New research shows that libraries are “more than just books”, according to a libraries advisor from Local Government New Zealand.
Marion Read presented the findings of the research to Tararua District Council’s Community Development and Wellbeing committee last week.
The research was conducted by consultancy Frank Advice and included an overview of literature, surveys and case studies.
Tararua District has four libraries: Dannevirke, Pahiatua, Woodville and Eketahuna.
Read said the research identified that libraries were community hubs and connections to the digital world and contributed to the wellbeing and social cohesion of communities.
“Public libraries help local government enhance community wellbeing by fostering networks, providing spaces for people to gather and share knowledge and adapting services to respond to community needs.”
Read said there was clear evidence that libraries were trusted by communities.
“They deliver value through the networks they support and they contribute to social cohesion as places people can connect and learn.”
She said it was really evident during Covid lockdowns how libraries stepped up and moved with their communities to deliver services.
The literature, which was not only from New Zealand, but also Australia, the US and the UK, showed the expanding roles and responsibilities of public libraries that wasn’t yet reflected in many policy decisions, nor in the allocation of central funding.
Read said there were 39 libraries which took part in the survey and 97 per cent of those libraries said they already delivered services on behalf of Central Government.
That included support for job seekers, facilitating digital equity programmes and training classes.
“Then we focused on how libraries are delivering services for Māori, in particular. Seventy-eight per cent said that incorporating Te Ao Maori was extremely important when designing and delivering their plans and services.
Read gave examples of case studies around community hub libraries where they were partnering with organisations internally and sometimes externally.
Such as Whakatane, which had both a library and museum space, or Rotorua library, which was working with the health board to provide a children’s health hub.
Read said libraries were also starting to provide an integrated delivery model, such as having a counter for the Ministry of Social Development, or a proscriptive model where libraries would work in partnerships to deliver services such as driver’s licences.
She said what was happening across New Zealand was where there were new builds, or redesigned builds, they were being designed with the integrated service delivery in mind.
The research noted that in an ideal future, libraries would be neutral safe spaces that anyone in the community could access.
Read said libraries should also be represented in decision-making, both in central and local government.
“At a local level, it’s really important to engage with your library management to make sure you are making the decisions on libraries that are for your community.”
The research also stated that there wasn’t enough funding for libraries to continue providing those services and in an ideal future, there would be national-level support to fund consistent library services, Read said.