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Magazines > Marketing Library Services > March/April 2005

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Information Today
Vol. 19 No. 2 — Mar/Apr 2005
Special Report

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 the world!

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 debate:

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 library—a true experience for locals and tourists. Librarians have had to restructure their job descriptions to cater to this new building, but it's attracting the community.

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 libraries.

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 at



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 or send e-mail to

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