Auckland Libraries: A Good News Story

Last night, about 50 people visited the newly opened Manukau Library and Research Centre to hear Auckland Libraries Manager, Allison Dobbie talk about her role at the helm of New Zealand’s newest and largest public library system (and the largest in the Southern Hemisphere).

Less than two years ago (7 April 2009) the New Zealand Government decided to create one unitary authority in Auckland and as a result the public libraries of seven former councils in the Auckland region amalgamated and became Auckland Libraries on 1 November 2010.

As you can imagine transitioning seven council systems into one is by no means an easy feat, but libraries had a huge advantage, eLGAR – where five of the seven libraries had already worked as a consortium to purchase and install a shared library management system. With an intimate knowledge of each other and strong working relationships already established the seven library systems developed three core deliverables for 1 November 2010:

  1. a seamless transition
  2. existing service levels maintained
  3. no compromise to customer service quality

As a result when 1 November rolled around, libraries were recognised by Council and residents as a true success story.

Residents and ratepayers can now:

  • access one collection (with harmonised lending fees)
  • borrow from anywhere and return anywhere
  • have their reserved items delivered to their library of choice

Many customers have delightedly exclaimed the benefits of “borrow anywhere, return anywhere”, and the speed at which this happens (holds are often delivered the next day). Library staff in the audience also commented that they are no longer wallflowers at social events, but the centre of attention as customers extol the virtues of the new Auckland Libraries.

Two residents have gone so far as to challenge themselves to visit all 55 libraries within a year, and sharing their unique perspectives of libraries here and here. Their insights provide an invaluable contribution towards helping Auckland Libraries deliver the best services possible.

The popularity of “borrow anywhere, return anywhere” has created additional urgencies for Auckland Libraries that they weren’t anticipating they would need to address so quickly – moving all libraries to RFID as soon as possible, changing courier routes to ensure speedy delivery, and floating more of the collection to improve access. Plus there’s still the need to create one library culture while respecting local differences, determine overall strategic priorities, and identify service gaps that may have been overlooked. It’s a long “to-do” list but Allison knows that with the expertise and support of all library staff, it can be achieved.

With what has been accomplished in less than two years, I have no doubt that great things will continue to happen.