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Book & Print in New Zealand : A Guide to Print Culture in Aotearoa

General description and history

General description and history

We lack a general descriptive work on New Zealand libraries. A person pursuing a study of even modest intensity would have to hunt and seek through a range of sources, such as sections of books, articles in periodicals, and unpublished items, to gain a coherent account of the state of libraries and their development.

This gap was so obvious that the Wellington College of Education, which administers one of the training courses in librarianship, compiled and published an introductory text for students: see Richardson, Library Service in New Zealand (1993). This book describes the various types of library service and library organisations, and in one chapter a summary of the historical development of library service. Another general description appears as a country entry in an international encyclopaedia on libraries: Wedgeworth (1993). A more recent review of the state of library service appears in a journal article by Calvert (1994). The New Zealand Official Yearbook should not be overlooked. It provides brief descriptive and statistical information about library service in the country, albeit with some emphasis on the services of the National Library of New Zealand.

The identification of libraries, individually or by type, is not simple. There are several sources which serve as partial guides, but no central comprehensive directory. The single most useful published listing is New Zealand Library Symbols, published by the National Library of New Zealand since 1964. Its purpose is to provide a key to the symbols used by libraries which are participants in the Library Interloan Scheme, but listings have been extended to include most libraries in the country, giving information such as addresses, telephone numbers and names of senior personnel. The only group not included is school libraries. The list is published annually.

The New Zealand Library and Information Association (NZLIA), PO Box 12-212, Wellington, can supply on request details about individual libraries in New Zealand from membership files and other sources. (Until December 1992 the Association was called the New Zealand Library Association (NZLA).)

A census of libraries has been taken at varying intervals since 1874, initially in conjunction with the census of population and dwellings, and published with that census. The first separate census of libraries was completed in 1938, then 5-yearly between 1949 and 1979. The scope of these changed over time, becoming more comprehensive.

Another listing is DILSINZ: A Directory of Information and Library Resources in New Zealand (Szentirmay 1988). Earlier editions of this were published under the title DISLIC in 1959 and 1981. The first listed only special libraries and special collections. A third source is Public Libraries of New Zealand (1980- ), a directory of library authorities, with appended indexes of libraries and librarians-in-charge, and a schedule of the libraries arranged by size of population served.

From time to time, regional directories of libraries have been produced for an occasion, such as the running of a libraries conference in that city or region, for example: Robin White (1994) for Wellington; NZLA Canterbury Branch (1980) for Christchurch.

The NZLA, perhaps because of the predilection of the members of this profession for listing, classifying and indexing, felt the need to publish a series of directories of librarians: ten editions between 1951 and 1990 under the title Who's Who in New Zealand Libraries. The directories provide alphabetical lists of persons in positions of responsibility and persons with library qualifications, and the lists are indexed by library.

The only statistical data readily available on a regular basis comes from two sectors: public libraries and the university libraries. The librarians of the universities maintain comparative tables of measures of resources and use. The National Library of New Zealand collects similar types of figures annually from the public libraries and publishes them for general information. The National Library itself publishes a substantial annual report which is a public document. It carries statistical and financial information about its activities, and incidentally provides some information about wider library services. The census reports (1874-1979) referred to above provide analysis of funding, resources and use, arranged by library type and size.

The Local Authorities section of the NZLA for some years in the 1960s and 70s published a Summary of Public Library Statistics. This was compiled for each financial year, providing some analysis of library performance.

Prior to the reform of local government in 1989, many public libraries published comprehensive annual reports to their governing authorities, detailing their service record and other achievements, supported by comprehensive statistical information. Under the new conditions of local authority accountability the annual reporting ironically has become simpler and more general, conveying little real sense of what a library has done.

Useful annual reports are published by other institutions, for example those of the Hocken Library, University of Otago, noting major acquisitions of New Zealand and Pacific material.