150 Celebrating Christchurch City Libraries 1859-2009 RSS feed

Sue Sutherland (1948- )

Sue Sutherland was Christchurch City Librarian from 1 October 1995 until January 2005. During this time she presided over dramatic changes to the size of the library network, the quality of the buildings and internet resources and technology.

SueBorn in Christchurch and educated at Mount Pleasant School and Ashburton College, she began her library career as a library assistant at the Ashburton Public Library and completed her New Zealand Library Certificate while working there. After some overseas travel she moved to the University of Otago as a senior library assistant spending two years in the university library and four years at the Hocken Library. She also pursued a university degree and took a year off work to complete it. She then worked at the Dunedin Public Library’s Reed Collection. Moving to Kurow, in South Canterbury, she taught at the local area school and helped set up the first school and community partnership library.

Joining Canterbury Public Library

Sue Sutherland came to Christchurch and after briefly working at the University of Canterbury she was successful in gaining the New Zealand Librarian position at Canterbury Public Library, starting on 2 April, 1979. Although she was on maternity leave at the time of the move to the new library she had a significant hand in the planning of the New Zealand room facilities in the new building. She continued as New Zealand Room Librarian until 1986. During some of this time she job shared the position, with first Steve McCloy and then Barbara Birkbeck. This was fairly unusual for the time, and certainly the first time there had been job-sharing at Canterbury Public Library.

Sue as deputy librarianIn 1986 she was appointed Deputy City Librarian. Her responsibilities were human resources, finance, administration and systems. It was essentially a corporate role, but she could turn her hand to other things. She remembers sewing the curtains for the staffroom of the Papanui Library (when it was in what had formerly been Kovacs Furniture Showroom, opposite Northlands Mall).

Local government amalgamation in 1989 brought restructuring. The deputy’s role disappeared and Sue became part of a senior leadership team in the role of Management Services Librarian. The corporate focus of the job - finance, human resources and systems - remained. Speaking of her responsibilities in human resources, Sue valued the opportunity she had to employ people who later went on to greater things in the library world. She also had to deal with the challenge of a dramatic increase in cases of occupational overuse syndrome brought on by computerisation and the huge increase in business libraries were sustaining.

Amalgamation also brought opportunities of size and scale. By 1993, City Librarian Dorothea Brown had produced a long term Library Development Plan for the building of new libraries at Linwood, St Martins and Avonhead, rebuilds at Shirley, Papanui and New Brighton, and extensions at Spreydon and Halswell libraries. This provided the basis for a decade of exciting building developments and growth for the libraries in which Sue took the leading role.

In 1994, Libraries Manager Dorothea Brown was seconded to a special project for the City Council and Sue became Acting Libraries Manager. During this time, concerned about the rapidly changing IT environment and the feeling that a successful library organisation like Christchurch could become complacent, Sue set up a series of change workshops for staff to encourage the development of new ideas and directions.

Becoming Libraries Manager

In 1995 Dorothea Brown was appointed Director of Human Resources at Christchurch City Council and on October 1, 1995, Sue became Libraries Manager. One of her early decisions was to create the role of IT Manager. The next nine years of her time in the role of Libraries Manager was marked by exciting developments in technology, online services and new libraries.

New libraries were opened at New Brighton (1999), Fendalton (2000) and South (2003) and Shirley, Halswell and Papanui were extensively refurbished. Sumner Library joined the network.

The challenge to build a library with “wow factor” at the end of the New Brighton Pier resulted in an exciting building with new technology, new and different staff appointments and outreach to different groups in the community who were not necessarily regular library users.

The award-winning South Library and Learning Centre was a satisfying end to many years of difficulty in trying to enlarge Spreydon Library and to find a site for the proposed St Martins Library. The solution of a library in between the two areas resulted in a striking building with increased size, a learning centre, an integrated café and incorporating a village square concept in the building of library, service centre and café grouped around a central entrance square.

Public computer network installed

Going live celebrationsLeading the library through an exciting period of technological change, Sue oversaw the implementation of a network of up to 500 computers providing free and pay for internet access across the city, the development of the library website and increasingly sophisticated online resources and service delivery.

 “Behind the scenes” achievements during her time as city librarian including moving the library from a rather “hand to mouth” financial operation to having money in hand for projects. This was achieved by the financial savings of outsourcing the acquisition of the library collection and more careful forward planning in operational and capital plans. She also worked at developing team leaders and building up skills and capabilities within the existing staff of the organisation.

In her professional life Sue was President of the Libraries Association of New Zealand (LIANZA) in 1991 and in 1997 she was awarded a Fellowship of the Association. She was also involved for seven years in a group of international librarians sponsored by the Bertelsmann Foundation. This provided the opportunity to travel and visit innovative public libraries around the world.

Onward …

Sue left Christchurch City Libraries in January 2005 to take up the position of Director of Policy and Information Democracy at the National Library, leading the development of New Zealand's Digital Content Strategy. On 6 August, 2007 she became Deputy Chief Executive at the National Library, a position she still holds.

She credits much of the successful achievements of the library during her time as City Librarian to the forward thinking of the Christchurch City Council, to the quality of the people who worked in the library and to the people of Christchurch who valued and supported libraries.

Interview with Sue Sutherland 1 March 2008.


Library travels with my Father