PART 2: Reopening Libraries in New Zealand: Slow and Steady Wins The Race

PART 1 of this series can be found here

One of the things I’ve noticed in our first week of being open back up to the public is just how un-library-like our library feels as we adjust to being open at Level 2 in New Zealand. The cast of characters is all there: the amazing and kind staff and the public who want to be in the space and to get their library materials. The books and many other materials we always offer are there. The library hasn’t changed much.

But I dig a bit deeper and I start to see why things feel so un-library-like at this stage in our slow recovery from Covid-19 in New Zealand. Our libraries don’t have the usual amazing slate of programmes and events happening at this time. The furniture in our spaces has all been moved out for the time to help encourage good social distancing. At this stage in our recovery, the library’s ability to be a place where the community comes together just isn’t in the picture. We will get back there, but as the title of this series suggests it will be slow and steady and require all of us to practice patience. We all have to remember that these small and slow steps will get us to where we need to be eventually.

The slow and steady approach has been good here. Our community is coming back to our spaces at their own pace. They are finding what their limits are and how they can become a part of this shared collective life on their own time. It is their decision and all we can do is be here and let them know that we welcome them back into our library spaces. We are doing just that by keeping great, clear communication about what services we are offering and how our sites are open. Our communications team at our library have been doing an amazing job with this, and I am thankful to work with such great people who take care of this stuff and think about those small details. Our staff at the sites I manage are easing back into their work. The mood here feels less hectic and rushed. I believe that a bit more structure around how our days at work are approached has unlocked everyone to feel more confident as they take care of their tasks here in the library. Our staff is amazing here in our cluster of libraries & community spaces. They are patient, kind, creative, and fun to be around. They bring life into this space and they make the library hum with a positivity. I hope they like being a part of this because I really like being a part of this with them.

I do my best as a leader to encourage the team to connect with each other more, have a nice chat with each other, and to communicate often. I am finding my leadership style for my time here in New Zealand during this weird Covid-19 time: I encourage laughter, jokes, creativity, and I do everything I can to say YES to the many new ideas everyone has. This is all I can do because this is who I am as a person. This is my leadership style.

I got a lot of nice feedback and had some great discussions around the bullet points in the last post, so I’ll adopt that format once again.

  • FURNITURE: Over the next week the idea is to slowly start reintroducing furniture in our spaces while maintaining good social distancing. This will, at least I hope, help us get to that next level of becoming a public library post Covid-19. I think having some furniture will breathe more life into the space and alleviate some of those un-library-like feels that I mentioned above. Our staff will take a look at this over the next few days and they will set the tone as to how this looks. They are the experts, the ones that are interacting with the public the most, so I trust them with this.
  • THE PROCESSES THAT KEEP US MOVING: We were expecting a ton of materials to be returned to our libraries, but we’ve noticed that instead of it being too much it has just been a good and steady stream of returns. We process our returns and holds as we normally do and keep things moving. We’ve had a lot more hold requests that normal which required us to rethink how we process and handle those. It’s been a good time to remember these processes, how we do them, and how we can constantly improve our work around them.
  • CONTACT TRACING: A NEW NORMAL? Contact Tracing, aka collecting the contact information of people entering the library, looks like it is a thing that will stay for awhile in our spaces. A few weeks ago our local council adopted an app to help with this, and then this week the national government here in New Zealand introduced their own app to help with this. We have one staff member at our entrance to collect this information if our patrons are not using one of these apps. Another staff member welcomes the patrons into our space, offers hand santiser, and gives an overview of what our library service looks like at this moment. It is more work than we are used to doing with folks entering our libraries, but at the same time it is must that we do this right now and it also gives us an opportunity to connect and communicate with our community members. Anytime we as librarians can talk to our community members we should take that opportunity. This pandemic can bring us together in ways we did not think it would and this is one of those ways. Overall New Zealanders have been nothing but kind and understanding about contact tracing. They recognize that if there was an outbreak of Covid-19 that contact tracing would help minimise the spread and long term spread of an outbreak. New Zealanders have a trust that this information is collected, stored, and eventually disposed of in a proper way. The trust thing is big here and it also weaves in well with the Kiwi sense of “we’re all in this together”. If we accept that this is a weird time and that we work together, then it is together we will get through it all.
  • KINDNESS AND COMMUNICATION: At the core of everything I am hoping to continually broadcast a message of kindness and communication. This goes to the staff that make the library happen day after day. This goes to the community members who use this place and need it to be in their daily lives. When we approach things with kindness we accomplish things much easier. Kindness eliminates the need for drama, for anger, and for all of those things that make our lives complicated. Kindness allows us to then go towards great communication. When we communicate with each other in a clear and kind tone we know what the path is ahead of us and we work towards getting there. Communication keeps us together. Communication keeps us moving.

I hope everyone out there reading this is well and are keeping on in their own world. We are all in this together, but we do have our experiences to share and learn from. This is just my personal experience through this all, and my hope as with every other thing I share on this website is that it can provide some guidance or inspiration for you in your own little world. Be well, love each other, and take care.

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