By Sarah Catherall - The Dominion Post, Saturday 22 August, 2009
Building inspectors come up daily to check that water is not flooding the drains - or dripping through to the $1 billion of precious collections sitting underneath.
The library is about to undergo its most radical transformation yet, turning it from a leaking building with shelves groaning under the weight of all its collections, to a building that its chief librarian, Penny Carnaby, says will be "a very changed and transformed National Library in Wellington".
The previous Labour government approved a grand plan to spend $82 million overhauling the library's design, encasing it in a glossy glazed "skin" and installing interactive media suites, along with 4000 square metres of new space.
In April, the new government slashed the makeover budget to $52 million, blaming the recession.
Now the library is in the throes of coming up with a revised renovation worth $30 million less, that will repair the leaking building and provide more storage for the growing collections inside.
This latest planned revamp, which is still under wraps and expected to go to the Cabinet next month, continues the next chapter in what has been a controversial history.
The present is proving equally fractious, with heated debate over what the library's real purpose is. Should the building be a more populist venue to rival Te Papa - or should it be the dignified home to earnest researchers poring over a nation's history.
Some argue the new-look National Library could be a building with a wow factor, that draws young and old to its collections, and highlights the importance of research and knowledge.
On the other side of the debate are cynics, such as former Alexander Turnbull chief librarian Jim Traue, who is concerned that library bureaucrats are "overcooking" the building's current state.
They fear a desperate bid to create a Te Papa-like experience at what should simply be a research library charged with collecting and preserving the country's cultural heritage.