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Saturday, October 23, 2010


There is quite a history to this particular national treasure, and one modest man's name dominates the story. 

As far back as 1858, the foundations of the National Library of New Zealand were laid, when a General Assembly Library was formed in Wellington, to serve Members of Parliament.  Then, in 1918, a bibliophile by the name of Alexander Turnbull bequeathed his library to the nation.  This led to the 1965 National Library Act, where the General Assembly Library, the Alexander Turnbull Library, and the National Library Service (which interloaned books all over the country, majorly to schools) were combined, to form the National Library of New Zealand.

This was considered so important that in 2003 another Act was passed, which strengthened and clarified the relationship between the National Library and the Alexander Turnbull Library, and affirmed that their collections were a taonga -- a National Treasure.  At the same time a body called the Guardians Kaitiaki of the Alexander Turnbull Library was formed.

The Guardians expressed grave concerns about the independence of the institution they guard, at a Select Committee meeting last week.  This was because of a new Bill, the State Sector Management Bill, which threatens the autonomy of this national treasure. 

According to the website, "The purpose of the Bill is to amalgamate a number of existing agencies to achieve gains of financial efficiences ..."  In a word, it is to cut costs.  According to the testimony of one of the speakers, Dr. Donald Gilling, even this is doubtful, as the figures are controversial. 

Yet, this Bill will effectively remove the independence of the National Library, as with the National Archives, it will be integrated into the Department of Internal Affairs.  Once the integration is accomplished, the Chief Archivist and National Librarian will report to a Deputy Chief Executive, who will be in charge of a proposed catch-all Branch of Knowledge, Information, and Technology.

Elizabeth Caffin reminded the committee that the job of the Guardians Kaitiaki of the Turnbull was to advise the Government on matters relating to the integrity and status of the library collections, and the special research character of the services.  As she pointed out, the Alexander Turnbull Library was one of the world's greatest and most respected research libraries -- "Yet this treasured institution is to be embedded at a low level in a government department in a way that diminishes its status both at home and abroad."

Delegates from the Public Service Association reinforced this by expressing their concern that the Chief Archivist and the National Librarian would be downgraded to third tier management.

After pointing out that the Bill would also remove any ministerial oversight of selling off the holdings, union member (and librarian) Peter Sime said, "We're looking after the national heritage here and it's a pretty big deal to get rid of that sort of material."

1 comment: said...

Thank you for this posting Joan - it is a concern indeed.