Welcome to our new look library!

Exciting times for library | Otago Daily Times Online News Otago Daily Times - The Oamaru Public Library manager, Philip van Zijl

Philip Van Zijl, Waitaki District Libraries' Manager, talks about the Oamaru Public Library and why it had to change.

The library and information sector is changing fast. Customers’ needs and expectations are evolving, especially with regard to technology and the need for Libraries to become more social. As demographic data shows, Waitaki, in particular, is servicing the needs of a growing population of youth, senior citizens, and a wide diversity of multi-cultural groups. There are many people that are often disadvantaged in accessing government services such as Work and Income, Immigration and other Government sites and Election information, due to lack of Digital Literacy competencies.

Libraries are playing a critical role in supporting their communities with technology. To ensure our community keeps pace, our libraries need to:
• Provide access to Wi-Fi and the internet
• Provide access to suitable hardware
• Educate customers to use technology (both their own devices and library resources)
• Educate customers to access online information (particularly Government websites and applications)

The layout of the 40 year old Oamaru Library was inefficient and no longer fit for purpose. To bring the library space into the 21st century the business case to refurbish was unanimously approved by Council. Planning began 18 months ago and the Library was reopened early in April, after a three week closure for the refurbishment.

Although restricted by the existing building footprint it was decided to:
• Develop multi-use, flexible spaces to cater for different types of library activities and uses – e.g. helping people with technology, hosting community events
• Put ‘like with like’, to avoid possible conflict between uses and users (e.g. keep quiet activities together in one area)
• Incorporate a retail-based layout to:
o make it easier for people to find what they’re looking for (including books)
o create more social space and address the need for the Library as a social hub

The new layout means shelving that has been fitted with wheels can be moved to make room for different events, including education as we now have permanent projection facilities in the Children’s area. The manager’s former office has been converted into a small community space featuring a smart television, laptops and tablets with staff available to support. It will be used for staff training and demonstrations and teaching the public, for community organisations to hold meetings, and for people to study or read quietly. Groups such as Literacy North Otago may also use it as part of its digital support service. It will also give staff more time to do community outreach to work with the Branch libraries, schools and other organisations, like SeniorNet, Literacy North Otago, University of the 3rd Age and the Citizens Advice Bureau.

Previously, between 25% and 40% of staff’s time was spent doing repetitive jobs like returning and issuing books. With RFID, they now have more opportunities to engage with the public.

Other major changes have included new carpeting, improved signage and a brighter and lighter atmosphere. With the creation of community hubs, separate user groups, can be catered for. Children are accommodated in one corner and in the opposite corner we have the youth. Tourist visitors face the front windows, where there are ample provision of USB ports, charging stations and comfortable furniture to attract them to the area, away from quiet reading areas.

A different layout for the non-fiction section created lounges like “living rooms” which have comfortable, colourful furniture that are organised into areas of interest. As an example, books related to cooking and food were now in the same section as autobiographies of chefs. The layout features more books facing out, similar to displays found at book retailers.

The layout changes were achieved during the period of closure with Library staff, volunteers, Information Technology staff, Property staff and the Design Federation staff as well as other contractors all worked together during this period and achieved the deadline with a few hours to spare.

We have had 99% positive feedback on the changes, but are acting on suggestions, such as additional signage and small changes in the layout, such as changing the newspaper reading area. Staff are at hand and support the public with the different way of doing things and layout. Library staff are appreciating the added engagement with the public and positive feedback on the changes.

Debbie Price-Ewen