A library in New Zealand has solved a longstanding mystery as to why books were going missing and reappearing in strange and hidden places.
Auckland library staff grew increasingly puzzled when books kept turning up in unusual places, tucked under tables and chairs and hidden in hard-to-find spots around the library.
“It was really odd and we couldn’t quite figure it out, we were finding books delicately tucked under shelves with a proper bookmark, no pages folded over or anything” said Auckland Libraries manager Rachael Rivera.
“We thought someone was playing with us or it was bored kids.”
The mystery was eventually solved when the library called a meeting with the city’s rough sleepers, and it was revealed many of them – who were unable to get library cards because they didn’t have a home address – had been hiding their books so they could come back to them the next day, and not risk losing their place.
According to the latest figures from Auckland council there are more than 23,000 homeless people in New Zealand’s largest city, and more than 700 sleeping rough each night.
Rivera said some members of the homeless community did have a card as the library allowed them to use the local City Mission as their residential address, but others were wary about damaging or losing library books if they took them out onto the streets.
“That community really values the services we offer and treat the books with a great deal of respect,” said Rivera, who added that around 50 rough sleepers frequent the library daily.
“A lot of the guys that come in are extremely well-read and have some quite eccentric and high-brow literary tastes … people are homeless for so many different reasons, and being intelligent and interested in literature doesn’t preclude that.”
Since discovering the cause of the missing books the library have dedicated a shelf for the homeless to safely store their books behind the main counter. The library also shows “discretion” with its homeless clients regarding overdue fines or late books.
“We’ve seen a real increase in people using the library as a space to just be,” said Rivera.
“And that’s a mix of people who are sleeping on the street as well as people living in tiny apartments in the CBD. It is surprising in this modern age we are in, but we actually feel like there are more people coming to the space then ever before. It’s really vibrant.”