Dean’s Update: A Librarian’s View of Timely Traveling to New Zealand
April 4, 2019
On the final day of my two-week exploration of New Zealand, I was in Christchurch touring the Botanical Gardens in the Hagley Park. Three days later, upon return to Drexel, and during my monthly review with our In Circulation editor, she suggested I offer a librarian’s view of traveling to New Zealand as the topic for the Dean’s column. The following day, we watched reports of the tragic shootings in the Mosques near the Park.
Friends there confirmed a news commentary I heard that life in New Zealand after that day would never be the same. When I shared first impressions of this beautiful, distant country with a friend back home, I was accused of painting a picture that was overly romantic and asked where was the gritty or tense side of life? I honestly had not seen it during my visit.
What I did see and learn was the shared importance of community and an unquestioned sense of being safe as a result of being geographically isolated. Police officers did not carry guns. Women left purses unattended in populated places.
Through observations of daily life across the country, visits with friends, creative exhibits and popular attendance in libraries and museums, it also became clear that the library is a symbol of recovery—a safe space for learning and sharing memories. It is at the intersection of a multitude of views, a trusting culture, and respect for embracing diversity.
The Christchurch City Library had opened just five months before I arrived, and it seemed always packed with all types of people and children whenever I passed it. Some huddled to hear a story read to them; others navigated a big video display to bring together images and documents of the town’s history and other significant events.
All public signs are presented in the two national languages—English and Maori—except the one over the library entrance which simple stated: ‘Tūranga’, the Maori name for Christchurch City Library. Each Library floor carries descriptive names such as Connection, Community, Identity, Discovery and Creativity, and its open spaces are decorated with colorful designs. Not far away, the National Archive included large letters under its roofline to remind passersby what the URL was to reach this other public treasure chest of community and identity.
In the Quake City Museum, personal stories and hands-on exhibits recount experiences and the aftermath of the devastating 2010 and 2011 earthquakes, when over 180 people died. Individual and group acts of kindness reflected concern for fellow New Zealanders—such as the rural residents bringing water and food to their fellow community members in the city, and hordes of students quickly organizing to move rumble.
Over eight years later, many—but not all—damaged buildings are restored or replaced. The public library—a multi-million project—was high on the city’s priorities to replace. It beautifully returned a central, community gathering place for making connections, strengthening cultural identity, and discovering facts and ideas, as well as stimulating creativity.
My still fresh impressions may be of a New Zealand that no longer exists. It is no longer isolated. Its sense of safety has been shaken. Reflecting on the tragic attack on this world, we are not alone in furthering the role of a library to a community.
In this issue, read about the Drexel Libraries’ premise that truth and authoritative scholarship are antidotes to fear and ignorance. The Libraries attempts to foster intellectual wellness as a condition for better learning by offering a gallery of ideas how to lower stress, anxiety, and distraction through simple exercises, games and stimulations. With over 40 attendees during the first two days, the Libraries’ Intellectual Wellness Gallery may help students prepare their mind and body to be receptive to building connections, identity and creativity.
We will report more about this unique space in the Libraries and how it is received.
Take a break and enjoy a happy spring!
Danuta A. Nitecki, PhD
Dean of Libraries