19 No. 2 — Mar/Apr 2005
Studying Progressive Libraries: An Adventure in New Zealand
By John Stanley and Fiona Emberton
The library industry is changing. Libraries
are having to meet new challenges based on the
changing needs of local communities. The days
of a library being a collection of books are
long gone. In today's society, libraries are
looked on as community centers that serve all
sectors of the population.
So what will the future look like? In our opinion,
New Zealand leads the world with its library
innovation, and we believe we are getting a glimpse
of the future there. So in late August/early
September 2004, John Stanley Associates took
a party of 14 librarians from the U.S., Australia,
and the U.K. on a library tour of New Zealand.
The group included librarians from universities,
major cities, and country areas, as well as councilors,
marketers, and consultants within the library
industry. This group had more than 300 years
of library experience between its members, so
we knew we'd really have to convince them that
New Zealand has some of the best libraries in
Why Did We Choose to Explore New Zealand?
In our view, New Zealand has one of the most
progressive library sectors in the world. The
country does not have large budgets for its libraries,
but the industry does have a vision. This was
an opportunity to expose trends in New Zealand
to industry innovators from around the world
and to discuss their merits and to talk about
which ideas could be implemented globally.
New Zealand, with a population just exceeding
3.9 million, can approximately be divided into
thirds, with one-third of the population living
on the South Island, one-third living on the
North Island outside Auckland, and one-third
living in greater Auckland. The capital, Wellington,
is located at the bottom of the North Island.
New Zealand libraries are actively used by
their communities. As one of our American delegates
said, "We get excited in the States if 25 percent
of our community use the library each year; these
guys are achieving 80 percent-plus community
usage!" This is done by some clever marketing
and by developing target category zones. For
example, the newspaper/coffee lounge at Puke
Ariki in New Plymouth is the most impressive
zone many delegates had seen. It makes both "hunter" and "gatherer" consumers
feel at home, and it will be a model that many
delegates take home with them.
Highlights of the Library Study Tour
The tour started in Wellington and then traveled
north through Palmerston North, New Plymouth,
Hamilton, and Manukau and finally finished in
Auckland with the New Zealand National Library
Conference. This was no holiday! In 6 days, the
tour delegates visited more than 15 libraries,
plus retail businesses that could offer ideas
to the librarians. They also attended evening
workshops and debates with suppliers. The aim
was to discover new ways of developing libraries;
it was a tour of discovery and debate.
The highlights differed for every delegate,
but these are the issues that prompted the most
Bold Architecture: Library architecture
in New Zealand is bold, and architects dare to
be different. Members of the group were impressed
with the adventurous statements made by some
libraries, but, in some instances, they were
concerned that, although the architecture was
impressive, conventional customer circulation
patterns were neglected, resulting in stress
for librarians and consumers alike.
Youth Libraries: Librarians in Manukau
(located south of Auckland) have been keen to
address the needs of the youth sector of their
market base. In fact, they have established a
stand-alone youth library, Tupu Library. It is
surrounded by three schools, and the enthusiastic
staff has established a strong, loyal library
following from local teenagers.
After visiting Tupu, the debate in the motorcoach
focused on whether a stand-alone library is the
right approach and on how much further the library
industry can go to address the needs of youth.
A number of delegates mentioned that their library
service was not seriously addressing the needs
of youth, and they were delighted to see so many
young people using libraries in New Zealand.
Wine in Libraries: Let's stay in Manukau;
its new library at Botany Downs is located next
to the cinema in a world-leading shopping center.
The library contains a coffee shop and also has
a liquor license to serve glasses of wine. With
some delegates still being challenged on the
issue of allowing drinks and food into their
buildings, you can imagine the debate over wine!
(Although the majority liked the idea of a good
book and a good glass of wine.)
Living Rooms: Palmerston North Library,
situated in the middle of the North Island, was
voted the one that provided the most ideas. This
library, in a converted department store, is
one of the most progressive you'll find anywhere
in the world. It was one of the first to disregard
the Dewey System in favor of "living rooms" as
a means of putting book collections together.
Living rooms are families of books (romance novels,
Westerns, gardening books, etc.) that are grouped
within a library room and then cataloged using
a Dewey-style system.
Palmerston North has one of the busiest libraries
we are aware of, and its active membership must
be one of the highest in the world. Again, it
has a coffee shop, but it also has live music
in the teen area, which is located on the ground
floor next to a large window to encourage teenagers
to enter the building. The library is decorated
in vibrant modern colors and provides a visual
statement as a progressive community establishment.
Art and Books: New Plymouth Library,
situated on the west coast of the North Island,
has combined a museum, art gallery, and librarya
true experience for locals and tourists. Librarians
have had to restructure their job descriptions
to cater to this new building, but it's attracting
Retail Lessons: The tour also visited
Woodsy's Garden Centre in Hawera (located in
the middle of the North Island). This is a small
family business that has won awards for its retailing
techniques. We wanted to conduct a workshop outside
of a library to show delegates that, whether
you run a retail store or a library, you need
to know how important power spots, end caps,
and theater displays affect the consumer experience.
This also gave us an opportunity to study merchandising
techniques and how the science of merchandising
affects the loan rates in libraries. Leading
New Zealand libraries prove how critical it is
to get your merchandising strategies in place.
Plus, New Zealanders are not afraid to sell things
in libraries, even wine!
The gift shop in the Auckland City Library
is one of the most successful retail shops in
a library that we have discovered. It is operated
as a separate enterprise by librarian/retailer
Pauline McCann and is a model for other libraries
on how to generate real income.
What Did We Learn During Our Tour?
New Zealand excelled in delighting the delegates
on the tour. Everyone discovered how new ideas
form in a country that has the confidence to
dare to be different with the library sector.
The key strengths of the industry are that
it has strong leaders who understand libraries
and think outside the box. They are prepared
to tackle change management in an industry that
is going through a transformation. The leaders
realize how important it is to engage all their
customers during this process. While this includes
external customers, it, more importantly, also
includes internal customers, including council
managers and councilors. The results of their
vision can be seen in organizations such as the
Wellington City Library and the New Plymouth,
Palmerston North, Hamilton, Manukau, and Auckland
The group was also very impressed with the
philosophy of libraries having three books per
head (of population) but was concerned about
the quality and age of some of the books on display.
Having said that, the libraries we visited understood
the value of consumer space; all of them allotted
60 percent of their floor space to consumers
and 40 percent to products.
We plan to run another trip to New Zealand
toward the end of 2005. At the present time,
we are also considering a library study tour
of South Australia, another part of the world
that is full of innovation. If you'd like more
information, contact John Stanley Associates
John Stanley is
an internationally recognized retail consultant
who specializes in library consultancy and conference
speaking. He works with libraries in Australia,
New Zealand, and the U.K. He is the author of Just
About Everything a Retail Manager Needs to Know and
co-author of the Library Marketing Toolkit. Fiona
Emberton is a retail consultant with John
Stanley Associates. She has worked in libraries
for 20 years, most recently as the director of
public library services in the State Library
of Queensland. She works with libraries in Australia,
New Zealand, and the U.K. She is the co-author
of Ten Minute Trainings for Library Teams and
the Library Marketing Toolkit.
John Stanley Associates offers a free e-newsletter
on retail techniques in libraries. You can subscribe
at http://www.johnstanley.cc or send e-mail to