Branch libraries’ opportunity for growth after Central closure
April 15, 2019
Wellington branch libraries are using Central Library’s closure as an opportunity for growth.
The Wellington Central Library closed on March 19 due to concerns for its structural integrity in an earthquake. No date was set for reopening, and smaller branch libraries picked up the slack.
Forty-five thousand books were on loan when the central library closed, and these books are slowly trickling back in to other branches.
All loans auto-renewed until May, and return fees were suspended, meaning people could return books to any branch without the usual transfer fee. So far, 13,000 had been returned across the eleven branch libraries.
Team leader at Wellington City Libraries, Karl Gaskin, said the smaller branches in Miramar, Tawa, and Khandallah were less affected, but the bigger libraries in Kilbirnie, Johnsonville, Karori, and especially Newtown, were significantly impacted.
“We think a lot of the people displaced are gravitating to the bigger libraries.”
There had been an increase of an extra 200 loans per day on average to the larger branches, and little impact on the others.
Gaskin said the increased patronage had been an opportunity to show people what the smaller libraries offer.“People are impressed with branch libraries, they’re lovely comfortable spaces.”
The digital library system had undergone a revamp in the wake of the closure. This was always on the cards, but was moved forward to meet demand.
More resources, including those for small businesses and genealogy research, were made available yesterday.
The system would provide access to resources while saving on physical space, which was a continuing issue. Many branch libraries, Miramar and Kilbirnie in particular, found themselves with more books than shelves to put them on.
Gaskin said, “There are books literally sitting in bins out the back with no place to go!”
Some branches had made displays out of the central library’s books as a testament to Central library.
It was not just books evicted from Central library. Gaskin said supporting the staff members, both from the closed library and in the branches, was paramount.
Staff were given time and space to absorb the change, and for Central staff to think about where they would like to relocate to.
The council provided access to counselling, and there had been daily meetings with management teams to keep them informed.
“Communication has been key, and the feedback has been that that’s been really helpful.”
Library coach and community spaces manager, Sandra Johnstone, said with returns increasing and more people using the spaces, staff are working harder than ever.
Management were careful to look after staff. “We’ve just taken our time. We are very aware of safe work practices.”
Library coach, Sharon Macintyre, said the closure has created opportunities for people to get to know their branch libraries better. “A lot of people are happy to find out what we have to offer.”
The libraries also offered support to people emotionally affected by the closure of Central. Macintyre said, “Some people don’t like change. It’s stressful. It’s a grieving process.”
Despite the loss many feel, Macintyre was staying positive. “For every bad situation there is a positive side.”
Instead, they were focussing on using the increased traffic to educate people on the services branch libraries offer. “This is what we can do.”