Libraries Down Under

Tourists generally have a specialty, a special interest that attracts, no matter where it is found. Mine is libraries. While touring New Zealand this past March I made it a point to stop at every library on our path. I wanted to know their foundation history, how they operated, how their services compared with services offered by other library systems, and how they were governed and funded. So this part of the story is a bus man’s holiday – a librarian who visits libraries.


Library services in New Zealand are governed by the local district councils, which are analogous to our county commissioners. Libraries  play a slightly different role in the community, as well. They are titled __________ Service Centre and Library. The library building includes local government offices in rural areas. Residents can go to the library to pay traffic tickets as well as library fees, or file a complaint about a local road project.

On the plus side, people are drawn into the library more frequently then they might otherwise be, and they see the library as a principle core element in their community.

On the negative side, libraries have to compete with other public services for funding. In the aftermath of a natural disaster like the 2011 earthquake, it can be difficult to maintain library services, particularly when the district council is not made up of library advocates. Consequently, user-fees are used to supplement library services. Most service fees are $3.00, i.e. place a hold, check out a new title, Internet sessions, etc., and fees for children are minimal or none.  Library programs charge an admissions fee, reference appointments are $65.00 per hour, and library venue spaces are booked weeks ahead at $120.00 per event. Digital delivery of an image costs $30.00 per image plus a $65.00 fee for labor past 30 minutes. ILL fees are $20.00. More affluent districts charge fewer and lesser fees.

The NZ library websites I accessed were  static pages attached to the local district council’s website. Library services were presented as an extension of the District Council.With the exception of Christchurch City Libraries, historical information about the library was unavailable on the website.


Let’s begin with Christchurch’s library, even though it was the last library we visited in New Zealand. Not only is it the largest public library on South Island, it also exemplifies the circumstances that have shaped library services throughout New Zealand.

Below is a picture of Christchurch Central library, taken before the 2011 earthquake. Built in 1981 and located in the center of the city, it was the center of library service for the Canterbury District and the largest library on South Island.

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A series of earthquakes in 2011 did extensive damage to buildings throughout Canterbury. Below are some before and after pictures of the central library and one of the suburban branches, Sumner Library.

After the earthquake the Central Library was deemed too damaged to repair or continue using. Two transitional libraries were opened while plans were made to replace the central library. We visited the Petersborough branch. It appeared to me to be a little smaller than Sunnyside Library.
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ChLib002Christchurch City Libraries includes 20 libraries, 252 FTE staff members, and 191,874 members. Scheduled Internet sessions are available without cost. Library services include business resources, a dedicated genealogy collection (I am impressed by their web page for family history research), Book a Librarian, and Outreach services for the home bound. The library system uses Siri-Dynix  for its ILS.


Earlier this year Christchurch City Libraries announced plans to construct a New Central Library. Ground breaking began on February 2nd on the Cathedral Square site, in preparation for construction of the facility to begin in earnest later in 2016. The Council has committed $75 million to the project. The images below came from the Library’s press release.


The first library on our tour was  Grey District Library  in Greymouth, which is on the west (and therefore, wet) coast of New Zealand. This library is a located in Grey District, a governmental sub-unit of the West Coast Region. Bob and I had just stepped off the train from Christchurch and were looking for a dry place to wait for our son Mike.  The library is open 5 days a week plus a half day on Saturday. Unfortunately,  we visited on a Saturday and the library was closed. I thought this library was similar in size to Moxee Library in Yakima County.

GreyLibFounded in 1853, the community of Greymouth was a mining and timber center. Today it is primarily dependent on tourism. With fewer than 10,000 year round residents, library services  in Greymouth are subsidized by user fees. Interlibrary loans are $22.00, regular book loans are $1 to $2 NZD, depending on demand. Internet access costs users $3 NZD for 30 minutes. Placing a hold costs $1 NZD. Fees are structured to allow juveniles access with reduced or no cost for services. The library ILS is Siri-Dynix.


The next library we visited was in Wanaka, a resort town of about 7,300 residents.  It is a part of the Queenstown Lakes District. The town looked smaller, but more affluent than Greymouth. The library building looks about 3 times the size of the library in Greymouth.  Wanaka Library is open every day but Sunday, for a total of 51 hours per week.  It was closed when we visited on March 16th.  Based on their website, library programming appears to be more targeted to adults than children, when compared to YVL.  Fee base services are similar to those in Greymouth.

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Finally, an open library! Geraldine LibraryGeraldine


This is the Customs House Library, one of 17 City of Sydney Libraries.

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The State Library of New South Wales (NSW) is the oldest library in Australia. In 1869 the NSW Government purchased the Australian Subscription Library, which had been established in 1826, to form the Sydney Free Public Library, the first truly public library for the people of NSW.


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