Dunedin – the birthplace of the Libraries Association of New Zealand
Bernie Hawke, Library Services Manager Dunedin Public Libraries, shared the history of the establishment of the Libraries Association of New Zealand at the 110th birthday of LIANZA and the 25th anniversary of its partnership with Te Rōpū Whakahau in Dunedin on Wednesday, October 14.
Dunedin is a special city, renown not only for being the home of New Zealand’s oldest university, for the first free public library and New Zealand’s first UNESCO Creative City of Literature, but also for its role in the establishment of the Libraries Association of New Zealand, the predecessor of the Library and Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa.
In preparing my remarks tonight, I would like to acknowledge the wonderful work by former author and University Librarian Jock McEldowney in his history of the New Zealand Library Association 1910-1960.
On 26 January 1910, the Dunedin City Council resolved that:
It is desirable to convene a conference of representatives from public libraries of New Zealand for the purpose of discussing matters affecting the general conduct and management of libraries in this Dominion, and that such conference be held in Dunedin at Eastertide.
The conference was held on 26 and 28 March 1910 and was attended by 15 delegates from seven libraries as far afield as Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Wanganui and Dunedin.
The Dunedin representatives at the conference were W.B McEwan, the inaugural City Librarian of the Dunedin Public Library, and Mark Cohen, editor of the Evening Star newspaper, and a key advocate for the establishment of the Dunedin Public Library.
It was in fact Mark Cohen who has encouraged the Dunedin City Council to convene the conference.
In 1909 Mark Cohen attended an Imperial Press Conference in London, later visiting Canada and the United States and was so impressed by the libraries, the librarians and the library associations with which he came into contact that on his return he was inspired to promote the establishment of a Librarian’s Association.
It is intriguing to imagine the passionate conversations between Mark Cohen and Bill McEwan in the day, and also to marvel at the influence of Mark Cohen with the Dunedin City Council of the day.
The papers presented at the conference covered a range of operational matters including adapting the Dewey Decimal Classification scheme to New Zealand requirements, disinfecting library books (from bookworm, not the Spanish Flu virus that did not emerge until 1918) and a prescient paper by Mark Cohen on the use of mobile book stock sent from library to library in boxes (anticipating by a quarter century the development of a rural library service in New Zealand).
An enduring outcome of the conference was an agreement to form the Libraries Association of New Zealand, not a Librarian’s Association as originally envisaged by Cohen, but an association representing libraries, which at the time was primarily local authority public libraries.
The rest as they say is history, as the Libraries Association of New Zealand has evolved into the New Zealand Library Association and eventually into the Library and Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa embracing individual librarians and an extensive range of libraries in its membership purview.
And so, it is fitting that Dunedin should again be the venue for a meeting of librarians and information specialists, 110 years on from the establishment of the first libraries association for New Zealand.