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CDNLAO Newsletter

No. 84, December 2015

Special topic: Reader Services

A new approach to on-site collection access in the Alexander Turnbull Library Reading Rooms, National Library of New Zealand

By National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa

In 2007 the National Library published its New Generation National Library – Strategic Directions to 2017 ’, which identified ‘Enriching the user experience’ as a key strategic priority.

At that time, the Library had 12 on-site access points for public access to services and collections, spread across four levels of the National Library building, as follows:

  • Lower Ground Floor: Sound and Music Centre; Newspaper Reading Room; Children’s Literature
  • Ground Floor: General Reference Service; Photographic Reference Service
  • First Floor: Turnbull Library Research Centre; Manuscripts Reading Room; Archive of New Zealand Music
  • Second Floor: Oral History, Cartographic, Ephemera, Drawings, Paintings and Prints, the Cartoon Archive and the Photographic Archive

At each of these access points, researchers were assisted by highly knowledgeable and experienced staff who prided themselves on being able to provide rich and deep access to collections.

To enrich the on-site user experience, in 2009 the Library undertook significant customer research. The research found that, despite the staff commitment to service, many researchers found the layout confusing and frustrating, as they needed to locate the different service points and explain their research several times. Some ran out of time to visit multiple reading rooms. It was also virtually impossible for researchers to consult collection items of different formats in the same location. Finally, many researchers wanted the ability to explore collections without needing staff to explain and interpret them.

These findings served to inform the plans for a new approach to providing access across all collections (including special collections). The two main factors supporting this endeavour were a) a major building re-design and b) a new service delivery model that reflected the priorities of researchers in the 21st century.

The building redevelopment created more accessible public spaces that were welcoming, open and flexible, while the new research service model made it easier for researchers to visit a single starting point to access Library collections and staff expertise.

The new building design reduced the multiple points of access described above to three access points, closely linked:

The General Reading Room

This space serves as the first point of access for all researchers, where most initial reference interviews take place. From here, visitors can consult National Library reference and lending collections, finding aids, and electronic resources, as well as requesting staff advice/ expertise. At any one time there are three staff rostered in the General Reading Room to assist visitors and researchers.


< Librarians in the General Reading Room answer enquiries from users >

All collection items (microfilms, books and serials) requested from the National library of New Zealand lending collections are delivered to this reading room. Items arrive via Telelift which is a small ‘suitcase like’ conveyance that travels on a magnetic track.


< The “Telelift” delivers materials to users >

Members of the public can also access the Turnbull Gallery via the General Reading Room. The Gallery showcases regular changing exhibitions based on the collections of the Alexander Turnbull Library.


< The Turnbull Gallery >

The Katherine Mansfield Reading Room

This secure reading room is located adjacent to the General Reading Room, with access mediated by staff as part of the security designed to protect the collections. Researchers access a wide range of heritage collection items in this room including manuscripts, photographs, newspapers, books, serials, oral history and other audio. There are two staff rostered in the Katherine Mansfield Reading Room and one must be present in the room at all times. Because of the status of the collection items delivered to this room the Telelift system is not used and deliveries of requested items arrive via trolley or by hand.


< The Katherine Mansfield Reading Room >

The Charles Heaphy Reading Room

This secure reading room provides curator supervised access for large format items from the collections of the Alexander Turnbull Library. Using this room means that larger or fragile items can be viewed on the same floor where they are housed thus minimising their movement. Researchers make appointments with Curators in order to view items in this room and all access is supervised. The range of items viewed in this room includes pictorial works, ephemera, cartographic and items from the Rare Books and Fine Printing Collection.

In addition to the changed layout, the Library also committed to enhancing on-line access to collections, though digitisation programmes, collections description, and a Web site redesign.

The renovated Reading Rooms opened in August 2012, to generally positive feedback from researchers. Informal comments indicate that they like the ‘new’ centralised research spaces, appreciate being able to use multiple formats in a central location and appreciate the expertise of staff. Some feedback from researchers:

  • “Excellent viewing facilities”
  • “Great range of working environments”
  • “Singing, Dancing, your whole Librarian chorus line is world class”
  • “Staff assistance is fabulous; teaching newcomers how to use the system, trouble-shooting and suggesting other routes to finding information sought”

Delivering services from these multi-formatted reading rooms has required many experienced staff with deep knowledge of a subject or format to make a significant change, by supporting researchers to use multiple collections at the same time. To this end, since 2010 we have been working with all front-of-house staff to develop a ‘broad and reasonably deep’ knowledge across collections and formats. This enables the staff to confidently engage with any researcher, knowing that once they have exhausted their own knowledge and expertise, colleagues with different expertise can be called on as needed to assist the researcher.

Staff have adopted a positive approach to supporting access to multiple collections, and enjoy sharing their own deep expertise with colleagues. While they sometimes miss working closely with experienced researchers who make significant new discoveries, they enjoy helping researchers to draw on a broad range of resources to inform their research.

While the model is still a work in progress, the Library is confident that the changes made to access points and service delivery have made a significant contribution to the Library achieving the goals that were set out in the 2007 Strategic Directions.


Copyright (C) 2015 National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa