A library but not as we know it

When you hear the word library, what do you think?

Does it excite you, bore you, or is it neither here nor there? Do you harken back to your tertiary, secondary or even primary-school days, to row upon row of dusty books and dimly lit study nooks, to the distant sounds of clocks ticking or stern-faced librarians shh-ing?

Whoever you are, wherever you are, regardless of whether you ventured into one yesterday, yesteryear, or further back than you care to remember, you will have an idea — or at least an opinion — about libraries. But whatever you might think, and irrespective of your experiences to date, in the timeless lyrics of Bachman-Turner Overdrive, allow me to respectfully put it like this: "You ain’t seen nothing yet."

Tūranga (New Central Library), photo by Kirk Hargreaves, Newsline
Tūranga (New Central Library), photo by Kirk Hargreaves, Newsline

Why? Because come mid-2018, Christchurch is in for one of the biggest surprises of the rebuild to date. We are going to step foot into a radically different central library to the one we knew before the earthquakes — and I don’t just mean the architecture. Conceptually, Tūranga will be a library completely redefined and reinvented, in keeping, you could say, with a city centre undergoing the same transformative treatment. So revolutionary the thinking, so ground-breaking the concept, it will forever change the way we think about the word library. Once finished, there won’t be anything else quite like it in New Zealand, and not surprisingly, it stands to become a new focal point for the city, its visitors, the region and the country. The words "world class" get thrown around a lot these days, but in this case they ring very true indeed. Trust me when I say Christchurch’s central library — our library - is going to be among the best in the world.

Last year I had the pleasure of telling delegates from 37 countries about just how incredible Tūranga is going to be, during the biannual Next Library conference in Aarhus, Denmark. The conference’s location was apt given the city is home to one of the greatest modern libraries in the world, Dokk1, which was designed by schmidt hammer lassen architects — the very same Danish architects who, in partnership with Architectus, are behind our new-library-in-progress. While wandering around the award winning and awe-inspiring "library from the future", I couldn’t help but get excited about what Christchurch stands to gain this year. It struck me that, like Aarhus — officially dubbed Europe’s 2017 "Capital of Culture" — we will soon rank alongside some of the most progressive and modern cities in the world, as a result of our forward-thinking decision to build a truly 21st-century library. I say our decision because it was the community’s 2,400 ideas that helped shape the vision for Tūranga during the highly successful "Your Library, Your Voice" campaign in 2014. Many of those good ideas were carried through to the final design and are now literally taking shape on the building site with each passing day.

At nearly 10,000 square metres, Tūranga will become one of the most significant public libraries in the country. The core principle of its design, which deliberately minimises back-office and storage areas, can be summed up in three simple words: made for people. That means highly accessible and multipurpose spaces for people to meet, talk, learn, be entertained, create, collaborate, debate, and try new things. It will connect five floors of knowledge, products, services and experiences, including a hands-on technology and innovation zone, a cafeteria, a 200-seat community arena, activity rooms, an exhibition space, study spaces, meeting rooms, an arts and crafts space, a video editing suite, music studio, two outdoor terraces, a children’s playground, and much, much more. As the flagship of the city’s libraries network, Tūranga will retain the largest collection of books while showcasing and celebrating Christchurch and Canterbury heritage and taonga, telling people’s unique stories locally, nationally and globally.

When it comes to technology, it’s difficult to convey just how far ahead of the game the new library will be. In fact, I’d go so far as to say we’re changing the game altogether. In this "post digital" era, it will neither be physical nor digital, but seamlessly both. Far from merely trying to keep up with technology, Tūranga will be at the digital forefront, leading the charge. Think virtual reality, robotics, smartphone apps, laser cutters, 3D printers and you’re starting to get the idea. We will even have a giant interactive touch-wall — the first of its kind in New Zealand — allowing people to swipe their way through a virtual world of information, and even upload their own stories, photos and video from their devices. A technology and innovation zone will provide a venue to showcase and get hands-on with the very latest digital experiences, while beyond the building, new web-based technology and an embracing of social media will allow for greater and easier online access and information sharing, creating dynamic new connections between people and the library and allowing them to discover, as well as contribute, new information regardless of their location.

So in just a few months, when you stroll through the front doors of our brand new, world class, game-changing central library — no doubt with jaws dropped and eyes agape at the infinite possibilities spread out before you —  remember you were thoroughly forewarned: You ain’t seen nothing yet.

Carolyn Robertson
Head of Libraries and Information
Christchurch City Council

Visit our page on Tūranga for more information. 

This article was published in uncover- huraina issue 7, March to May 2018

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