Rare Book Monthly

Articles - April - 2022 Issue

A Library Opens As Usual But No One Is There

The Turanga Library.

The main library in Christchurch, New Zealand, opened as usual the other day. There's nothing unusual about that except it wasn't a usual day. It was a holiday, Waitangi Day* to be exact. It wasn't supposed to be open. The librarians knew it was supposed to be closed, so they didn't show up for work. Many of the patrons did not know it was supposed to be closed and came.


The doors opened at 10:00 as usual. Nearly 400 patrons filed in during the first two hours, proceeding about their business. The service wasn't great, but the patrons knew the rules. They didn't need assistance. They browsed the shelves, found the books they wanted, and checked them out. They have self check-out machines so they had no need for a librarian. One person was annoyed by the lack of service and left a note about taking a CD because they could not find a librarian to help. “I’ve decided to take the CDs to teach you a lesson in how not to operate a functioning library,” the borrower wrote. Otherwise, everything proceeded as if it were a normal day.


The library remained unmanned and open for two hours before a friend of a staff member saw social media posts showing people inside. Security was called in and 15 minutes later, the library was cleared of visitors.


So, how did the library open if there was no staff there? It turns out they use some sort of service that opens the library automatically. It also turns on the self check-out machines. Apparently, the software that opens the doors was not programmed to take into account it was a holiday. Sometimes, labor-saving ideas can go too far. It might make more sense to have someone who is actually at the library pull the switch to open the doors.


All in all, everything went well. No book theft alarms were set-off and nothing appears to be missing. Nothing in the library was damaged either. It was a bit messy on the main floor, and particularly where books are returned as there was no one there to put the books away. Perhaps if they can automate that, there will be no need for staff at all.


*Waitangi Day, for those unfamiliar (which must be most of world's population not from New Zealand), celebrates the Treaty of Waitangi, signed by the British and numerous native Maori leaders in 1840. It recognized Maori dominion over the land while giving them the protections of British subjects. It was quite favorable to the native people by colonial standards and, naturally, was much ignored by the British later on, sort of like America and its treaties with their native Indians.

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