The invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 provides a (sad) example of why New Zealand needs books which are published overseas more than ever.

In the 1960s, what librarian working for the National Library Service could have known that in 2022 New Zealand would be offering a permanent home to around 4,000 Ukrainian refugees? Or that they would be joining the 1,600 former Ukrainians already here? Let alone that New Zealand would be spending $6 million on humanitarian aid to Ukraine, and a further $5 million on non-lethal military assistance?

Librarians, like the rest of us, can not see that far into the future. But good acquisitions librarians (the ones who select books for libraries) have a strong grasp of the past and the present, and an awareness of how the world is changing. Thus it seems likely that whoever was responsible for adding Ukrainian Nationalism by John A. Armstrong (second edition, 1963) to the National Library’s Overseas Published Collection was aware that everywhere in the world was connected in those days, and that New Zealanders had both the wish and the need to know what was happening in Ukraine, as in every other place.

Fifty-nine years on, is the world any less connected? Do New Zealanders now lack the wish, and no longer have the need, to know what is happening in other places – and why? Book Guardians Aotearoa (BGA) has been maintaining for the past three years that our wishes and our needs to know are as strong as ever, and that the knowledge we seek will be in books which (like most books) are published ‘overseas’.

What’s more, these days it is far easier than it was in 1963 for an acquisitions librarian to choose the best of the best published overseas. Put ‘books on russia ukraine’ into the search box and the first item that comes up is The best books on Ukraine and Russia, recommended by Serhii Plokhy. Plokhy is the Mykhailo S. Hrushevs’kyi Professor of Ukrainian History at Harvard University and Director of its Ukrainian Research Institute. His first recommendation is the 2019 book Ukraine and Russia: From Civilized Divorce to Uncivil War, byPaul D’Anieri (Cambridge University Press). D’Anieri’s book sounds like it might be a better source with regard to what is going on now than the most recent book (2016) collected by the Library (Frontline Ukraine: Crisis in the borderlands). This book is currently on display with fifteen other books on Ukrainian subjects in the Library’s foyer. They represent a tiny sample of the National Library’s existing collection of 535 books and other documents about Ukraine and/or by Ukrainians.

Ukraine book display at National Library, March 2022.

Librarians can also continue to check out the books which are sold and reviewed locally, and the authors who are interviewed, as a rough guide to where interests are trending. An acquisitions librarian using this method would learn of an even more recently published book which would strengthen the National Library’s collection on Ukrainian political history – In the Midst of Civilized Europe by Dr Jeffrey Veidlinger, Professor of History and Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan.It tells the story of the origins of the Holocaust in the persecution of Jews in Ukraine and Poland after World War I. One month after Russia invaded Ukraine, and five months after the book was published, RNZ interviewed Dr Veidlinger about his book.

But thank goodness that the Ukrainian books collected before 2018 are still in the Library, given that since 2018 the plan has been to get rid of them and most of the other books published overseas. It is a small miracle that they have not already been ‘securely destroyed’, which is also part of the plan. Yet they are still there – and they should stay there, and be added to so that all New Zealanders, not just those with academic library privileges, can have access to knowledge about the world they live in. Thus and only thus will it be possible when 59 years from now (maybe) a New Zealander with Ukrainian heritage becomes Prime Minister, or mayor of a major city, everyone will be able to know how this came to be. Thanks to the books!

‘No Man is an Island’

No man is an island entire of itself; every man

is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;

if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe

is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as

well as any manner of thy friends or of thine

own were; any man’s death diminishes me,

because I am involved in mankind.

And therefore never send to know for whom

the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

Olde English Version

No man is an Iland, intire of itselfe; every man

is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine;

if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe

is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as

well as if a Manor of thy friends or of thine

owne were; any mans death diminishes me,

because I am involved in Mankinde;

And therefore never send to know for whom

the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.


Devotions upon Emergent Occasions

John Donne

Book on Ukrainian embroidery at National Library of New Zealand.

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