Justin Hoenke, who has worked in public libraries in the U.S. and New Zealand and offers consultancy services for public libraries, has been talking to all types of library staffers for A Day in the Life, his column in Information Today. Among other things, he asks them about their typical days, moments that made them proud, their current projects, and how they see the library field evolving. Here’s a look at his columns from September 2022 to March 2023, which have been lightly edited and condensed for the web.
Here are the previous parts of this series: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9
You can read the full interviews in Information Today, starting with the September 2017 issue. If you’re doing something exciting at your library that you’d like to share, email email@example.com or tweet @ITINewsBreaks.
I’m back in the U.S. now, but nearly every day, I think about how over the past 2 years, I was super lucky to have the amazing Laurinda Thomas, manager of libraries and community spaces at Wellington (New Zealand) City Libraries, as my boss. Having an awesome and supportive boss is one of the best things in the library world, and I sure hope each and every one of you reading this gets your own Laurinda at some point in your career.
PLEASE GIVE US AN OVERVIEW OF HOW PUBLIC LIBRARIES OPERATE IN NEW ZEALAND.
Wellington City Libraries has 14 libraries across the city, with around 190 staff, and it serves a population of 210,000. Because Wellington is the capital city of New Zealand, we often get customers who work in Wellington but live in one of the surrounding cities.
Public libraries in New Zealand are generally really well-supported by the public. In Wellington, about 50% of the population are regular users of the library. We stock all of the usual things you’d expect, like physical books, ebooks, and magazines. Our library also has things that are a bit more unusual, like records, a deluge machine, and a sound system for borrowing. We also like to dip into new and experimental things too, like zine vending machines and ebook kiosks at the airport.
PART OF MY JOB WAS OVERSEEING THE NEW JOHNSONVILLE LIBRARY AT WAITOHI COMMUNITY HUB. WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED SINCE IT OPENED TO THE PUBLIC?
Never underestimate the popularity of a new library! We had thought that the visitor numbers would go up by about 60%. In fact, it was more like 120%. While it was a huge success, that created a challenge around staffing, as we didn’t have enough funding for the staffing we needed to keep up. We’re still working on getting the staffing level right.
Waitohi has not only a library, but also a community pool, a cafe, and a kindergarten on-site, with a community center and a park right next door. When you’re creating a hub with lots of different players, you need someone to work on building the communication, relationships, and culture among the different groups. That investment is ongoing, but it pays off.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST SURPRISING THING ABOUT WORKING DURING COVID?
Our approach during COVID has really been one of “staff first.” Without our staff, there is no service. So, we do everything we can to keep them safe and well. Often, this has meant everyone staying home during a lockdown. At other times, this has meant masks for staff and customers, requiring vaccination passes, shorter hours, and no programming. We are lucky to also have a generous approach to sick leave, so people can stay home if they’re unwell and still be paid. Some days we accept that we simply don’t have enough staff to open a site, and we close that site for the day. Before COVID, it would have been almost unthinkable to close a site!