News | 13 October 2021

Keeping Central Library's books safe

Powered by a bunch of passionate staff, Te Pātaka Collection and Distribution Centre is a smooth-running machine that ensures Wellingtonians have access to the books they love.

The back of a large-framed man with dark coloured clothing walking through a library isle of shelving filled with books on either side.

Following the closure of Wellington’s Central Library in 2019, books, magazines, DVDs, vinyl, and other collection items that weren’t re-located to our other branch libraries were transferred to a new facility, Te Pātaka in Johnsonville.

Here, every day, more than 200 boxes of books are dispatched to the Wellington City Libraries (WCL) network, which consists of 14 library branches throughout the central city and suburbs.

Six hundred individual book requests come through to the Te Pātaka team daily, with the team there scouring the shelves for the many titles in demand. And then every book requested is reshelved when it is returned. 

Karl Tilley, whose role is Coach Library and Community Spaces, says any WCL member can request a book from the city-wide collection.

“A request may come from someone in Island Bay. The Te Pātaka team will pop that book alongside others destined for Island Bay Library and couriers will pick up the box and deliver it.

“The Central Library building operated like a machine for uniting people with the knowledge and literature they needed. At the moment we have over 300,000 books in this building [Te Pātaka] and we’re always trying to get the collection content right to anticipate future customer needs.”

A smiling solid-framed gentleman on the left in dark shirt and pants with is hand on his hip, standing next to a table piled with books, and a younger lad to the right with headphones on and a tan shirt holding a stack of books.

Karl (pictured left) says there’s nearly a million items in the WCL collection, which also includes magazines, audio-visual media, and eBooks.

He says each of the 14 libraries is tailored to the community it’s in, with specialist staff selecting the items that will go in each.

“They’re all a bit different – the Newtown public library community will be different from He Matapihi Molesworth Library, and their collections reflect that.

“We have a Collection Development Team who decide on items for each community through engaging with and surveying the customers, and these items are processed by the 10 staff in the Cataloguing team at Te Pātaka so you can find them easily across all the libraries.

“We’re driven by the public. We don’t only have the great books you’ve always thought you should read, but the books people want to curl up on the couch with.”

Karl says 10,000 new items were distributed among WCL’s branches last month.

Making books accessible to everyone

Not all Pōneke residents are able to visit the library, and that’s where the Housebound Library Service team come in – taking the library to the people.

There are people who can’t come to the library – sometimes because of illness, frailty, old age, disability – including people of all ages. The team connects with hundreds of keen library users either in their own homes or rest-homes. 

Clients are visited at home, and they tell the team what their reading or listening tastes are.

Then back at Te Pātaka, the team hunt through the bookshelves to find items to match their client’s interests. Their bag of items is sent out to their closest library branch and the volunteer carriers will collect and deliver them.

A flash new two-storey grey building, with a red panelled garage delivery door and the words Te Pātaka painted in white on the glass entry door, and cars parked outside.

When it comes to rest-homes, the Housebound Library Service team package up mini libraries of books that will be circulated to customers there.

Some books have print that is too small for some readers or are too heavy to hold. These and other things are taken into consideration when making up selections.

The Housebound Library Service is all about enriching lives, trying to be as flexible as possible. They may have a 92-year-old who can select their own books on an iPad, or someone who isn’t tech savvy can call the team with a booklist.

Can any building be turned into a library?

The answer is no, not any building can be transformed into a library.

A big challenge for the WCL team when the Central Library unexpectedly closed was finding a suitable site to house all the books. Floors have to be engineered in such a way that they can take the weight of the books.

Karl says book pages are “little slices of trees” and therefore “libraries really house stacks the weight of heavy lumber”.

“Libraries are bespoke and have to be specifically designed.”

He says that’s why it was so impressive to have had the Arapaki Manners Library and Service Centre up and running within five weeks of the Central Library closure thanks to the mahi and generosity of the Smart Council team.

“Our priority focus was to get a library service open for the public as soon as possible.”

Arapaki is one of three library branches to open in Wellington’s CBD since the closure. He Matapihi Molesworth Library followed, and then Te Awe Library on Brandon Street was opened in July 2020.

Te Awe has been recognised for its design in the New Zealand Institute of Architects Awards, as has Waitohi Community Hub and Johnsonville Library, which features a Makerspace and recording studio.

Rows of shelving all filled with books and a man looking at books deep down one of the isles, in a very large white room with florescent lighting and grey blue carpet.

Karl describes libraries as “secular cathedrals”, places where people can freely access culture, community, discovery, education, and technology.

“It’s an environment where everyone is welcome. We have free internet because it’s imperative that people have access to that. Breaking the digital divide is a big focus for us.”

For Karl, who began in the profession in 1996, “getting info, books, and new technology into people’s hands” is what it’s all about.

“I love how fiction especially can help people see themselves in other people’s shoes. It can help people appreciate each other and embrace differences.”

Karl’s Fun Library Facts

  • WCL has a hefty collection of Zines thanks to well-known Kiwi musician and cartoonist Chris Knox who donated his personal collection.
  • WCL has 60 iPads that it loans out to members.
  • Central Library’s rare books are being stored in Wellington City Archives in a temperature-controlled room. Requests for more information can be made through Gábor Tóth the Local & NZ History Specialist.
  • WCL has access to a worldwide catalogue of books through its Interloans service, which also gives international libraries and universities access to Wellington’s collection. Back when travel was easier, a librarian on a trip personally delivered an interloan copy of Harry Potter in Sinhalese to the famous New York Public Library.
  • Libraries are high-tech. While there are many different digital book cataloguing systems in the world, they can all talk to each other.
  • WCL bought a copy of ‘The thousand nights and a night’ for six pounds and 10 shillings in 1952, according to the book’s inside cover.