New Zealand voices for books and libraries: a compilation

“We believe that the issue of what kind of society New Zealand will become in the next decades is central to our role and existence. If many of the present controllers of our destiny had their way, New Zealand would soon become a sleazier version of some B-grade movie, with the worst aspects of market-oriented, user-pays philosophies dominant. Every aspect of public service is under threat, from education to broadcasting. The core of excellence which has lain at the heart of so many activities and achievements, Maori and Pakeha, is daily assailed and diminished by those proposing dismantling and change in the name of cost effectiveness. We support the concepts of public broadcasting, national libraries, art galleries and museums, health and education systems. We respect the integrity of the countless individuals who have built up these entities into their present from and who, by doing so, have created, without artificial strivings, a cultural identity.”

John Mansfield Thomson, Founding Editor

Editorial, New Zealand Books, issue 3, October 1991

“OMG. Talk about spreading fake news. The books are being rehomed. We are working to see if we can get a win win by also raising money for charity at the same time. But hey – carry on with the BS because the more you do the less you are listened to.”

Tweet from Tracey Martin, Minister of Internal Affairs

27 January 2020

Save the books!




Removing books an induced amnesia

The National Library’s self-declared mission is to provide books that tell us only what we tell ourselves, writes Dolores Janiewski

23 November 2020

Special report: flogging the family silver for $2

Chris Bourke reports from the disgrace of the National Library’s dumping of 57,000 books at a charity sale in Trentham

14 November 2020


57,000 books to be flicked at Trentham

The National Library is about to hock off 57,000 books for $2 each at a glorified garage sale

27 October 2020


Military historian Chris Pugsley

JUNE 2020

Lest we forget the power of knowledge

Discarding more than 600,000 books from the National Library’s overseas collections will bury vast insights into two current crises, writes Dolores Janiewski

10 June 2020


What’s really at stake in book-culling decision

The National Library’s decision to cull internationally-published books to make room for New Zealand ones belies some deeply unsettling ideas, writes Michael Moore-Jones

10 February 2020

Save the books!




The Future of Archives New Zealand and the National Library of New Zealand

Don Gilling

February 26, 2019

Read Don Gilling’s article here.

We object!

Letters to the Editor



Isolationist attitudes

The defence of the National Library’s “book burning” by Hilary Beaton, executive director, Public Libraries of NZ (Letters, November 15), seems to echo the populist, natiionalist demands of “Say Yes to Brexit” and “Make America Great Again”.

This argument would contribute significantly to promulgating a more isolationist New Zealand outlook.

Who are these people, with such seriously unenlightened views, who have been given the power to destroy these global references, which contextualise our place in the world?

Theirs is a huge decision and the negative ramifications seem to be quite beyond their understanding.

It must not be allowed to stand. Our Government must not allow it to stand.

Clyde Scott, Auckland Sunday Star Times, 22 November 2020

Beaton asserts that the cull is based on a book’s “relevance to the needs of an evolving and diverse community.”

It is, however, questionable whether the book-cullers are making any real efforts to determine the relevance to Aotearoa New Zealand of the books being removed.

Five books I have used in my own research into New Zealand labour history were among those removed. All concerned labour and political movements of great importance to New Zealand. They covered events in eastern Australia, western Canada and the western US; all areas that are part of the “Pacific rim”. Three of these books had valuable information on people who also played significant roles in New Zealand’s own labour movement.

The removal of these books was hardly conducive to any attempt to “firmly place our national identity in Aotearoa New Zealand and the Pacific”.

Peter Clayworth, Wellington Sunday Star Times, 22 November 2020

‘Foreign’ unwanted

Clearly nobody in the Government, from the minister who approved the cull of international books from the National Library through to the National Librarian, is in any position to ever blather on again about how multicultural New Zealand is.

Any book with even the slightest whiff of “foreignness” about it has been shunted out the door. Even books about Australian aboriginal languages and culture have been ditched.

Have we gone to war with Canada and I didn’t notice, because anything remotely Canadian has been dumped?

We won’t be able to complain when China eventually censors books about New Zealand because we have beaten them to it and dumped quantities of books about China, including the way it conducts diplomacy.

I expect the next trick will be that the directors of Te Papa and the National Art Gallery will be told to have a cleanout. It would make great television as a team from one of the many “clean up the house” programmes rents a bulldozer to shovel out the “junk”.

Clearly nobody needs the art gallery: after all the pictures can be seen on a tablet or cellphone.

Colin Wilson, Lower Hutt Dominion Post, 20 November 2020


“Anahera Morehu, president of LIANZA, the Library and Information Association of New Zealand, is quite right to claim that all material relevant to Aotearoan-New Zealand culture, Māori and Pasifika literature in particular, should be a priority for National Library collection. But she has not said what, if any, of this material has NOT been collected in the past or is threatened in the future. In deciding to cull 600,000 ‘non New Zealand’ books, the library has stated that it needs more space for New Zealand material. But at the current rate of acquisition quoted, the space saved by the cull would be gone within a few years. The problem is not non New Zealand books, but the library storage space that has been taken away by Department of Internal Affairs managers in recent years and a lack of provision for future storage.

Then there is Ms Morehu’s remarkable statement, as the leader of a major cultural organisation, about the book cull –  ‘None of this stuff has anything to do with Aotearoa’. Really? I respect Ms Morehu’s concern for the proper collection of Māori and Pasifika kaupapa. This is vital to the understanding of indigenous history and whakapapa. But there is other kaupapa that is of equal importance to a majority of New Zealanders: that of their Pākehā ancestors, their whakapapa. 

This is contained in the countless books printed over many hundreds of years, the repositories of Pākehā history, science, philosophy, religion, politics, art and creative endeavour. No book becomes ‘out of date’. Each is a stepping stone of knowledge, a resource for understanding how we have arrived where we are and who we are. To destroy them is indeed an act of ‘cultural vandalism’, driven by space managers, not those truly dedicated to a rich understanding of all our heritages. National Library acquisitions and holdings must be based on an appreciation and understanding of all cultural values, not on available shelf space.
Dr Philip Temple ONZM, Dunedin Sunday Star Times, ? November 2020


Books no longer available

I can describe firsthand the impact of the National Library’s ill-conceived book-cull.

I am writing a book on New Zealander Pat Hickey and the New Zealand Federation of Labour (the “Red Feds”). Hickey and his comrades, such as Michael Joseph Savage, Bob Semple and Harry Holland, were major players in early 20th-century New Zealand labour history and founders of the Labour Party. They were strongly influenced by overseas labour movements. Most, including Hickey, lived, worked and were politically active overseas during significant stages of their careers.

To understand their actions and ideas, I consulted in the National Library a number of key works on labour movements in Australia, Canada and the US. Five of these books have now vanished from the library catalogue.

Despite recently using some of these books, the library did not consult me before their removal. Nor, to my knowledge, did it consult any other interested party. None of these titles is available electronically and one of the works in question is not available in any other New Zealand library.

New Zealand’s history and culture sit in an international context, a fact those behind this appalling cull appear to be unaware of.

Peter Clayworth, historian, Vogeltown Dominion Post, 13 October 2020

Digital fixation

The increasingly agitated assertions to the contrary by senior Library management, attempting to justify the wilful discarding of up to 600,000 books from the overseas collections, have become tiresome.

Time for officials to come clean and admit this policy is driven by Internal Affairs dictated costs-cutting, that organ of state fixated on its vision of a ‘heritage precinct’ in Aitken Street and its parallel enthusiasm for material to be made available in digital rather than hard copy form.

In 2000 an incoming Labour government called an immediate halt to a previous ill-conceived National Library book culling initiative. In contrast to the interpretation now being advanced by officials, the then Prime Minister recently confirmed an intent of the National Library Act 2003 was to prevent, rather than facilitate, any repetition of such vandalism.

The directive to exhaustively collect New Zealand and Pacific materials was never a mandate to lapse into narrow cultural exceptionalism.

Labour’s 2017 manifesto, accepting that both the National Library and Archives New Zealand had withered under Internal Affairs stewardship, incorporated an unequivocal pledge to expeditiously remove both the from the department’s control, restoring their previous independent administrative status. Yet there has been no tangible movement over three years, and the erosion of resources and services has in fact accelerated.

With an election looming, is it too much to expect better under a new administration (of whatever hue), with conceivably a new Minister, and hopefully stronger professional leadership in both the National Library and Archives New Zealand?

Brad Patterson, Seatoun Dominion Post, 7 October 2020

JUNE 2020

Dismay at ‘culling’

I have been following, with interest, the debate around the dispopsal of sdome 600,000 books from our National Library. In considering the points made by the National Library spokespeople, alongside those of a widely varied group of New Zealand writers, researchers, historians and academics, I have become increasingly dismayed by the implications of this “culling” operation.

I am a keen reader who, until recent times, has lived with the reassurance of the National Library’s care and protection of New Zealand’s cultural, literary heritage/taonga. Now, I cannot continue to have such a reassurance.

Many points have been raised by others more qualified than I am, but I want to make reference to an issue that speaks particularly strongly to me.

Namely, why is it mostly American books being digitised? The National Library argues that more books can be read online. However, according to research, the great majority of digitised books are American and are not from the period that comprises the National Library’s collection, the period 1920-1990. This period is, in fact, the time when there has been the least digitising, for copyright reasons.

The notion of unlimited digital availability seems highly unlikely!

Mary Green, Lower Hutt Dominion Post, 24 June 2020

APRIL 2020

The letter headed Stop the dispersal of the collection (April 16) foregrounded the National Library’s de-accessioning of books deemed no longer relevant. This policy decision favours New Zealand publications.

Your correspondent helpfully refers to books as part of “our community of memory”. While New Zealand publications may open minds, scholarship is global. Our first newspaper stories show how much we wanted to leap out of banal provincialism.

As your readers are aware, Papers Past is celebrated for its rich archive of New Zealand’s historic regional newspapers. A distinctive section is Nga Nuipepa (Maori newspapers, published in te reo Maori. Contemporary iwi researchers use te reo Maori newspapers as valuable resource material.

One striking aspect of Nga Nuipepa is how often iwi correspondents ask for stories about the unexplored, the puzzling and the “new”, such as the Egyptian pyramids, the Napoleonic wars, the Russian tsars, and so on. Tupuna write in letters to editors, “your news is about what we already know. I like reading about other countries.”

The National Library’s decision to focus its collection on this country is mistaken because New Zealand citizens value our broad, challenging and diverse intellectual heritage. We not only need to grow our own publications, but we also must value our past.

Anne Phillips, Thorndon Dominion Post, 20 April 2020

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