Diminutive Dee jumps the ditch

The departure to Australia of Waipā District Libraries’ outreach librarian Dee Atkinson leaves a pint-sized hole and big running shoes to fill.

The diminutive Dee has earned the moniker ‘energiser bunny’ because of her high-energy hosting of events and activities for all community users, from babies through to seniors.

Her return to Australia will start initially in Tasmania, then onto Queensland where she will join husband Chris.

Dee Atkinson, centre, pictured at her farewell with some of the Te Awamutu library team. They are, from left, Hilary Collinge, Te Awamutu library supervisor Donna Wilson, and Mel Sullivan.

In her time in Waipā she added book and poetry readings, art sessions, children’s programmes such as ‘Wiggle and Rhyme’ and ‘Make a Space’ for older kids, and ‘pecha kucha’ presentations which now involve Cambridge High School students.

Fuelled by a notion that considers libraries as more than book repositories, she also arranged numerous public talks on a range of topics.

“I’ve always said there is no subject you can’t turn into a talk or an event.”

Outside work, she’s enjoyed social and competitive running as a member of the Cambridge Athletic and Harrier Club.  It’s a hobby she shares with husband Chris and son Casey, and one she has woven into community events she initiated such as her ‘Get Active’ series.

What locals know about Dee is the tip of an iceberg.   She was born in the United Kingdom and raised in Hobart where she earned an honours degree in economics from the University of Tasmania and a postgraduate qualification in public relations from the University of Southern Queensland.

She worked in independent economic research at the Australian Productivity Commission for several year.  She also worked in the winery industry – both in Australia and Christchurch – and spent time in the comms section of the Christchurch Netball Centre.  The move to New Zealand was to facilitate her Kiwi-born husband’s career move into a deanship at St Andrew’s College in the city.

When the family moved to Opotiki she became a library assistant, and when they came to Cambridge in late 2017, she became a library assistant.  The role quickly changed and in mid-2019 she took over from her predecessor Hannah May as outreach librarian for Waipā District Libraries.

“I had all sorts of plans, but then Covid hit which means we had to tweak the ‘outreach’ part of it,” she said. “I took some of the activities outdoors, but really the only way to reach our customers was through the digital world so I started doing things like online quizzes. ‘Make a Space’ moved online and then we started the ‘Let’s Cook’ series of home-cooking from my kitchen. That’s still going.”

Her efforts paid off big time and many library users still connect via the digital platform.

Pondering life across the ditch, she said: “This has been an absolutely super role… it completely filled my enjoyment of helping people and getting involved in the community. I grew into it and have been lucky enough to be pretty much allowed to do what I wanted with it.  I’m really going to miss it.”

Speaking at Dee’s farewell, Cambridge Library supervisor Rachel Newnes described her as ‘exceptional’.

“You just have to look at our event numbers – they’ve been up every year since Dee has been in the role.”

The now departed Dee Atkinson, right, with some of the Cambridge library crew. They are, from left, Heidi Gaiger, Anneke Elsing, Reece Wijohn, library supervisor Rachel Newnes, Kym Kearns, Claire Mead and Waipā Community Services manager Brad Ward.

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