There has been more misleading information published about the National Library’s overseas published collections project over the past few weeks. It’s important that you know what is actually happening so you can correct those factual errors. Last week Paul James (CEO of Internal Affairs), Rachel Esson and I met with Chris Finlayson, Marian Hobbs, Elizabeth Kerr and Dolores Janiewski as representatives of the recently formed group ‘Book Guardians of Aotearoa’. We were able to address their concerns kanohi ki te kanohi and explain why we are doing this mahi.
Chris Finlayson questioned whether our action was legal and asked Marian Hobbs – former Minister with responsibility for the National Library - to comment on her understanding of the 2003 Act. We confirmed that, as required by the Act, Ministerial approval had been given for the removal of books from the National Library.
I also addressed the suggestion made in a recent letter written by Jim Traue – a former Chief Librarian of the ATL - that all collections of the National Library had to be treated as documentary heritage and taonga. I explained that the National Library has three main collections: the Turnbull collection, the General Collection and the Schools collection.
- We repeated the point that the ATL collection is the collection that safeguards documentary heritage and taonga and it is entirely out of scope in this project – ATL content is held in perpetuity. (Addressing Elizabeth Kerr’s concern we noted that the ATL collection includes a wealth of material about European settlement in Aotearoa that will be held in perpetuity including, for example, a first edition Jane Austen title from 1811. The Library continues to buy books about topics beyond the shores of New Zealand.)
- In contrast, books in the Schools collection are fully depreciated after five years as a high use hard working collection used in schools up and down the country. To describe that collection as documentary heritage, let alone as taonga, is completely misleading.
- Similarly, the General Collection is a working collection that has its origins in the Country Library Service before it became part of the new National Library in 1965. Those books were important for supplementing the work of libraries across the country. The General Collection contains one copy of our legal deposit material for the purposes of lending to other libraries. Legal deposit books are not in scope for this project. It also contains books purchased to support current research interests in the ATL. I explained that the British Library has a deaccession policy that distinguishes its legal deposit and special collections from its working collections. When the British Library’s working collection items are no longer needed to support the service they can be deaccessioned. We explained that the books in the General Collection being deaccessioned have served their purpose and are no longer needed. We certainly do not consider them to be documentary heritage or taonga.
We explained that removal of the first 50,000 books was treated as a pilot which allowed the Library to move at-risk Alexander Turnbull Library collection items from unsafe storage in Wairere House, Whanganui into safe storage in Wellington. The pilot tested our processes and feedback received has informed improvements.
I shared operational and strategic context for this programme of work. We discussed the National Library’s Strategic Directions to 2030 and the importance of digitisation for ensuring wider access to books. Marian Hobbs was fully supportive of digitisation.
Chris Finlayson agreed that they are not against deaccession in principle, rather they urged more care in the process. Rachel corrected their misunderstanding that books from the National Library will be on sale at the Kapiti Pakeke Lions Club book sale on Saturday – that is not true. There is a sale planned by Lions in November for the 50,000 books that have now been transferred to their ownership.
Dolores Janiewski raised specific concerns about her post-graduate students not having access to books they needed and we will follow this up. I will discuss this point with the University Librarian of VUW.
Since the meeting, some of the media coverage has given the mistaken impression that Chris Finlayson has halted our work. He has not. The plan to review 600,000 books from the overseas published collections was put to the Minister by me. Staff of the National Library have been planning this work since 2015 following a major change to the collection policy that was widely consulted on with the whole of New Zealand’s library sector. Successive Ministers have supported this work and I will, of course, brief our incoming Minister on the progress of our plan and the next steps in the process. We intend to continue with the deaccession and we continue to invite constructive input from others to inform further decisions around collection management and deaccession. No specific actions or decisions are in the pipeline for the project in the next few weeks. I will be contacting the Book Guardians group again before the end of November to continue the constructive dialogue.”
Ngā mihi nui
Bill Macnaught CBE
Te Pouhuaki o Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa
National Librarian National Library of New Zealand