Briefing Paper for the Minister of Internal Affairs, the Hon. Jan Tinetti
from Ngā Kaitiaki o ngā Pukapuka/Book Guardians Aotearoa, March 2021
Ngā Kaitiaki o ngā Pukapuka/Book Guardians Aotearoa (KP/BGA) was formed in 2020 to channel widespread public opposition to the disposal of the National Library’s Overseas Published Collection (OPC) of 600,000+ books. This briefing paper sets out the key functions of the OPC, and therefore why disposing of it is wrong in principle and in practice, and will have a hugely detrimental impact on New Zealand scholarship, education, public wellbeing and culture.
In KP/BGA’s view the decision to dispose of the OPC must be revisited by the Minister in the light of new information, and the following actions taken:
- Reverse the decision to dispose of the entire Overseas Published Collection.
- Recognise the value and use of the collection to New Zealand students, researchers, writers and scholars.
- Give it permanent protection as an essential collection.
- Set up an advisory body of subject experts to assist National Library staff in making informed de-accessioning decisions.
Reasons for taking these actions
1 Enabling scholarship
New Zealand writers and researchers, both academic
non-academic, having been using the OPC regularly ever since the collection was started. It is a unique and unparalleled resource for writing about everything New Zealand, from applied economics to zoology, which is connected to and part of the wider world. The NL did not consult with the users of the OPC before recommending that it be disposed of. If it had, it would have been told why the OPC is essential to advancing research and writing by and about New Zealanders, for New Zealanders.
2 Enabling education
The OPC has been a significant source of books loaned to schools by the NL. If it is disposed of then rural and provincial school students, past, present and future, will have no easy and affordable access to a great range of books which their school libraries can not afford to purchase, and which they are unlikely to be able to access at a public library. Thus it will contribute to inequitable outcomes in educational access and achievement.
3 Promoting the public good
The OPC – like all the books in the NL bought with public money – is public property, and should not be disposed of unless the public can be offered something of equal or better value for no additional cost. It is specious to suggest that most of the books in the OPC will ever be available digitally, given existing copyright regimes and also the costs involved in digitising and storing booklength works. In addition, it assumes that all New Zealanders have or will have easy access to suitable devices to access digitised materials, and will be able to afford frequent hardware and software upgrades. The Covid-19 lockdown revealed the extent of ‘digital poverty’ in New Zealand, and should be a warning against any unnecessary and non-urgent digitisation practices. Further, KPA/BGA is concerned that the rapid and inevitable obsolescence of digital storage formats, which we have observed over the past thirty years, adds considerably to the ongoing costs of not keeping the originals, and will at some point become more expensive (as well as far more vulnerable) than physical storage.
4 Enhancing the development and flourishing of the unique culture of Aotearoa New Zealand
KP/BGA is totally in support of the Alexander Turnbull Library’s function and practice of collecting Maori and Pacific books and other materials. This is extremely important for equitable (and exciting and democratic) outcomes for scholarship, education, and New Zealand as a whole. The National Library, however, has a different function, which is to provide resources which come from the wider world of knowledge creation and subject matter, which are necessary to serve the needs of all New Zealanders. This includes Maori and Pasifika New Zealanders who want access to these resources, as well as all other New Zealanders, regardless of whether their whakapapa in this land goes back centuries or years. The OPC is the only national public collection of books which has met and can meet those needs. It is vital that it continues to do so.
Protecting the OPC is not KP/BGA’s only concern about the way the National Library has been re-structured and managed in the past decade. It is just the most urgent symptom of dysfunction in the current system. We would welcome the opportunity to continue a dialogue on how the needs of the nation for a truly national library which serves the public good can be better met in the future.