On November 29 the National Library (NL) announced in a media release that it was “reconsidering its plans for the Overseas Published Collections in light of concerns raised by interested parties, including issues associated with copyright.” It said it would not export any of the Overseas Published Collections until it had considered its next steps.
The National Librarian, Rachel Esson, said this was because “We are aiming to balance our duty to all New Zealanders with the concerns of our valued book sector colleagues and will continue to build relationships with them.”
Book Guardians Aotearoa (BGA) has been working with those book sector colleagues closely for the past year, and knows that they (as well as BGA) are of the view that if the NL had put any effort into building relationships and taking sound advice before the deal was struck, then all of us who care about having a national library fit for national purpose would have been spared the four months of hard work put in by writers, publishers, scholars, lawyers, concerned members of the public and National MP Simon O’Connor to uncover and expose what a bad deal the Internet Archive deal is. In doing so we have also uncovered extremely poor process by the NL and other government agencies, which should have done due legal diligence, and failed to do so. This is not what citizens expect of public servants, who should be trustworthy and act within the law at all times.
So is the deal now off? The media release does not actually say so. Rather “We are taking some time to look at all available options that align with our collection plans, while preserving author and publisher interests.” Ms Esson said. In practice this appears to mean that the books stay in New Zealand for now, and next year the NL will (might?) take the time it should have taken last year to talk to its ‘valued book sector colleagues’ about what the options for the books are.
Oh – not an actual reprieve for the books for good, then. But at least a breathing space in which (as BGA devoutly wishes) good sense can prevail, and a rational plan for the evaluation of the books by subject experts to determine which should be kept and which can be let go is put in place. This will take some time, but as there never was any danger of tens of thousands of New Zealand books being published every year and being denied shelves of their own in the NL, this is not an issue. So roll on 2022 and the building of good relationships between those who create and use books in New Zealand, and those who are responsible for storing and caring for books.
Meanwhile, BGA can only second the words of former Prime Minister Helen Clark, expressed when she heard the news that the deal is on hold, namely that the IA deal was “a disgraceful proposal -let’s hope that the pause becomes a full stop.” So say we all.