The National Library website currently displays a page about the Overseas Published Collection which purports to explain about the disposal “project”.

Unfortunately it contains factual errors and misleading statements.

Here we set out to dispel the myths and explain what is really happening behind the glossy words.

They state that they plan to “rehome” some of their collections to make room to “grow” their New Zealand, Maori and Pacific collections. “Rehome” of course is a misnomer, only a small number of the books are headed out to other libraries around New Zealand and then there are no sureties about what those other libraries will do with the books. It is a soothing word that seeks to disguise what is really happening.

A recent change, as a result of pressure from this group and others, meant that the receiving libraries have to be part of the library interloan system, but this is only useful insofar as that library retains the book. Usually public libraries regularly dispose of some of their stock in $1 book sales. They simply renew their stock on a regular basis, so any book not issued for, say, the past year, is liable to be disposed of. This is simply another way to offload books and once they are out the door of the National Library, the library has no more responsibility or concern for it.

Although some books will be available via interloan, those in government department libraries will not be, nor will their existence even be made publicly available. There is a cost to interloans, which is often far greater than the charge applicable to National Library interloans. The reality is that the books are now less accessible to the public.

2. “Growing” our New Zealand, Maori and Pacific collections: this is a red herring. It is the National Library’s statutory job to collect everything (book, CD, newspaper) published in New Zealand, in whatever language. Their collections policy also means that they collect some items from the Pacific region which extends to PNG and Hawaii and everything in between (but not Australia). So there is no change there.

We know from the publishers just what a low rate of publishing there is in New Zealand. The volume of paper-based items produced in this region is not growing. It is entirely unnecessary to dispose of one collection in order to “grow” another. This is nationalistic language being used to talk up a policy of collection dismemberment. There is growth space in the current building up to 2030, and a new building is already on the way behind the National Library which will be shared with Archives NZ and will provide decades of storage.

Space is not the issue they say it is, and rental space, as Wellington City Library has found, can be located and at very low cost. It is simply not something the National Library is prepared to do, for ideological reasons, but arguments about “growing” other collections to justify this are completely misleading and wrong.

3. “Wide consulation”. This statement is so misleading as to be breathtaking in its audacity. The consultation that they state took place within the library world – but not the actual users of the library – was perfunctory at best.

The Courts have ruled on the meaning of “to consult”. The Court of Appeal ruled in 1992 that consultation must be genuine and without a preconceived outcome:

“Consultation must allow sufficient time, and a genuine effort must be made. It is a reality not a charade. The concept is grasped most clearly by an approach in principle. To “consult” is not merely to tell or present. Nor, at the other extreme is it to agree. Consultation does not necessarily involve negotiation toward an agreement, although the latter not uncommonly can follow, as the tendency in consultation is to seek at least consensus. Consultation is an intermediate situation involving meaningful discussion….

‘Consultation involves the statement of a proposal not yet fully decided upon, listening to what others have to say, considering their responses and then deciding what will be done.'”

The National Library has demonstrably failed this test on every count. There has not been meaningful discussion. The policy to dispose was presented at a Library conference where there was no practical means for dissension or discussion or considered analysis, simply an endorsement.

The National Library has not listened to what others have to say, has not considered their responses, and then made a decision – it has simply ploughed ahead and then tried to swat away the expected public outrage with misleading statements and a PR video, at taxpayers’ expense.

The “consultation” with the librarians’ bodies such as LIAC and CONZUL was nothing of the sort. No attempt was made to consult with individual members of these bodies.

We have a statement from someone who was present at the CONZUL meeting where the National Library made a verbal request for a letter of support, and the Chair of CONZUL simply sat down to write it, without any attempt at all to canvass the views of their members (It is the professional association for New Zealand university librarians). No genuine attempt at consultation. We are aware that the LIAC “consultation” was of a similar, perfunctory manner.

We contend, and it is very clear to see, that there has been no attempt at genuine consultation. In fact, we know that many librarians are deeply opposed to the disposals and feel deeply frustrated at the gagging that they have been subjected to by the Library, by LIANZA and by the leaders of the other bodies who are in fact supposed to genuinely represent their interests.

At no stage were the users of the library consulted – the researchers, the academics, the ordinary readers via interloan, the historians associations or others. All these groups are now left fighting a rearguard action against something the Library had a predetermined view that it wanted to achieve.

It is a mark of how critically endangered our democracy is, that not even the Minister has called out the National Library for its abject failure to conduct any sort of genuine consultation as defined by the Court of Appeal in 1992.

4. “Reviewing the lists with our library specialists”. This is more fudging. The staff involved in removing the books have little idea of what they are doing. This is not a criticism of them, no doubt they are doing their best in near impossible circumstances. It is a criticism of their managers putting them in an impossible position, to make decisions that only qualified subject experts can make. We – and others – have offered those subject specialists but the Library has rebuffed all such offers.

Via Official Information Act inquiries, we can see how messy and inadequate the process of selecting books to retain or dispose has been. The Library had no clear or consistent means to determine whether a book met the criteria for “New Zealand content”. And even if it was none, why should that book go?

Only a very narrow definition of what constitutes matters of interest to New Zealanders would dictate that it actually has to contain multiple references to these islands to be of interest.

5. “Ministerial approval was given”. It was never envisaged by the drafters of the National Library Act of 2003 that it would permit the disposal of the vast majority of the books in the Library. To the contrary, the Act was written to bring an end to the terrible mass disposals that were occurring to the collections in the 1990s. A provision was included that no “document” leave the Library without the express approval of the Minister. It is a very cynical misuse of that provision designed to carefully review the removal of ONE item, to gain approval to remove 600,000 items! The former Prime Minister Helen Clark who oversaw the drafting of the Act, along with the Minister of the National Library at the time, Marian Hobbs, are very clear about this. So it is doubly ironic that it is a Labour Minister that is now presiding over this vast loss of books.

The National Library Act makes it clear that it is the responsibility of the Library to “enrich the cultural and economic life of New Zealand and its interchanges with other nations”. Disposal of this hugely valuable collection is contrary to that provision of the Act.

The relevant Section of the Act is below:

Purpose of National Library
  • The purpose of the National Library is to enrich the cultural and economic life of New Zealand and its interchanges with other nations by, as appropriate,—
    • (a)collecting, preserving, and protecting documents, particularly those relating to New Zealand, and making them accessible for all the people of New Zealand, in a manner consistent with their status as documentary heritage and taonga; and
    • (b)supplementing and furthering the work of other libraries in New Zealand; and
    • (c)working collaboratively with other institutions having similar purposes, including those forming part of the international library community.

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