A Latitude of Libraries – An Interview

This Q-and-A is with Claire Gummer, author of A Latitude of Libraries.

What prompted you to start A Latitude of Libraries?
I’ve always relished information and ideas, and as an Aucklander I’m excited about the way the region-wide public library network now makes them more accessible and extends the boundaries of my world. My books come from a greater variety of places than before, they cost me nothing to reserve, and I can go into a North Shore library to borrow without fraudulently using someone else’s membership card. And though I’ve lived in Auckland all my life, there are great swathes of it that I don’t know. The newly created “supercity”, regardless of my other feelings about it, inspires me to explore Auckland communities I’m less familiar with. These things, together with my interest in communication, gave me the incentive to blog.

I like how you’ve used the term Latitude of Libraries as a collective noun to describe the breadth and depth of what libraries have to offer, is this what you intend to use your blog for?
The blog has “55 libraries” in the subtitle and those bricks-and-mortar facilities will be a focus, but I’m also interested in resources that may be less well known, such as the Digital Library. I’ve skited about that in my first post, mentioning the online access members have to the Oxford English Dictionary and Encyclopaedia Britannica. Latitude is something I want to give myself in blogging, too. For instance, visiting a particular library or locality may lead me to ponder some broader aspect of libraries or life in general.

What do you hope your readers will gain or learn from following your blog?
I hope those of us who use libraries can increase our appreciation of the diverse things they offer, discovering more about how they support their communities and how we can reciprocate. If library staff are part of a developing readership, I hope they find something of interest.

Have you decided which library you’ll visit first? And do you have an itinerary?
I have; I’ll just say that it’s beyond the bounds of the former Auckland City (where I’ve always lived). No itinerary, though. I thought of going from A to Z or near to far, but it’ll be more fun to mix it up. Maybe I can cadge a ride with a mobile library one day.

What’s the best and worst library experience you’ve had?
Though my career has taken me elsewhere, as a student I had brief stints in holiday jobs at the Auckland Central Library, mostly in the then Social Sciences Department. At the end of my first week the wonderful HOD Miss Ridling had me, a 17 year-old, staffing the entire library’s information desk on my own for about an hour. It was an incredible adrenaline surge in those pre-internet days; I felt I was driving the library — and I learned a tremendous amount by working there. The worst experience, also at Central, could have been several weeks of moving a lot of very dirty books (dusty and cobwebby, not pornographic) around the basement — but actually that wasn’t half as bad as one or two exceptionally nasty library patrons I encountered.

Have you visited any libraries outside Auckland? How do they compare?
Not recently, except online. That experience suggests to me that some libraries make their online resources easier to find than Auckland does.

What is the “next big thing” that you’d like to see happen in libraries/reading/books?
There’s so much razzmatazz about ebooks, it’s easy to tire of it. I sometimes wish printed books had an electronic search facility combining the strengths of MS Word advanced searches with those of PDFs — but readers would need particular skills to use them, and anyway you can’t beat a professionally prepared index. So perhaps the “next big thing” I’d like is to see real appreciation for the skills and professionalism of people such as indexers, librarians and editors who work with books and other information. (Statement of interest: I’m an editor!)

If you just had one piece of advice for the manager of Auckland Libraries, what would it be?
The website (and I’m talking of my experience of the Auckland City Libraries site as it has been for some years) seems to me like a 4WD that can cover just about any terrain. It has multiple features, but it can be hard for drivers to navigate or even to decipher the instrument panel. I’d love the libraries to make it clearer for members of the public, though never with the idea of replacing trained librarians. I found out by accident yesterday (in a catalogue search!) that some Auckland libraries offer a “book a librarian” scheme, with 30-minute sessions helping people get to grips with library research and the like. Maybe if that were more widely known, more of us would learn how to use the libraries’ website fully.

Do you have a favourite blog or blogger?
One of my favourites — and it’s my favourite library-related website of any kind — is the Christchurch City Libraries blog. The team coverage of the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival puts others to shame — and it’s not even those bloggers’ home turf. The CCL blog is the source of a Lionel Shriver quote I feature on my blog profile: “Libraries are expressions of social generosity.”

What are you reading at the moment?
Julia Darling’s funny, poignant debut novel from 13 years ago, Crocodile Soup, which reminds me a little of Ali Smith novels that I’ve read. It’s in the central city’s basement and out on loan from Waiuku (not to me — I’m reading my own copy). Before that, I read a book by a New Zealand linguist about our variety of English.


  1. Oh, she was, she was. I wanted to say that, but was trying to be brief. Helen Woodhouse who heads Takapuna Public Library is one of that group.

  2. seanmurgatroyd says:

    Miss Ridling was a powerhouse who during her time developed a cohort of professionals who are still contributing strongly across libraries (and related industries) today.

    I got to know a little of her after her retirement while I was working at Grey Lynn Library. So cool to see her mentioned again.

    1. Sally says:

      That just proves how small libraryland is!

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