Rakiura Stewart Island Community Library
People have lived on Stewart Island since the 13th Century, when the Māori named it Rakiura, meaning “Land of the Glowing Skies”. Although the island has a total area of 172 square kilometres (similar in size to Singapore), its 400 inhabitants are concentrated around the township of Oban.
The island’s first library, the Stewart Island Athenaeum, opened in 1885. The current library is in the Stewart Island Community Centre which opened in 1999. Kirsten Hicks explains more about New Zealand’s southern-most library.
I took over from the previous librarian, Jess Kany in May 2011. In December 2016 the Southland District Council shifted from the Rakiura Museum to our community library. This increased the library hours from four hours per week to over 20 hours a week, with support from volunteers on Saturday.
At the same time, a barcode issue system with a self-issue machine was installed. Up until then, it had been a system of issue cards in the backs of books. Stewart Island was the last of the nine library branches in the Southland District to be catalogued.
Pat King retired from her volunteer Saturday sessions in 2017. Other volunteers include Jenny Gell, Margaret Rooney, Kerry Squire, Loraine Hansen, Margaret Hopkins, Megan Cowley, Shona Sangster, Tash Lundin, Teri McCracken, Rachel Sagar, Emily Barnett, Sue Ford, and Mavis Tait. The community is very involved in the library, and we have many volunteers. There is also an active Friends of the Library group.
The library is a book lifeline for dedicated readers, providing a lending service to visitors, with books, DVDs and jigsaws available. It’s a place to sit and shelter from an easterly, waiting for the ferry or plane, and to use the WiFi). We also have a great collection of Lego and soft toys for kids of all ages. We are part of the Southland District Council which means you can pay your electricity account, register your dog, or buy a new recycling bin.
Our library is popular with parents with small children who often pop in before going to Rugrats, our local preschool. Kids enjoy their one sticker for each hand, although often it’s a sticker on the nose and another on a knee.
We have a collection of well-loved and often hard to obtain Stewart Island books, housed in a specially designed wooden cabinet made by a local resident.
We also have several items on display and in use that were donated by the community:
The perk for me working at this library is seeing the new books come in. But it’s also building a relationship with people on the island whose path you might not cross otherwise. Once your kids have grown past school, you can lose touch with all the smaller kids.
We’re an important community hub for Stewart Island residents and many locals come in here. In the future we’re hoping to run a digital technology course when COVID levels allow.
Kirsten Hicks; has lived on Stewart Island Rakiura since 1994. She has worked in a variety of jobs (charter boat owner, retail, forklift driver, cleaner, gardener and general office admin). An avid reader all her life, she was rapt to land her dream job with the council in 2011. She loves the lifestyle, and the opportunity to be involved in health and welfare groups, playcenter and school, community garden, tourism, amateur dramatics, search and rescue. Living the dream!
She enjoys being part of a small community where everyone waves, knows your dog’s name and your birthday gets written up on the blackboard at the local 4 Square (although mercifully they don’t usually display your age!)