the least cost.
Ms Lamond says despite last night's vote, LIANZA will continue to lobby for greater library access.
"It's obvious most New Zealanders are very fond of their local libraries. We’ll do everything we can to ensure public libraries continue to provide such important services to their communities."