John Key’s contribution to making New Zealand a smug hermit kingdom

In a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black, former prime minister John Key recently accused current prime minister Jacinda Ardern’s government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic as tantamount to turning NZ into a smug hermit kingdom’. Also that this is the ‘North Korean option’.

An interesting choice of words, given that it was Key’s government which decided in 2010 that New Zealand no longer had any need for a stand-alone National Library (or national Archives) and had them both bundled into the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) in 2011. Since then, as Book Guardians Aotearoa (BGA) has documented on this site, the National Library (NL) and Archives have had the pennies needed to run them properly pinched to the point where they are both now lacking in qualified staff and reliable and effective systems to provide professional services to researchers, students, scholars, writers and the public in general. Further, to add insult to injury, DIA management is spinning this lack by claiming that the people of New Zealand no longer want or need the NL’s  600,000+ books published overseas, and most of them can go.

So far so smug hermit kingdom – if we don’t need people from overseas here, why would we need their books? And maybe there are now even similarities with North Korea, where the Grand Peoples Study House can house up to 30 million books, but has fewer than 20,000. Almost all of these are kept on closed stacks accessible only to library staff. The library contains everything published in North Korea, by approved North Koreans, and foreign publications are available only with special permission. 

Although short on books in general and non-North Korean ones in particular, the library does have plenty of computer rooms with modern computers providing access to the North Korean intranet. According to Canadian libraries researcher Mark Kosciejew, who visited the library in 2007, computer education is compulsory in North Korea and computer science “has become the most popular area of study … for military officers and university students … Librarianship, therefore, is a high-status profession since it requires computers and computer literacy to develop and maintain the electronic catalogues and digital collections.”

Hmmm… maybe Sir John has a point. New Zealand is taking the ‘North Korean option’ – when it comes to keeping books from overseas out of our national library and stocking it with New Zealand publications only. And computing machines. But he has only himself and his government to blame for setting the National Library on that mindless road to a moronically smug hermit kingdom.

Reserve Bank of New Zealand, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

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