A man looking at bookshelves in the library.

Monitoring and evaluation support for the NZLPP COVID-19 recovery programme: Key findings from engagement with public libraries

Key findings about the New Zealand Libraries Partnership programme to support community recovery from COVID-19.

5 May 2021

Executive summary

In 2020 the National Library of New Zealand received funding from the government for the New Zealand Libraries Partnership Programme (NZLPP) to support community recovery from COVID-19 (the programme). The programme is designed to support the retention of librarians and library services over the next two years. It is also intended to support community recovery, through for example: creating opportunities to improve reading, literacy, building digital literacy, and creating new digital resources to support online services.

The programme has four streams of work associated with public libraries: librarian secondments, digital learning resources, extension of the APNK service and financial relief through the waiver of user charges and procurement costs for collaborative library services.

The National Library commissioned Allen + Clarke to develop an intervention logic and Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) Framework for the programme.

Project methodology

To develop our understanding of the programme and to identify expected outcomes, the Allen + Clarke team reviewed 11 key documents, conducted individual interviews with three National Library senior leaders, held a workshop with members of the programme's Steering Group and visited five public libraries and met with an additional small library via Zoom.

This report presents the key findings from the library visits. The five libraries were selected to encompass a range of characteristics, including size, approach to using the NZLPP resources, community engagement model and diversity to the community in which it is located. A total of 19 people were interviewed during the visits. The information gathered was analysed to identify overarching themes, which are presented below.

Information relating to the expected outcomes and M&E Framework is set out in a separate document called NZLLP COVID-19 Recovery Programme Monitoring and Evaluation Framework.

Key findings

Concept of a modern public library

In all the public libraries we visited staff described connecting people to information as a critical purpose of modern libraries. The public library staff described a range of approaches to achieve this purpose, including fostering life-long learning, targeting literacy, and being a hub for the community.

The way that the public libraries provided programmes and services, and engaged in the programme, was largely shaped according to how the library viewed its purpose in a modern context.

Improving access and reach

Engaging with local communities and tailoring public library services to meet local needs was highlighted across each of the public libraries. Most had a good understanding of their current user base and wanted to place greater focus on improving access for non-traditional users, such as under-resourced communities and different minority ethnic groups. However, public library staff described a range of challenges that they faced to improve public library access, including perceptions associated with the historical role of libraries.

Most public library staff spoke of a range of barriers to improving access and reach, such as library fees, the physical location of the library and library opening hours. Many were looking to utilise the programme to remove these barriers where possible.

Workforce diversity

Public library staff expressed significant support for having a diverse workforce. Diversity was generally interpreted broadly across the libraries and included different cultural and social background, varied skillsets, and alternative pathways into the sector. Public libraries largely considered that having a diverse workforce enabled public libraries to provide better services to a broader range of users.

Sustainability

Most public library staff spoke about trying to utilise the programme in a way that would enable them to retain the benefits of the programme beyond its life. To achieve this, public libraries were using a range of approaches, including leveraging off secondee librarians as a boost of temporary capacity, using secondee librarians with digital literacy or community engagement skills to upskill existing staff; and establishing partnerships with local service providers.

Generally, public library staff noted that being able to demonstrate the value of their public library to their local council was critical to long-term sustainability.

Digital literacy

Public library staff acknowledged the importance of digital literacy in the modern world. They observed that demand for libraries to provide digital services and support had steadily increased. We found that these public libraries provided a range of services and support that targeted digital literacy, including digital literacy skills programmes, device drop-in sessions, and classes for children that covered topics like robotics or coding.

Most public libraries we visited found that providing digital services and support was having a positive impact on older people. Older people were observed to be developing newfound confidence to interact with technology after attending a library programme.

APNK services were considered to play a critical role in improving digital literacy and providing digital programmes and services in libraries.

Immediate benefits from the programme

Public library staff described some benefits from the programme that they were already seeing and experiencing. They told us that the programme was leading to library staff attending more training and upskilling opportunities and was enabling libraries to progress initiatives and undertake future planning. These activities were generally seen as important to the sustainability of libraries beyond the life of the programme.

Some challenges associated with the programme

In most of the public libraries, staff identified some key challenges that they faced with the programme due to its short timeframe. The timeframe had an impact had on public libraries' ability to recruit and retain staff and demonstrate the value of the programme in a timely fashion to their local council.

Some public library staff also raised concerns that the improved service levels achieved through the programme created a risk of raising customer service delivery expectations beyond the life of the programme. This was perceived as creating a reputational risk for them. This was particularly the case for smaller public libraries.

COVID-19

Generally, in the public libraries staff acknowledged that COVID-19 had some impact. Most have experienced some reduction in visitor numbers since the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020. Some also observed that people had started using the library for different purposes, such as remote working or job searching.

1 Introduction

In 2020, the National Library of New Zealand received funding from the government to help the library system in Aotearoa recover from disruption caused by COVID-19. The funding bid to Treasury was made in response to signals from local government that all councils anticipated a reduction in non-rate revenue. Because local government is the largest employer of librarians in Aotearoa, the loss of council revenue created a risk of role reductions which could lead to the permanent loss of talent and skill to the librarian profession.

The programme is set to run for two financial years (2020/21 and 2021/22) and has been introduced to support the retention of librarians and library services. It is also intended to support community recovery, through for example: helping improve reading, literacy, digital literacy, and create new digital resources to support students' online learning. In addition, the programme creates an opportunity to invest in workforce capability.

Project scope

This project focused on the following four streams of work associated with public libraries.

  • Secondments at public libraries to upskill librarians, and bolster reading and digital literacy activity for children, young people and adults with low digital literacy.
  • Digital learning resources and online content creation by public librarians.
  • Extension of the National Library's Aotearoa People's Network Kaharoa (APNK) public internet service to all public libraries.
  • Financial relief for Aotearoa libraries through the waiver of user charges and procurement costs for collaborative library services.

The project was not designed to:

  • Focus on speaking to library staff with formal library qualifications. Through the library visits we spoke to two library staff with formal qualifications. As a result, the potential benefits of having staff with these qualifications is not included in the findings.
  • Identify how expected outcomes from the programme contribute to broader National Library strategy.
  • Identify how expected outcomes contribute to the government's focus on wellbeing.

These potential areas of inquiry are therefore not covered in this report.

1.1 Purpose

The National Library commissioned Allen + Clarke to develop an intervention logic and Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) Framework for the programme. As part of that work, a range of public libraries were visited across Aotearoa. This document sets out the key findings from those visits.

2 Methodology

The Allen + Clarke team reviewed 11 key documents, conducted three individual interviews with key National Library senior leaders and facilitated workshops with members of the programme's steering group. This information was used to inform the development of the intervention logic and the M&E framework, which are reported on in NZLLP COVID-19 Recovery Programme Monitoring and Evaluation Framework.

2.1 Public library visits

Six public libraries were invited to participate in the project. Libraries were selected based on a range of criteria to ensure that the selected libraries represented:

  • a mixture of small, medium and large libraries
  • different approaches to using the additional resources available
  • different models of engagement with the local community, public libraries in other councils and potentially other stakeholders
  • variety in terms of the different challenges that public libraries are facing
  • diversity of communities.

Five libraries across Aotearoa were visited and we spoke with an additional library via Zoom. Limitations associated with the sample size are discussed below in section 2.5.

The purpose of the library visits was to interview public library staff to understand their views on the expected impact of the programme, with particular emphasis on the investment in secondee librarians, the fee waiver and APNK. We conducted 19 interviews with staff across the six libraries, including with library managers, secondee librarians and other relevant library staff involved in service delivery or the management of the programme in their library.

2.2 Limitations

The project has some limitations, including acknowledging that:

  • The sample size is relatively small compared with the overall number of public libraries throughout Aotearoa. While we sought to visit libraries with a variety of attributes (outlined above), the libraries were purposefully selected by the National Library based on the strength of their approach to the programme. As a result, caution should be exercised when attempting to generalise the findings out to all public libraries involved in the programme.
  • Not all of the NZLPP programme activity streams were in scope of the review. For example, we did not meet with schools, service providers and/or other agencies involved in the Services to Schools service.

3 Key Findings

3.1 Connecting people to information remains a critical purpose of a modern library**

Public library staff described how they viewed their purpose in a modern context and shared their visions for what a modern library looked like now and into the future. Connecting people to information remained a critical purpose. Public library staff described achieving this purpose in a range of ways, including fostering life-long learning, enhancing literacies, and being a hub for the community.

The public libraries used different approaches when providing programmes and services in their libraries. These approaches were largely shaped according to how the library viewed its purpose in a modern context.

3.1.1 Public libraries had a variety of approaches for connecting people with information

Public library staff placed importance on remaining relevant and providing value in a modern context. Public libraries were considered to play a key role in connecting people with information. Public library staff expressed different beliefs about the role of a public library, including:

  • Supporting life-long learning. Some public library staff saw public libraries as places which should support, foster and encourage learning through all stages of a person's life. It was recognised that life-long learning could mean different things for different people.
  • Fostering literacy. While public libraries have traditionally had a role in fostering literacy, all public library staff viewed their role in a modern context as also including digital literacy. Some public library staff considered the ability to access and use the internet to be a human right, and that libraries had a key role in facilitating this access.
  • Serving as a hub for the community. Some public library staff saw public libraries as a hub for the community. These public libraries placed importance on being inclusive, supporting the community, creating opportunities for people to socially connect, and showed a desire for the library space to be widely used.

3.1.2 The role of public libraries is expanding in response to the need of their communities

How different public libraries' roles were expanding in response to the need of their communities shaped the types of programmes and services they offered. In addition to the core public library services traditionally provided – such as issuing books, providing access to periodicals and classifying information – almost all public libraries either had, or were in the process of, diversifying the types of programmes they offered, potentially creating a blended space. Examples of programmes provided or hosted by public libraries included yoga, coffee groups for mums and babies, storytelling for children in a range of languages, groups for older community members, digital literacy classes for different age groups, plant swaps, classes on how to make gin, night markets, crafts and 3-D printing.

Almost all public library staff recognised the need to fill service gaps within their community to remain relevant and to add value to their local councils and communities. Two smaller public libraries placed importance on acting as a hub for their community and sought to meet broader community needs on an ongoing basis. Larger public libraries and their councils were generally better resourced and under less pressure to provide the same range of programmes and services. These differences contributed to public libraries having different approaches to delivering programmes and services. The three main approaches were:

  • Hosting – thepublic libraries used their physical spaces and reputation to support organisations and other service providers to deliver a range of programmes.
  • Incubating – the public libraries used their connections within the community to support new ideas and projects while in the start-up phase.
  • Providing – the public libraries were using the programme to generate and provide a range of new services themselves.

3.2 Public libraries are seeking to improve their access and reach

All the public libraries we visited were seeking to improve their reach into local communities, particularly improving access for non-traditional users such as minority ethnic groups and under-resourced communities. However, they expressed a range of challenges for improving access and reach that were associated with how these communities perceived public libraries. In addition, there are a range of barriers (discussed below) which some public libraries were looking to remove.

3.2.1 Public libraries are looking to improve services and programmes for traditional non-library users

The public libraries we visited expressed a good understanding of who used their service, as well as the groups that tended to not use their services. Some public libraries were using the programme as an opportunity to engage with these communities to improve the alignment between library programmes and community needs/aspirations. Across the public libraries there were three overarching approaches that had been adopted to improve their reach into local communities:

  • Working with trusted community organisations to provide services. For example, some public libraries had partnered with community houses to provide some library services in under-resourced communities.
  • Secondee librarians leading and developing community engagement by identifying and building relationships with organisations already embedded in the communities that public libraries wanted to reach.
  • Looking to make their spaces more welcoming for a diverse range of users. For example, creating spaces for specific cultural content such as a dedicated te reo Māori space and/or considering how they could make the environment seem less sterile and more reflective of the local community more generally. For some public libraries, this involved considering the physical design and layout of their library.

In addition, there was widespread acknowledgement that services and programmes outside of books could attract people who traditionally did not use libraries. Most public library staff described using these opportunities to encourage non-library members to become a member and access core library services.

3.2.2 Public libraries face challenges with how they are perceived

Public library staff spoke about the difficulties they encountered in attracting non-traditional users. These challenges included:

  • Entrenched perceptions about what a library is and the role they have played in the past. These perceptions included that a library is a repository for books, a sterile and quiet space in which people were not permitted to talk, and a place for educated people and/or the middle class.
  • Not having prior experience of public libraries. For example, some migrants came from countries which did not provide public libraries for its citizens.

Some public library staff talked about different ways they were attempting to address these challenges. These included using the funding from the programme to establish whānau education roles to support whānau to become more comfortable with the library, which was expected to include engaging with them in their homes first to develop a relationship and to slowly introduce them to the library and the services it provides, or engaging with community organisations who already had trusted relationships with a community to increase the public library's reach.

3.2.3 Public libraries used a range of approaches to address or remove barriers to accessing their services

Public library staff expressed a desire to remove existing barriers to accessing their services. Some public library staff described how barriers can take many forms, including:

  • Fines and fees. Some public library staff saw this as the most obvious barrier to focus on removing first. These were perceived as inappropriate in a modern library. Some stated that members of the public often were not aware when fines and fees had been removed and wondered how they could better communicate this.
  • Physical distance. Some public library staff sought to make their services and programmes more available by providing mobile services and/or creating small local hubs for more remote or under resourced communities.
  • Opening hours. A few public libraries had increased or changed their opening hours to include some evenings and weekends to meet the needs of groups such as commuters.

3.3 Creating a more diverse workforce in public libraries

Public library staff expressed significant support for diversifying the public library workforce. They saw having a workforce that was reflective of the community they serve as important for improving their reach into various communities. A few public library staff considered diversity to be a strength and generator of ideas.

Public library staff generally interpreted diversity broadly and discussed workforce diversity in terms of different cultural and social backgrounds, varied skillsets, and alternative pathways into the sector.

3.3.1 Staff with different cultural and social backgrounds are considered important

All public library staff placed importance on having a diverse workforce and felt that their workforce should reflect the local community. They believed that, if members of the community could see themselves in the library workforce, then this would help improve the level of comfort these communities would have when accessing library services.

A few public library staff described their workforce as already diverse, with a mixture of staff from different cultural and social backgrounds – including Māori, Pacific and other ethnic minority groups – in a way that reflected their community. Many of these public library staff considered having staff from a range of cultural and social backgrounds helped promote library services with members of their respective communities. Library staff from these backgrounds were also often instrumental in helping create a welcoming for their respective communities.

While a few public library staff felt that diversity had happened naturally, most public library staff felt that it was an area they needed to foster. A range of approaches were adopted to foster diversity, including:

  • Ensuring that there is diversity in hiring panels. One library described how having a diverse hiring panel contributed to different skills and perspectives being identified and highlighted.
  • Being mindful of the style and wording of job advertisements. This included whether the role required formal qualifications. One approach to address this issue was to broaden statements in advertisements to request a qualification and/or relevant experience.
  • Attending training focused on improving cultural competency and/or raise awareness of unconscious bias.
  • Offering roles that require knowledge from different backgrounds, such as mātauranga and te reo Māori secondee librarians.
  • Offering flexible working arrangements/hours.

3.3.2 A modern public library needs a variety of skillsets

While public library staff generally considered it useful to have some staff who held formal library qualifications, or to be able to access people with formal library qualifications, they also emphasised that a modern library requires a diverse range of skills. These broader skills included project management, digital literacy, community engagement, and relationship management. They spoke about respecting the different skillsets, recognising the different roles that staff play.

Librarians generally agreed that key skills for a modern public library included:

  • Digital skills – having staff who were digitally literate/tech savvy was considered vital to supporting library users access online services. Many libraries had already invested in improving the digital skills of their staff.
  • People skills – having staff with good people skills was seen as crucial for supporting social connection. This included making library users feel welcome as they entered the public library. Good people skills were also seen as important for facilitating community engagement and running programmes.

Some public libraries also sought to create opportunities for their staff to benefit from the strengths of their colleagues. For example, a few libraries had multiple secondees across different streams and were looking for ways they could benefit from each other's skills.

3.3.3 Public libraries are looking to create different pathways into library work

Public library staff acknowledged the need to create new pathways for people to enter library work. Many public library staff believed such an approach would support greater workforce diversity, with regards to backgrounds and skills (as described above). In most public libraries staff spoke about a range of pathways that they were either already utilising, or considering adopting, as alternative pathways into library work. These included:

  • Creating employment opportunities for students or school leavers to work in the library. For example, one public library had established a secondee position for a school student to work in the library assisting children and young people who access the library after school.
  • Directly encouraging individuals in the community who they felt would be a good fit. to apply for library roles
  • Employing volunteers and/or casual staff.

3.4 Public libraries are looking to retain the benefits of the programme through a range of approaches

Public libraries staff expressed appreciation for the programme and what it was enabling them to do. However, they also expressed concern about the limited timeframe of two years. Many were seeking to ensure the benefits gained from the programme were maintained beyond the life of the programme, where possible.

Public library staff spoke about a range of approaches that were aimed at retaining the anticipated benefits of the programme. These included:

  • Utilising secondee librarian skills and experience – some public library staff described how they were utilising the skills and experience of secondee librarians to upskill existing staff and/or establish new programmes and services that existing staff could continue to run.
  • Establishing relationships – some public library staff believed that partnering with/establishing closer working relationships with local schools or community organisations would contribute to greater long-term sustainability. This was through leveraging off one another to provide prorgammes and services and/or forging ongoing relationships on behalf of the library.
  • Demonstrating value to key stakeholders – some public library staff felt it was important to demonstrate the difference the programme was making to their local council with a view of attracting additional council funding at the end of the programme. However, there were varying degrees of optimism around how successful this strategy might be given the timeframe.

3.5 Supporting improved digital access and literacy is seen as important

Public library staff acknowledged the importance of digital access and literacy. They told us that the demand for public libraries to provide digital access and support had increased and described a range of programmes and approaches to improve digital literacy. Almost all public library staff described benefits of providing digital access and support to improve digital literacy, especially for older people and some immigrant groups. APNK was considered to play a critical role in supporting the delivery of digital literacy programmes and services.

3.5.1 Public libraries are experiencing increasing demand for digital services

Public library staff spoke about increasing demand in their communities for digital access and support with digital literacy. This included increasing demand for Wi-Fi or devices to access the internet and online services, as well as an increasing need for programmes and support to navigate online services or to learn how to use devices.

Public library staff identified the key drivers for this increased demand including factors such as the closure of bank branches, the cessation of bank cheques, and the shift of government agency services, local council, and other broader services (such as applying for a rental home) to be online-only. The closure of bank branches and cessation of bank cheques were driving older people to engage with digital services. However, this also created a potential risk for public libraries with older people approaching library staff for support with setting up online banking. While this engagement reflected the highly trusted nature of libraries, some library staff felt uncomfortable having access to such private information.

3.5.2 A range of programmes and services are offered to improve digital literacy**

All the public libraries provided a range of programmes and/or services to help improve digital literacy. These ranged from structured digital skills programmes to offering ad hoc support. Examples included:

  • technology days and device drop-in sessions to learn about how to use one's device
  • digital skills programmes. Some programmes specifically targeted older people
  • learning opportunities through technology, such as coding and robotics classes for children
  • general support to access online services (such as responding to help requests with online banking, rental applications, WINZ applications).

3.5.3 Developing digital literacy skills can build older peoples confidence to interact in a digital world

Some public library staff spoke about how providing specific digital programmes and support targeted at older people can help build their confidence and skillset. Most library staff shared stories of older people who were initially hesitant or fearful about using technology and the internet. Some recounted stories of older people visiting the library with devices gifted to them by family members, but not knowing how to use them. They told us through the support and programmes some older people had developed greater independence and felt empowered to use the internet more broadly.

Examples of the positive impact this had, included:

  • Reduced pressure on families – some older people no longer relied on family members to provide support to use devices and to access online services.
  • Improved social connection – building the confidence to navigate technology and the internet enabled some older people to connect socially with others such as family members living overseas via Zoom.
  • Creation of champions – a few libraries described instances where older people had acquired enough confidence and ability navigating the internet that they had become champions and mentors, joining the digital programme sessions to support other older people to use the internet.

3.5.4 APNK plays a crucial role in supporting digital programmes and services

Staff at public libraries with APNK felt the service played a crucial role in supporting their digital literacy programmes and providing community members with access to digital services. All the public libraries relied on the access to hardware and free Wi-Fi that APNK or similar internal services provide to deliver these programmes. Some library staff referred to APNK as the "backbone" of their digital literacy programmes.

Public library staff generally found that under-resourced communities, or groups that faced barriers to active digital participation, particularly benefited from APNK. They highlighted how APNK enabled these groups to have free access to devices or Wi-Fi. Public library staff often commented that many of their APNK users either did not have their own computers or devices or did not have internet access at home.

In addition, some public library staff considered providing digital access through APNK attracted under-resourced communities to visit libraries. Many libraries believed that the number of people who visited their library would drop significantly if the free APNK service was not available.

3.6 Public libraries are experiencing a range of immediate benefits from the programme

Most public library staff described experiencing some benefits from the programme already. These included the programme enabling staff to attend more training and upskilling opportunities and making it possible for libraries to progress initiatives and undertake future planning that would not otherwise be possible.

3.6.1 Staff are experiencing greater opportunities for training and upskilling

Most public library staff stated that the programme has provided a greater number of training and upskilling opportunities for staff. Uptake of training opportunities was generally high across all the public libraries. Secondee librarians in particular spoke highly about the training that they had received so far and were excited by the opportunities that the programme presented.

Examples of training opportunities provided to staff, especially secondee librarians, included project management, community engagement, design thinking and content creation, and cultural competency. Many secondee libraries had been pursuing every training opportunity available. However, some reflected that they felt they needed to be more strategic about their training choices going forward.

Some public library staff described how the introduction of secondee librarians was expected to contribute to the upskilling of wider library staff. Many secondee librarians talked about plans to share their skills with their colleagues, including organising and running upskilling sessions with their team members in areas like digital skills and community engagement.

3.6.2 The programme is creating an opportunity to progress initiatives and plan for the future

Most public library staff were using the additional capacity created through the secondee librarian stream to progress new initiatives or to address existing back-logged work that they otherwise would not have been able to undertake. In addition, some public library staff were planning to take advantage of this time-limited additional capacity to progress work that would support improved service delivery in the future. This included reflecting on current systems and how they could do things differently which would reduce workloads for staff.

Examples of the ways they were using the programme for this purpose, included:

  • Using some of the funding to contract a qualified librarian to support the development of an implementation plan, including assessing its strengths and weaknesses.
  • Improving library management systems and addressing contracting issues to ensure that they were working from a stronger position.
  • Using the funding as the basis for seeking further funding and utilising this combined funding to obtain more books/resources or employ additional staff into new, temporary roles.

3.7 Challenges of the programme

Most public library staff identified some key challenges that they face with the programme. These challenges largely revolved around the short timeframe of the programme and the impact this had on public libraries' ability to recruit and retain staff and demonstrate the value of the programme. Some public library staff also raised concerns that the improved service levels achieved through the programme created a risk of raising customer service delivery expectations beyond the life of the programme.

3.7.1 The short timeframe of the programme presented as a challenge

Most public library staff commented on the challenges that the two-year programme timeframe created. These challenges included:

  • Recruitment. Public library staff placed importance on finding the right person for the role. However, some public library staff had found finding the right person for the role took time. Some libraries had to advertise more than once and in some instances, recruitment took up to six months. These public library staff considered this to be 'lost time' that reduced the opportunity to realise and demonstrate the benefits of the programme.
  • Retention. Most public library staff were concerned with their ability to retain some of the people they had recruited into secondee librarian positions due to a lack of job security. They saw this as a risk of losing good talent, skills, and people who will have developed a good understanding of their public library over the course of the programme.
  • Demonstrating value. Some public library staff were concerned that they would be unable to demonstrate the impact of the programme within the short time. This was a particular concern for public libraries who were not clearly visible in their local council's Long-Term Plan. In one public library staff suggested the programme should run for a longer period, such as 3-4 years to help create more visible and sustained benefits that could then be shared with their local council.

A few public library staff considered short-term central government funding, such as for two-year periods, to be an ongoing issue. Their concerns included not being able to fully realise sustainable benefits from programmes before the funding period ends and local councils then being left to cover the cost after the programme.

3.7.2 Public libraries may struggle to meet customer expectations

Some public library staff raised concerns that the programme carried some reputational risk. They explained that improved service levels achieved through the programme may lead to some customers expecting a higher level of service on an ongoing basis. However, it may be damaging to the reputation of a library if they are unable to provide for this higher level of service beyond the life of the programme.

The concerns raised by public library staff extended beyond the secondee librarian stream of the programme and included the fee waiver stream and access to databases that they were unable to afford prior to the programme. Smaller libraries tended to raise this concern.

3.8 COVID-19 had some negative impact on usage of public libraries

Public library staff generally considered COVID-19 to have had some negative impact on their library, with most experiencing a reduction in visitor numbers since the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020. Some public library staff also observed that people had started using the library for different purposes, such as remote working or job searching.

3.8.1 COVID-19 has impacted visitor numbers to public libraries

Almost all the public library staff described the effect that COVID-19 has had on visitor numbers to their public libraries. A few had observed that some public library users, such as older people, were initially reluctant to return to shared public spaces and that it took time for visitor numbers build up after lockdown. While in other public libraries, staff had observed an ongoing reduction in visitor numbers since lockdown. In one public library staff told us that, although there was initial hesitancy, their library users felt safe.

3.8.2 COVID-19 may have contributed to changes in the way people use libraries

Some public library staff had observed some changes to library users' behaviours or the ways the library was now used. These included:

  • an increased demand for activities that provided social connection
  • potentially more people using the library to work remotely or to run their business
  • an increased demand for support to search for jobs and prepare CVs

In addition, in one public library staff had observed an increase in users bringing their own devices. They believed this was likely to lead to an increase in the number of people using their Wi-Fi services, but noted as an 'invisible service' this is difficult to quantify especially given the short timeframe.

4 Conclusions

Public library staff voiced gratitude for the programme funding, explaining that it was making a real difference to what public libraries could provide for their communities. Changes in the role of different libraries in response to the need of their communities shaped how each library engaged with the programme. For the libraries we visited, key focus areas were improving digital literacy in their communities, improving their access and reach into communities through community engagement and developing services and programmes that better met the needs of their local communities. In addition, some public libraries were looking to develop mātauranga and te reo Māori spaces reflecting the bi-cultural nature of Aotearoa.

While public library staff described some benefits from the programme they were already realising, they were also concerned about the short timeframe of the programme and the impact this had on their ability to achieve long-term sustainable improvements. Most public library staff set out a range of approaches they had adopted in an effort to ensure improvements continued to exist beyond the life of the programme.

Who is Allen + Clarke?

Allen and Clarke Regulatory and Policy Specialists Ltd (Allen + Clarke) is a consultancy that specialises in research and evaluation; policy; business change and optimisation; and governance, secretariat and programme support services. Founded in 2001, the company is led by two Managing Partners, Matthew Allen and Paul Houliston, who share ownership with six senior staff. We have approximately 60 other personnel including evaluation and policy practitioners, a secretariat and programme support service, administrative support and an in-house designer. We have offices in Wellington, New Zealand and Melbourne, Australia.

Allen + Clarke has experience working on developing programme theory, outcomes frameworks and strategy in a range of sectors, including in culture and heritage, health, and education. Our company also works extensively for a range of government and non-government agencies in New Zealand, Australia, as well as international organisations in the Pacific, and Asia.

Acknowledgements

Allen + Clarke would like to thank all the staff in the public libraries we visited for their participation in this project. We would also like to thank the National Library for their support in organising public library visits.

Download the Monitoring and evaluation support for the NZLPP COVID-19 recovery programme: Key findings from engagement with public libraries report

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