Auckland Libraries: a gateway to a new life

Shivangi Pradhan vividly remembers what it was like arriving in New Zealand in 1998 to join her husband.

In India she had been a successful interior designer working in an architectural design company, with a family house and family to help care for her young daughter.

In Auckland, she found herself living in a small apartment in Mt Albert. Her husband used the family car to commute. She knew no one. At her daughter’s kindergarten she drew pictures for the children, worrying that they wouldn’t understand her accent.

One of her first interactions with a stranger was when a woman on a bus asked her if Indians rode elephants. ‘What can they think of us?’ she thought.

But slowly, Shivangi started to become more confident. She began reading to the children – 1998 was a good year in retrospect, she says. The following year, she got volunteer work as a budget advisor, then found paid part-time work as a budgeting services administrator and met a range of other new New Zealanders. She enrolled to study at Unitec. For the next few years, life was busy.

Then, Waitakere City Council offered her a six-month contract writing what would become the highly successful 76-page Waitakere New Settlers’ Guide. The guide, published in 2004, begins with the top 10 things all migrants should do; number eight, sitting between getting a driver’s licence and finding a GP, is joining the local library.

"Libraries are for everyone," says Shivangi

Shivangi drew on her own experience: on her second day in New Zealand her husband walked with her down to the local library to become a member. The library was an essential part of making New Zealand her home.

Today, Shivangi is Libraries Adviser: Multicultural Services for Auckland Libraries, an institution serving the most populated and culturally diverse region in New Zealand. Indeed, with 40 per cent of Aucklanders born overseas and more than 200 ethnic groups, Auckland qualifies as ‘superdiverse’, a description it shares with cities like Sydney, Melbourne, Vancouver, London and New York.

Multicultural city

At the time of the 2013 Census, around 51,000 Aucklanders spoke Samoan, 57,000 spoke Chinese languages such as Cantonese or Mandarin, and 47,000 spoke Hindi.

When you see your own languages in the community collections, that’s when you start to have that sense of connection, of feeling that there is a place for you here.

Shivangi Pradhan

Many of these people will speak English, but tellingly the Census also reports that across New Zealand more than 87,000 people did not include English among the languages in which they were able to conduct a conversation about everyday things.

The library system needs to serve everyone, says Shivangi. “When you see your own languages in the community collections, that’s when you start to have that sense of connection, of feeling that there is a place for you here.”

Auckland Libraries’ community languages collection has around 100,000 items in 27 languages, including books, CDs and DVDs, and while particular collections may be housed within any of the 55 individual branches, the one-library model means an item can be requested and returned at any branch.

Auckland Libraries goes out of its way to address people in their first languages. While it is unrealistic to translate everything into the 200-plus languages spoken in Auckland, the library provides critical information in a number of key languages.

When using the self-check system to borrow books, customers can choose from a range of languages, and when overdue notices are delivered, by automated phone message or email, again a choice of languages is available.

This helps prevent misunderstandings, explains Shivangi. “For people who have come from countries where the relationship with government is difficult, their reaction to a message left in a foreign language on their answerphone is often one of fear: ‘I must have done something!’”

Every year the Libraries’ Collections Unit analyses the shifting demographics of Auckland’s population, asking whether the right language collections are held in the right branches and how well they are being used.

“If it looks like a language collection is getting less use than we would expect, we ask the community whether we have the right books,” says Shivangi.

Auckland Libraries also have extensive online community languages offerings: PressReader gives same-day access to more than 2,000 newspapers and more than 500 magazines from around the world, and Dragonsource provides thousands of full-text magazines and journals published in mainland China.

A place for community

But libraries now represent much more than books, magazines and digital offerings: they are multipurpose community venues and are often a part of larger community facilities.

Tōia, the new recreation precinct in Otahuhu, fits the model. “There’s a library, an aquatic centre, a playground and a gym. A whole lot of things are going on there,” says Auckland Libraries’ Ali Ikram.

Auckland Libraries’ events calendar includes everything from Chinese computer classes to Hawaiian dance performances, Pasifika poetry readings to Mandarin storytime sessions for children.

Shivangi mentions Onehunga Library’s Anju Chinese Club, which runs a programme of special-interest speakers addressing communally chosen topics of interest, such as banking or the health system.

“It is an opportunity for the club members to share their culture and get to know the community. The library is almost like a living book.”

Many cultural events that are now widely celebrated in New Zealand, such as Diwali and the Lunar New Year, were originally championed by libraries.

“Libraries are for everyone,” says Shivangi.

Auckland Libraries' services

If you live in Auckland, you are entitled to free membership of Auckland Libraries. There are 55 libraries in Auckland. Each one has free computers, internet and Wi-Fi access.

The libraries also offer:

  • regular children’s story times, including bilingual or multilingual story times at some libraries, in languages such as Chinese, Korean, Hindi, Japanese, Russian and Tamil. The libraries are also happy to provide story time space to community groups who wish to deliver story times in their own language
  • adult learning opportunities, such as CV writing help, and homework help for teenagers. A “Book a librarian” service offers a free one- on- one session with a librarian 
  • Language Line, a free telephone interpreter service, available at every library
  • a Chinese-language Auckland Libraries Facebook page
  • basic computer classes in English and Mandarin
  • an English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) collection, including books and audio CD sets
  • conversation classes for anyone who wants to improve their English
  • book clubs for adults and teens, including some in languages other than English. These include Chinese, Korean and Tamil
  • PressReader, a service offering free online access to 4,000 newspapers from 100 countries in 60 languages
  • Dragonsource, a service giving free online access to 2,200 Chinese-language magazines
  • the Zinio eMagazine site, which allows you to download many international magazines for free. They include Chinese-, Japanese-, French-, Spanish- and Italian-language magazines
  • the Community Languages Collection of books for adults and children in 27 languages. The collection contains more than 100,000 items (including DVDs and CDs), with more than 80,000 items for adults and more than 15,000 items for children and teenagers. You can ask to pick up any item from this collection at your local library. This is a free service.

You can use Auckland Libraries to research your family history or to attend genealogy workshops. Auckland Libraries also gathers migrant stories and the histories of social networks, organisations and cultural events.

Find out more about Auckland Libraries by visiting their website.

Auckland Libraries

Libraries in New Zealand

Local libraries are always a good place to go to find information about activities in your local community. They also have hundreds of books, eBooks, CDs and DVDs you can borrow. There is commonly also free internet access at most libraries and some have wireless internet.

For information about the local libraries in your area, have a look at your regional Information and Advice page.


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