Navigation for News Categories

How public libraries are aiding community engagement

3:42 pm on 12 January 2024
Auckland city public library

Auckland's public libraries contain books and materials in six different Indian languages. Photo: Supplied

Public libraries in New Zealand are playing a pivotal role in fostering a culture of community engagement and inclusivity.

"I've been an avid user of the public libraries in New Zealand since I came here," says Jayakrishnan Sreekumar, who moved to Wellington in 2018 and has been a frequent visitor to libraries in the capital as part of his postgraduate studies in communication.

Indeed, Sreekumar admits to spending entire days at the library - not only to read books but also taking advantage of other services such as free Wi-Fi.

Although the 36-year-old graduated in August, he continues to visit libraries.

"My kids love the libraries [in Wellington]," Sreekumar says. "I get books for them now."

Zoe Miller, 46, also used to frequent public libraries in the capital when she was a teenager.

"I used to go to the Central Library in Wellington," Miller says. "It was a wonderful place to go when you're in the city. We used to lie down in the children's section because it had pillows and everything."

Fast forward to 2023, Miller now handles multicultural community engagement for Wellington City Libraries.

"I work with a lot of different ethnic communities," Miller says. "We have a variety of titles for the South Asian community."

Zoe Miller (in the middle) handles the multicultural community engagement for Wellington City Libraries.

Zoe Miller (middle) handles multicultural community engagement for Wellington City Libraries. Photo: Supplied

Hindi was the seventh most borrowed non-English language title at Wellington City Library in 2023 and the third most borrowed Asian language after Mandarin and Japanese.

The library also offers books in Tamil, Punjabi, Gujarati, Sinhalese, Arabic and Korean.

Miller says Wellington's new central library, Te Matapihi, will have a dedicated section for World Languages.

She says the library has a wide variety of books in English about diverse cultures.

"We have a special Diwali celebrations collection," Miller says.

Meanwhile, public libraries in Auckland hold books and materials in six different Indian languages.

Hindi tops the list with 2450 books, Gujarati comes in second with 1399, and Punjabi is third with 1525.

Notably, Auckland's Panmure and Mt Roskill libraries also display books written in Tamil, a South Indian language.

"Within our general English language collection, we hold over 7000 books about India, covering a wide range of subjects, including history, literature, culture, art, travel and politics," says Catherine Leonard, head of Library & Learning Services at Auckland Council.

Leonard says the allocation of languages is decided by census data, customer and staff feedback, and usage data.

In the South Island, Christchurch City Libraries has been serving ethnic communities for many years.

"Christchurch City Libraries provide spaces for community groups to share and promote their culture, and we have hosted Diwali events annually," says Carolyn Robertson, head of Libraries & Information at Christchurch City Council.

She says the library has hosted dance performances and musical groups to help users connect with the city's diverse communities.

The library also offers a mix of physical and digital material on various subjects and genres relating to India, including geography, arts, history, philosophy, cooking, literature and music.

Jayakrishnan Sreekumar is an avid user of public libraries in New Zealand.

Jayakrishnan Sreekumar is an avid user of public libraries in New Zealand. Photo: Supplied

Beyond books

Miller says public libraries are more than just a place for users to get their favorite book, offering migrants and ethnic communities important outreach opportunities.

"I think libraries are well-placed to promote bilingualism and multilingualism," Miller says. "It is important to retain your culture and heritage when you move to a new country and bring up your children."

Miller encourages ethnic communities to use library facilities.

"You don't have to be reading," Miller says. "You can use the Wi-Fi, bring your kids so they can play with some toys. We have computers if you need that."

Miller says a justice of the peace can be found at many libraries, offering migrants important assistannce.

Sreekumar agrees.

"(Libraries) helped me a lot during my studies but now the libraries are helping my kids," he says.

What is IndoNZ?

An organic henna tattoo inspired motif of semi circular arcs in blue

IndoNZ is a dedicated initiative producing content for and about the diverse Indian community in New Zealand supported by the Public Interest Journalism Fund through NZ On Air. Radio New Zealand is an independent public service multimedia organisation that provides audiences with trusted news and current affairs in accordance with the RNZ Charter. Contact the team by email at