If it did, then it would have put the minutes of its meetings for the past ten years on its webpage. Check it out now – Library-Information-Advisory-Commission – and see if you can find any minutes at all, or any annual reports after 2012.  Is this acceptable for a government-established and supported organisation which is paid for by the public, and is supposed to be working in the public interest?

When a member of the public asked to see the LIAC minutes from 2019 to the most recent meeting (see his request and the National Library/Department of Internal Affairs response here), and commented that the LIAC webpage was way out of date, he was told by the National Librarian (who is an ex officio member of LIAC) on May 23 that she could “confirm that the LIAC Commissioners are aware of the age of the material that is on the site and the pages will be updated and refreshed in due course.” Does ‘in due course’ mean before the next LIAC meeting, which is due to be held this month? Or is it a euphemism for ‘the 12th of Never’ (and that’s a long, long time).  For a Commission which (judging by those minutes which have been made available) is heavily focussed on the provision of information to the public by digital means, it seems strangely inept when it comes to walking its own talk.

Book Guardians Aotearoa (BGA) wanted to read the minutes to see what role LIAC played in the decision to dispose of the 600,000+ books in the Overseas Published Collection (OPC), and in particular the decision to gift them to the Internet Archive for digitisation. What we found was that LIAC almost never talks about books, let alone libraries in the standard definitions of the word –

 “a building or room containing collections of books, periodicals, and sometimes films and recorded music for use or borrowing by the public or the members of an institution; a collection of books and periodicals held in a library ; a room in a private house where books are kept” . These all refer to physical spaces and/or the collections of books and other items for borrowing or reference which they house, but this does not seem to be what LIAC is interested in.

Mostly it talks about digitisation and literacy (with a side helping of government buildings). So if you have any interest in or concerns about the current government’s plans to digitise everything (as described in Government’s vision: The Digital Inclusion Blueprint in May 2019, which was presented to and discussed by LIAC at its meeting on 4 December 2019), or the emphasis which the buildings-formally-known-as-libraries now place on providing digital screens and internet connections rather than books, you will find perusing the minutes very worthwhile. Similarly, if you have a professional interest in literacy and the teaching of reading you will find that LIAC devotes a lot of time to discussing it and making plans for such things as a National Reading Summit. Again, you can be the judge of how much impact LIAC’s propositions and contributions will or could have on New Zealand’s falling literacy and book reading rates.

BGA is primarily interested in retaining and developing a national library (in the standard definitions of both words) that is fit for purpose for those who are already good readers (and writers). We also see digitisation as just another technology which can be used for reading and writing, and one which comes with so many social and environmental downsides that it would be very unwise to think that paper and print have been or should be replaced by it. Hence our defence of the books in the National Library, and our interest in growing the real library, not shrinking it. So we combed through the minutes for what LIAC had to say about the fate of the OPC, and the National Library’s deal with the Internet Archive. Here is a summary of what we found, with references to the page numbers in the pdf version of the LIAC minutes 2019-2021 on line.

At the March 2020 meeting (p 24) Rachel Esson provided an update on the OPC, which is largely a record of the disposals which had already taken place or were about to take place. In the Discussion/Comments/Question section following the update there is the (revealing?) comment:   “A new narrative may need to be developed along with an update to communications; it’s about access to information, not just to books.”

At the July 2020 meeting (p 38) there is another update on disposals, and this includes the first mention of the IA, as follows:

“5.7 There is an option for material to go the Internet Archive for digitisation. This is being investigated as an option, as there are enough titles to be interested in looking at what might be viable.

5.8 The digitisation is non-destructive, and the titles would be kept by the Internet Archive and the titles would be kept by the Internet Archive in a warehouse after digitisation.

5.9 Some issues relating to Internet Archive were raised during lockdown that NLNZ are aware of. There are a few legal matters that will need to be worked through – they are not New Zealand books, but NLNZ does not want to breach copyright.”

The comments on this update on p 39 include congratulating Rachel on the work undertaken and the key messaging so far, and there is no indication of the Commissioners even being aware of, let alone concerned about, possible problems with the proposed IA deal. 

Disposing of the OPC (like so many other things) was delayed by Covid-19 lockdowns and associated issues. So it is not until June 2021 that the minutes record (p 65) that:

“7.1 Rachel Esson [now the National Librarian] shared a Draft Donation Deed and invited input on the National Library’s proposal to donate to Internet Archives for digitisation all books remaining for deselection from the Overseas Published Collections (OPC) at the end of the current review and rehoming process.” and that“7.6 A motion to endorse the donation subject to a fuller description in the schedule was passed unanimously.”

The NL made the deal public in July 2021, and claimed at the time that it had LIAC’s endorsement. Until the minutes proving this were released (almost a year after the decision was made) BGA and the public had no way of verifying this. Now that we know it is indeed true it raises even more doubts about the competency of LIAC to advise the government on library matters. That’s because the decision which LIAC endorsed unanimously aroused so much national and international opposition from authors, publishers, members of the New Zealand public and lawyers with expertise in these matters (see Smooth operators? DIA incompetence exposed for the details) that four months later the NL announced that it was ‘reconsidering’ the deal in light of what the National Librarian called ‘concerns’ and BGA calls the facts about copyright law. (See National Library ‘reconsiders’ Internet Archive deal – what next?)

In the LIAC minutes for December 2021 (p 75) this change was recorded as:

“5.3 The donation of the deaccessioned books from the Overseas Published Collections to the Internet Archive are currently on hold. The Library is taking time to consider options in the new year and will give publishers notice once those options have been considered.”

Whether and if there was an update at the scheduled March 2022 meeting the public who pay for LIAC will have to wait to find out until (1) the minutes of the March meeting are approved at the next scheduled meeting in June 2022, and (2) the minutes are put on the LIAC webpage, or (3) a member of the public goes to the trouble of making another OIA request to see them. In the bigger scheme of things it’s only a small piece of the opacity which the current government is delivering instead of the promised transparency. But how hard is it – really – for people who prattle on about the wonders of digitisation, and easy digital access to information, and who are supposedly competent to deliver such, to post a set of minutes on a website as soon as they are approved? What is (really) stopping them?

  • By Christine Dann

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