Arriving on the West Coast

I moved to Hokitika on Sunday 22nd November and started at Westland District Library as a Digital Discovery Librarian the next day. Starting this job marks the end of over two years of having no fixed abode; in June 2018 I left my job as a curator at Whanganui Regional Museum and hit the road as New Zealand Wikipedian at Large, travelling from North Cape to Bluff and helping institutions take Wikipedia seriously. As a roving Wikipedian I went to conferences in Bangkok, Berlin, and Stockholm, lived in Estonia for a month (and in Palmerston North for five months to make up for it) and then in September arrived on the West Coast.

Development West Coast had sponsored me as West Coast Wikipedian at Large to spend six weeks travelling from Westport to Fox Glacier and running workshops for libraries, museums, tourism operators, and the general public. While I was at Westland District Library, the manager Natasha Morris asked me if I’d ever considered relocating to Hokitika. It turned out there was a $59 million COVID relief package allocated to libraries in recognition of their value to communities, administered by the National Library, and Westland District Council had secured funding for two staff positions to run until June 2022.

So for the first time in my life I’m a librarian. I need to learn how to issue, check in, shelve, place holds, and handle overdue fines, but most of my work will be dealing with online sources, photographs, newspapers, and blog posts. As a Digital Discovery Librarian my brief, very broadly, is to help West Coast stories get told online, and empower the people of the Coast with the skills to do that.

Natasha and I are currently brainstorming projects for me to tackle. Some of them will be Wikipedia-based, like making sure there’s a good article about every library and museum on the West Coast—best done by recruiting and training volunteer editors from the community, and supporting them over 18 months so they form a self-sustaining editing community. Some will be working with photo collections, looking at ways to digitise them and make them more widely available and shareable. And some will be working with books: getting some out-of-copyright and out-of-print historical works online. I’m looking forward to working with communities like Ōkārito, Fox Glacier, and Haast, as well as collaborating with librarians in Greymouth and Westport.

Westland District Library • MRD • CC BY

After a week on the job I’ve been joined by Rauhine Coakley, a Community Engagement Librarian supported by the same National-Library-administered fund. So we’ve almost doubled the library team here in Hokitika. I personally think this is the coolest part of the West Coast, a little town that punches above its weight. And it’s close to coastal forest, walking tracks, lakes, and beaches, all of which appeal to my love of getting out into nature and looking at ferns and insects.

The rules for the Hokitika Free Public Library required gentleman to remove their hats and not spit on the floor.

Over the course of my time as Digital Discovery Librarian I’ll be blogging my progress each month, and sharing quirky and fascinating things I come across. My goal is also to compile useful resources for institutions and individuals wanting to open up their collections and tell stories online. If you want to participate or have ideas for projects, contact me at Kia ora koutou!