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By Rachel Macdonald

Libraries have an essential role to play in an increasingly digital future, says Waimakariri’s district libraries manager, Paula Eskett.

Sitting in the bright, airy library space in Kaiapoi’s Ruataniwha Centre, she uses words like “inviting”, “innovative” and “inclusive” to describe how these institutions are changing as society evolves.

“I see a library as being today’s community commons,” she says.

“Where once we gathered in the square on or the green to relax, catch up, play games, or debate the issues of the day, that’s where I see our libraries taking an increasingly important place.”

Gone are the days of the silent reading room, smelling of wood polish and old books and policed by a strict strictly silent

Instead, the idea of a library as a community hub is clearly illustrated in Kaiapoi.

There are games to be played on a wet day; story-times and a Lego club; puzzles free to take home and keep, or to trade in or return as desired; DVDs cheap to hire; the national newspapers to catch up on; and non-fiction and fiction titles for all ages.

There are also meeting rooms available for hire by community groups, during or after hours; and staff on hand to help customers with researching, printing, or scanning documents, or navigating their way through dealings with government departments.

“While there are a few libraries out there keeping the old-fashioned stereotypes alive, the path ahead is all about connecting with our community and offering as many services as possible,” says Paula.

“Of course, that includes books makariri, our large print collection is very popular, and we’re in the process of building a much bigger community languages collection too. Our clients are increasingly diverse and we need to cater for that.”

We’re also evolving from a community that consumes information to one that creates and curates it, she says.

“How do we encourage our members to partner with us in making sure that can happen? It’s not about ordering packages of northern hemisphere products any more. It’s about local information for locals, and moving from a permissions-based mindset to a possibilities-based one.”

Also important, she says, is who’s not using the library and why.

“We have young people, for example, who might not be big readers, so feel they can’t spend time here,” she says.

“I say to them, we’re open seven days a week and our services are largely free. It doesn’t matter who you are, anyone is equally valid and entitled to be here. Our job is to educate, inform, and empower how we can do that for you.”