Jean Mason still remembers when the Cook Islands Library and Museum shelves were raided by people eager to read the Harry Potter series. Over 70 customers borrowed the whole seven books during that time.
And then, she says, it was the Twilight series followed by The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and more recently Fifty Shades of Grey that drew a crowd of curious readers.
Mason has spent hundreds of hours reading the blurbs of books and categorising them. As an avid reader, she says she loves to surround herself with new books.
This year the library welcomed a number of local customers and travellers from overseas, who have kept the books moving in and out from the shelves.
A challenge for Mason has been keeping the books and artefacts in good condition.
“A book could sit on the shelf for 15 years untouched and the minute you go to touch it, it disintegrates. Books need to be handled and loved. We learnt that from working here,” says Mason.
The adhesive on the spine of some books comes apart from the humidity in the climate and then the bugs move in.
Mud wasps and their nests are notorious for sneaking into the shelves but Mason usually destroys them as soon as she sees them.
She has pulled out a book that has been untouched for six months. There was a giant mud wasp nest on the back. These wasps go for the fans and ceilings too, Mason says.
The library relies on membership fees and the entry fee to their museum – a small $3 to $6 which helps to pay taxes on the books they import. Luckily, they do from time to time get donations of artefacts and books.
Mason says she is grateful for all of the volunteers who come in to help librarian Sally Voss. Voss has been at the library’s front desk for nearly 18 years.
Mason describes Voss as a library in herself. Voss keeps the Dewey Decimal system, a classification system used by libraries to arrange books via subject, on her desk and flicks through them religiously.
The library has regular customers that come in every week.
“We really do provide a community service. There are a lot of people out there who come to the library, retirees, children, students and visiting Cook Islanders escaping New Zealand’s winter for a few months too,” says Mason.
One lady visits regularly and reads six months’ worth of the Cook Islands News every time she visits Rarotonga, she says.
Mason has seen children grow up in the library until they are ready to leave for university.
But she has witnessed gadgets and other activities taking away people’s attention from books.
“Nowadays there’s more sports and games and you can read e-books on your phone.”
When the Kindle e-book reader came out, a few customers didn’t visit the library for many months but eventually they came back, says Mason.
There’s nothing like turning the pages of a real book and it’s a lot cheaper than buying books on Kindle all the time, she adds.
The Cook Islands Library and Museum will close its doors for the summer break.
In January next year, the library is receiving a shipment of new books which will be ready for borrowing when they reopen in February.