By Robert Nola, recently retired Professor of Philosophy at the University of Auckland. This was sent to the National Library and the Minister of Internal Affairs on 17 November 2020.

I am a recently retired professor of philosophy from the University of Auckland. I had heard of the cull of books proposed by the National Library but I was unaware of the extent of it until I saw the recent list of books to be sold off from the library in the Dewey Number range 100 to 199. Most philosophy books are catalogued in that range. It also includes most of the books in psychology.

I was shocked and dismayed at the books on the list. This is a major attack on the resources available to researchers in philosophy. It is also a major attack on the general reading public who will now be deprived of many books in philosophy, psychology and other subjects.

The list of books to be culled contains no mention whether other copies of the books are available in New Zealand. So, some books might be totally lost to New Zealand. Now I do not expect that NZ libraries contain every book ever published; but they might have a representative collection of some of the major books in areas in which books are published, like philosophy and psychology. Just how denuded of books do the cullers want New Zealanders to be? Note that we are taxpayers who ultimately pay for the books.

What are the reasons for the cull? We are told in an item on the web: (

We plan to rehome some of our overseas published collections, which are part of our General Collection. This is so we can make room to grow our Māori, Pacific and New Zealand collections

Several comments on this.

  1. Nice if they are rehomed (a homely word, a bit like pre-loved!). But in another document mention is made of “recycling ahead of destruction. This is a last resort option” (Principle 5 of Principles for retention and deselection …). So, books will be destroyed if the “rehoming” process does not occur.
  2. The culling is to be done in order to grow Maori, Pacific and NZ collections. This is a very narrow view of our National Library with emphasis on local and Pacific connections (which no one would want to exclude). The rest of the world is myopically downplayed. Oddly enough many of the books being culled do fall under the rubric “NZ and Pacific collection”; so this has been understood very narrowly by the cullers, as I will illustrate.
  3. Book 4734 by Michael Corballis. The author is a retired professor of psychology from Auckland University who has researched much in the nature of the mind. And he is a New Zealander. So, you are culling a book by a New Zealander who has made a major contribution to his subject.
  4. Book 7916 by Jonathan Bennett. A New Zealand philosopher but he has largely worked overseas. I do not see why the work of this New Zealander need to be culled.
  5. Books 191-2 by Rom Harre. Harre is New Zealand philosopher who was employed at Oxford University and was an active researcher who kept in touch with New Zealand. Why are books by overseas New Zealanders to be culled? Considering New Zealanders overseas, would you cull the work of Katherine Mansfield because she had a foreign publisher? Why adopt a different policy for literature by New Zealanders than philosophy by New Zealanders?
  6. Though Galileo was put under house arrest by the Catholic Church at least his book which it condemned, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, could be read. It scandalously said that the Earth moved! The proposal to cull this book will mean that in New Zealand the cullers of the National Library will be championing that old Catholic cause to make Galileo’s book unavailable. In addition is not clear why we should be abandoning a classic book in the history of science.
  7. To escape the Nazis Karl Popper left Vienna in 1936 and took up a job in New Zealand where he wrote two books and several papers. I see that book 9553 Popper Selections is to be culled and at least three other books on Popper are also to be culled. Surely New Zealanders would want to have in its National Library the works of one of it more famous refugees.
  8. John Passmore is an Australian born philosopher. Are we to exclude Australians as being members of the Pacific? He was professor of philosophy at Otago university for many years and wrote a book while there on the Scottish Philosopher David Hume – which you are culling. This seems to be an ignorant thing to do.

I note that you offer the following definition: Overseas published Documents not published in New Zealand, not by or about New Zealand and New Zealanders. But this is defective in that books published by New Zealanders are excluded. And it excludes books written by people working in New Zealand, who manage to get their work published overseas.

I am not of the view that a library should never cull its collection. But the current cull of the National Library is grossly misconceived. I think the underlying problem must be the lack of fundingI strongly recommend that the Government fund the National Library adequately so that book culls of the sort being carried our never occur again. And the current cull must stop.

Yours Sincerely
Emeritus Professor Robert Nola FRSNZ
Robert Nola (Emeritus Professor Philosophy)
Philosophy, School of Humanities,
University of Auckland

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