Winning Westport

Tasman Sea from Cape Foulwind Walkway just south of Westport

Tasman Sea from Cape Foulwind Walkway just south of Westport

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.

The library is on the main street near many businesses and the polytechnic

The library is centrally located on the main street near many businesses and the local polytechnic

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…

NZ's physical beauty provides the perfect set for The Shire

Peter Jackson knew NZ’s beauty makes it the perfect setting for The Shire

…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.


Michaela in her office

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.

Book covers

Lobby windows advertise new acquisitions with color copies of book covers above a rack of local info brochures

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.

Low vision reader (large print titles are also available)

Low vision reader

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.

Looking into Children's, the sail is on the left

Looking into Children’s, the sail is on the left

The backside has plastic pockets that act as additional displays for children’s titles.

Innovative shelving

Innovative shelving

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.

The children's section is well lit by plate glass windows

Children’s section is well lit by a plate glass window

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.

Some furniture in the periodical section is slanted too

Some furniture in the periodical area is slanted too

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.

Friendly staffer at the circulation desk

Friendly staffer at the circulation desk

Quite an impressive asset for this pretty place on the banks of the swollen Buller River.

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5 Responses to Winning Westport

  1. Patricia Hassan says:

    Hi, Justine – I always love your blog entries! If you’re ever in Kansas City, Missouri, there’s a Westport Branch Library of the KCPL. The Town of Westport was an outfitting hub for the Santa Fe Trail (Westport Route), but Westport is now just an area of KC, albeit a very busy and popular one. Some years back, KCPL wanted to close the branch and merge it with another branch, but the loyal community rose up in protest – and so Westport Branch continues 🙂

    Looking forward to your next post-

    Patricia (Pat) Hassan
    Retired Librarian, Johnson County Library (KS)

  2. jshaffner says:

    Thanks so much Pat! So glad you’re reading and if I ever get to KC again I’ll definitely do a post on the Westport branch – unless you feel inspired to visit it yourself and do a guest blog post on it – hint, hint 🙂

  3. Cindy Salo says:

    Well, of course you visited libraries on your trip! This is fascinating There are/were Carnegie libraries in New Zealand? Wifi is expensive when traveling in NZ? And there’s a decennial gathering of Westports–how lovely. I wonder how similar the collection at the Westport Library is to a U.S. library of similar size and location. How many of the same books would the two libraries have?
    btw, Pat, I got the same response from Justine when I told about my favorite libraries in the West!

  4. Justine says:

    Hi Cindy, thanks for commenting. I too was surprised about Carnegie libraries outside of the US, but per Wikipedia “1,689 were built in the United States, 660 in Britain and Ireland, 125 in Canada, and others in Australia, New Zealand, Serbia, the Caribbean, Mauritius and Fiji.”! Now I just have to find the ones in the Caribbean 😉

    Wifi in NZ was often spotty and yes, very expensive – at least for us as we stayed in cheap motels – in Te Anau (near Milford Sound) the library was the best place in town to get on line – free wifi if you had your own computer, but even tourists could use the library computers for 1/2 hour (free guest internet access appears to be much rarer overseas). In Christchurch and Dunedin the hotel access was very reasonable, but in Australia, it was often outrageous – some places were $35/day! And many places that said they had unlimited access cut you off after a tiny amount of data use (I don’t stream movies or do anything requiring lots of band width, this would just be for email). We are very lucky here, perhaps because of that Universal Service Fund.

    Re book similarity, I think there’s a lot that’s the same, but I’ve also found that certain authors who are overlooked here are very popular overseas. Ditto with movies, music and obviously television series.

    And re the offer to do a guest post, well you know I’m lazy and it’s nice to have others do the work for me, plus they’d notice things I wouldn’t to say nothing of them visiting places I’ll never get too 🙂

  5. mgbb123 says:

    Hello:  I am in charge of an appreciation dinner for the Library Staff.  I am a member of Friends of the Library.  I have looked and looked for a theme besides Thank You for these wonderful people.  Have you had an appreciation dinner lately and if you have, what did you do to make it special? Thank you.  Mary  


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