Westport, New Zealand on the majestic coast of the South Island is a small town where many of the 5000 or so inhabitants are involved with fishing, farming and mining.
The Sue Thomson Casey Memorial Library is the main facility for Buller District Libraries (BDL), which also has a branch about an hour’s drive away in Reefton, where a policeman told us the road to Westport had indeed been reopened after floods and landslips of the previous 24 hours had shut down our route.
After a fire destroyed the original library in 1903, Andrew Carnegie donated funds to rebuild it and in 1904, a new library was opened. They outgrew that and in 2003 moved to this one floor, 650 square meter (about 7000 square feet) location. It’s a colorful, welcoming place with raised ceilings, eclectic decor and lots of plants.
Displays abound. Near a case of face out bestsellers, you’ll find Best Books of 2012. Since we’re in NZ, there’s a Hobbit and Lord of the Rings stand…
…a NZ Fiction case sits under the sign for adult fiction, and when I visited in January, there was even a Christmas tree covered in signs touting the Great Book Mystery Summer Reading Program. Each Friday participants meet to talk about the titles they’ve finished.
District Librarian, Michaela Bodesheim, told me they are funded by rate payers through Buller District Council and that besides Inangahua County Library in Reefton, they have four satellite libraries that are run by volunteers located at Granity, Sedonville, Karamea and Maruia – quite convenient considering the 250 kilometers of coastline and 10,000 people in the Buller District service area.
This is a big mining region, so they have a number of transients and incomes aren’t high, but membership is free to ratepayers and anyone who lives in the district longer than twelve months. For a modest fee, visitors can also borrow items. Michaela mentioned that it’s very interesting serving a community that is so remote. They are proud that they’ve taught their clients to use the many electronic resources available which let locals have the same access to materials as the rest of the world, and allows them to stay in contact with far off friends and family.
For a relatively small place, I was surprised at how many services they have and how creative they are.
BDL was one of the first libraries on the South Island to provide free wifi and has 2500 individual internet users each month, many not members (they were mentioned in the latest edition of Lonely Planet’s New Zealand, so there’s often a queue when they open the doors – speaking from experience, wifi access in NZ can be very expensive for tourists).
Lacking the big budgets of larger institutions, they’ve learned the value of collaborating with others to make the best use of their money. They have seven public computers (outfitted with MS Word and other software, plus headphones so users can Skype) and internet access is provided by the Aotearoa People’s Network Kaharoa, a partnership between the National Library of New Zealand and more than 140 public libraries that lets patrons get online for free across the country. Also, BDL is a member of the EPIC purchasing group for eresources and their catalogue has an integrated search of both materials and databases. One of these, Press Display, gives customers access to over 1900 newspapers in 48 tongues (which can be translated into 12 languages). Downloadable ebooks and audiobooks are available through OverDrive and last year the library also joined Kotui, an NZ public library consortium for a shared library management and resource discovery service.
I was looking forward to visiting the library here as I’d already done a post on another Westport in Ireland, and coincidentally, according to Wikipedia, this Westport may have been named for the Gaelic one on the other side of the world. Michaela told me that there is a loose organization of Westports of the world that meets every ten years, and in fact both the NZ and Irish locations have hosted the group.
Appropriately for this seaside municipality, a sail made by Marcus, Michaela’s husband, is adorned with bright blue butterflies and acts as both a bulletin board and divider, separating Children’s from the entryway where they’ve cleverly (as there are so many travelers coming in to use the web), placed the book sale tables.
The backside has plastic pockets that act as additional displays for children’s titles.
In the kid’s area, a yellow plane soars overhead next to the dark wood struts of the cathedral ceiling and a little couch with animal pillows sits under maps of NZ and the world. A nearby shelf has DVDs, CDs and talking books for youths and laundry baskets full of stuffed toys abut the picture books bins. Shaggy orange beanbag puffs give the kids more seating options.
Pretty desktop backgrounds and mint green swivel chairs beckon patrons to the two children’s computers.
Teens have their own spot where they can sit on a cushioned red bench beneath trendy posters while browsing young adult books and graphic novels. A slanted ledge that tops their shelves exhibits the enticing covers of YA titles.
They’ve managed to fit lots of stacks into the building and between the two locations have over 32,000 items in their collection. Nonfiction, NZ titles and talking books (which the National Library provides on two month rotations) can be borrowed for free, but there is a charge for fiction and other materials as the Council asks them to raise $65,000 a year to help support themselves. BDL offers interlibrary loan, book covering and laminating and has a scanner for public use. There are topographical maps – a godsend for the many hikers tramping the nearby mountains – as well as a local history collection (which is still being created) and a meeting room that can be rented for $115/day. CDs, DVDs, large print books and even jigsaw puzzles can be checked out.
Quite an impressive asset for this pretty place on the banks of the swollen Buller River.