Geoffrey Alley, Librarian: His Life & Work
Chapter 12 — Foreign Encounters
Many of those who cherished nostalgic memories of the first Labour government – and librarians tended to be among them – thought that the second Labour government, which took office at the end of 1957, would return New Zealand to the road that had led towards the promised land. Alley was not one of them. He was as dismayed by his assessment of the overall quality of Labour's parliamentary membership as he had been by his perception of the form of the All Blacks who went to South Africa in 1949. He did not expect great things from the new government. As a good public servant he would of course give loyal support to his new minister in establishing and maintaining library policy, but after having developed a good working relationship with Ronald Algie, he now had to adapt to a new minister of education, Phil Skoglund, a former schoolmaster with three years of parliamentary experience, who was a somewhat lesser light in a rather dim company.
Peter Fraser and the new prime minister, Walter Nash, had been a formidable combination in the 1940s, when Nash was minister of finance. But Nash was not cut out to be a prime minister. John A. Lee said many times over the years, in his beguiling way which often failed to please, that Nash would make a great quartermaster general but would still be counting the jam when the troops were going into battle,1 and that in his work he could scarcely see the problems for the files.2 J.C. Beaglehole, writing in 1961, described Nash's 'tremendous energy, so often spent in running away from reality; the moral fervour and the grand statement, so often carrying an escape clause as an appendix; the unwillingness to face the paper that is the daily fuel of administration together with that extraordinary devotion to the detail that is its least important aspect'.3
A prime minister of this kind could have been propped up if there had been enough sound and sturdy props to support him, but the parliamentary party by this time was shaky. One of Fraser's good qualities, which was also an unfortunate one, was his loyalty to his old associates. Michael Bassett and Michael King, in their biography of Fraser, observe that 'the page 285parliamentary party paid a heavy price for Fraser's old-fashioned loyalty to old comrades and many years of poor candidate selection'.4 In the later years of the Fraser government a number of very good young people had joined the government caucus, but Fraser was often uncomfortable with them and he failed to ensure that they got safe seats, so that a number of those who should have been ready for Cabinet posts in 1957 were not there.
The Nash government was also hamstrung by serious economic problems which were partly outside its control. The 1957 election campaign was dominated by the need to deal with the prospect of double taxation during 1958, when the old end-of-year income tax system was to be replaced by PAYE. It was really a contest between National's bribe and Labour's bribe, and Labour's, which included billboards offering a £100 rebate (with a very small 'up to' before a very large '£100'), was enough to secure a very small majority. This could be excused as political gamesmanship, but a more serious problem was an overseas exchange crisis which neither party had said much about during the campaign. Members of the staff of the Reserve Bank had been saying to their friends that whichever party won the election would be dead unlucky,5 and the storm hit before Arnold Nordmeyer, the minister of finance, presented his budget (immediately vilified as the 'Black Budget') on 26 June 1958. In circumstances like these, libraries, which, as politicians sometimes take pains to point out, do not sway many votes, depend upon people whose priorities are not purely economic, and when the crunch comes there are not many of them around. Alley, who was increasingly recognised in government circles as the spokesman for the library world, could not expect easy approval of even the best argued plans.`
The two major issues which faced the library world at the beginning of 1958 were the proposals that had been promoted by the NZLA for the establishment of a national library and for the development of a regional organisation for the provision of library service. In the case of the national library proposal, the establishment of a parliamentary select committee (referred to in documents as 'the National Library Committee') by the previous government was confirmed in February 1958, under the chairmanship of the Reverend Clyde Carr. Also in February 1958, the NZLA conference passed a resolution which led the council to ask the government to support proposals put forward by the association's committee on regional library co-operation, referred to in chapter 10. In replying to the association's representations, the minister of education asked for more precise details of the proposals and also suggested that it would be wise to await the report of the Royal Commission on Local Authority Finance which had been appointed in 1957 before asking the government to reach a decision.6page 286
Each of these proposals was therefore safely on its way to serious discussion, but, regardless of any changes in library service that they might lead to, life had to go on in all parts of the existing system. The Country Library Service had settled into a pattern of working which was strongly appreciated by readers in rural districts and smaller towns and for which a viable alternative was hard to imagine in the absence of the creation, in a reformed system of local government, of authorities which were capable of taking over the functions of the CLS. As Helen Sullivan has said, while the staff of the CLS understood that, ideally, the existing system of library provision in these areas was an interim measure, 'The discussions within the NZLA about the development of regional library service and impatience with the continuing service of the CLS often showed a misunderstanding of the value of this economical solution to the special problems of providing access to library service for all New Zealanders. Many of the overseas patterns of regional library service were cumbersome and no doubt costly to administer.'7
The National Library Centre of the NLS and the book resources committee of the NZLA, steered by Alley and Graham Bagnall, were heavily involved in monitoring the nation's scientific and scholarly book resources and administering ways of making them available co-operatively. The centre itself was building up its own collection to support the work of other libraries and the inter-library loan system. Work on central bibliographical records, including a retrospective national bibliography, was proceeding, and a first attempt to identify important works in sets and back runs of journals which should be purchased from national funds was well under way. One serious problem which had so far defied solution despite various attempts since the mid-1940s was the organisation of a national system for the provision of scientific, technical, and commercial information to business and the general public. The book resources committee, starting from a proposition that an appointment should be made at the national level to develop and co-ordinate a service of this kind through public libraries, organised a session at the NZLA conference in February 1958 at which Ted Leatham, chief librarian of the DSIR, suggested that 'the best general Scientific and Technical and, probably, Commercial service can be given only from a unit based on the National Library Service'.8 An approach was made to the government along these lines, but, alas, the proposal never got off the ground. Other existing operations, such as the School Library Service and the Library School, pressed on regardless of the great plans for the future.
On 15 July 1958 the book resources committee met Keyes D. Metcalf, a former director of Harvard University Library and librarian emeritus of Harvard College. After his retirement from Harvard in 1955 at the age page 287of 65, Metcalf had begun what was to become a long career as a library consultant. Since one of his areas of expertise was the planning of library buildings,9 the National Library of Australia had invited him to advise on the planning of its new building in Canberra. On his way to Australia he spent two weeks in New Zealand as a guest of the government, visiting university, public, and special libraries, as well as reading recent reports on New Zealand library matters. In his remarks to the committee10 he raised a number of questions which were likely to become increasingly urgent as New Zealand libraries developed. After describing his own thinking on total national library resources, he said: 'I think you have gone a good deal further along in New Zealand than we have in the States, partly because your total funds have been more meagre and you have had to play together more than we did. It took us too long to come to the broad point of view. But if you can agree that what we are trying to do is to increase the resources of the country as far as possible then you can look at it in a different light than if you look at it from the point of view of your own library.' He saw great problems ahead for New Zealand university libraries: 'You have a country large enough for one good university that has four universities, each one naturally wanting to become a great university. Are there funds available for you to do it? Can you build four great research libraries in your university system? From what I have seen and heard it seems to me doubtful if you can, and if you can't what are you going to do about it? That is your problem.'
After this meeting Metcalf went on to Australia. He never visited New Zealand again, but New Zealand's libraries and librarians had joined his many other personal interests. From the local point of view, his personality and his way of thinking influenced many of those New Zealand librarians who were exposed to them.11 Although he had been in charge of one of the world's greatest libraries, he thought frugally, and so, in talking to librarians who were perforce frugal, he was able to help them raise their sights in aiming for the future. His approach, which was, essentially, to use meagre resources to get the greatest benefit for the greatest number of people, was especially close to Alley's way of thinking.
Alley was elected vice-president of the NZLA at its conference in February 1958. He was nominated by Clifford Collins, who acted on behalf of a large group which included John Barr, Archie Dunningham, Harold Miller, Stuart Perry, Clyde Taylor, Arthur Sandall, T.D.H. Hall, and city councillors J.W. Kealy and D.C. Pryor, who were former NZLA presidents. In writing to Alley, Collins said that this group wanted him to be elected president in 1959 so that he would preside at the association's conference in 1960, which was to be held in Dunedin, where the association had been formed in 1910, and there deliver the jubilee presidential address.12 In Junepage 288of the same year Alley was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire, in a list which included several who had done good community service. The award of Alley's OBE was welcomed by librarians as an unusual recognition of their profession, though they were not to know that there had been some opposition in Cabinet because of Rewi's association with the Chinese communist régime.13 One has to remember that hostility to Rewi, and, by association, to all the Alleys, was a political fact for quite a long time. Rewi wrote that when he came back on a visit in 1960 'I was a kind of criminal, very suspect',14 and the Labour Party included, in the 1950s, too many who had been influenced, or cowed, by McCarthyism.
Parliament's select committee, the national library committee, began its consultations in May 1958. Its membership consisted of six Labour MPs (Clyde Carr, Phil Connolly, Warren Freer, Ted Keating, Ritchie Macdonald and Ethel McMillan) and four National members (E.P. Aderman, Arthur Kinsella, Jack Marshall and John Rae). Marshall was replaced by Ronald Algie in June 1958. L.A. Shanks, who had acted as secretary to Hunn's interdepartmental committee, was appointed to assist the new committee. Aderman, Freer, Kinsella, Macdonald, Marshall and Rae were members of the library committee of Parliament from June 1957; in June 1958 Marshall retired from that committee and Carr and McMillan were added to it.15
The committee was charged with reporting on the ways and means of carrying out 'the decision of the Government to establish a National Library', which, on the face of it, was a fairly straightforward task, but its members would have been aware of the fact that a number of difficult questions concerning the organisation and administration of a national library had not been resolved simply by the government's decision. The tough questions were related especially to the Alexander Turnbull Library and the General Assembly Library, around which two quite separate groups of defenders assembled, whose views would have to be considered. (Hunn's committee had of course already said that the special aspects of each library's identity should be safeguarded, but who would want to acknowledge that when there was the chance of a cause to battle for?) In the background was the fact that Alley had clearly become the most influential of the heads of the three state libraries, and some critics feared that he would force the other two to adopt what they imagined to be his ideas and policies.
In the case of the Turnbull Library, worries were focused on the need to ensure that its integrity as a research library of considerable standing would not be compromised, and some people, who thought of the National Library Service as a mobile village library, were convinced that the Turnbull's treasures – its manuscripts, its Voyages, its Milton collection – had to be saved from ending up in Hokitika or Waikikamukau16 with Alley's blessing. Harold Miller at Victoria was the probably unintentional page 289fount of such concerns. Others, especially in Wellington, followed his lead without understanding, as he must have done, how much Alley had already achieved in establishing the machinery, the bibliographical back-up, and general support for academic and research libraries.
Protectors of the General Assembly Library were potentially a greater problem because of the sensitivity of members of Parliament to threats to parliamentary privilege, which could always be used, with or without reason, to turn a debate or damn a proposal. Alister McIntosh, in 1933, had drawn attention to the difficulty of dealing with the various parties which shared control of the General Assembly Library: the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the minister in charge of the library and the library committee of Parliament: 'all three can never be brought into unison, and none will surrender "constitutional" rights and privileges'.17 All of these parties were subject to sudden change, and to them could be added the possible effect of a backbencher or two intent on making a mark. Constitutional privilege is a very important principle, but even those who do all they can to try to preserve it can be thrown on to the defensive if it is part of some politician's agenda that they should be.
The reaction of the parliamentary library committee to the Hunn report, which had led to the government's making a firm decision to establish a national library but to refer matters relating to it to a parliamentary select committee in October 1957, has been noted in chapter 10. Before that date, however, Robert Stout, a medical officer in the Railways who was also a book collector and president of the Friends of the Turnbull Library, wrote to Wellington's Evening Post deploring the possibility that the fate of such a remarkable library as the Turnbull might be decided on the recommendation of a non-parliamentary committee: 'Any policy that may diminish its standing,' he wrote, 'could rebound to the nation's discredit far more than the possible efficiency of a great composite organisation.'18
Jim Wilson, the chief librarian of the General Assembly Library, said in his March 1958 annual report: 'While it is possible to combine a purely legislative and national reference library, I have doubts on the complete absorption of a parliamentary library by a national library.'19 The annual report of the NLS simply said that the Hunn committee's proposal 'merits the most careful consideration'.20 These are but a few of the ranging shots that were fired at that time. Members of the national library committee would have been well aware that they had a delicate assignment.
At the first meeting of the committee, on 7 March 1958, the chairman had suggested that it might not be necessary to call further evidence, since the inter-departmental committee's report was the result of very full investigation from all sources.21 None of the other members supported this view. Instead, the committee embarked on a series of meetings at which it page 290received correspondence and heard evidence from a number of librarians and other interested parties, as well as from the government architect, the chairman of the Public Service Commission and the secretary of the Public Service Accommodation Board (especially on the question of immediate accommodation relief for the NLS).
Harold Miller reiterated his view that a national library should be a reference library, like the Library of Congress and the British Museum, and that the present National Library Service should continue, as a separate organisation, as a national lending library co-ordinating inter-library lending and looking after the Country Library Service and the School Library Service. 'The needs of Parliament and the Public Service,' he said, 'will not be sufficiently met by a small reference collection, but will require a large collection of material on political and economic and sociological and historical subjects, which it should be an important part of the National Library's work to maintain, and which should be available when wanted and not dispersed about the country.' A national library should stand for something in the public mind, 'and it will hardly be so regarded if the stock is largely made up of books for school children and works of fiction'.
A.G. Harper, the secretary for Internal Affairs, agreed that a national library was wanted, but 'I feel that further deliberation is necessary to fix its functions and constitution; I consider that it is impractical and, to a large extent, pointless to set up what may be called a symbolical National Library without a building; and I would be opposed at that stage to the Alexander Turnbull Library being merged in it.' Jim Wilson raised the question of parliamentary privilege: 'I believe that to give proper service to Parliament the Library staff must feel that they are part of Parliament and not of a department. Under departmental control, the responsibility of the staff would not be to Parliament but to the Minister. During the course of their work for Members of Parliament they must frequently be asked to do things which will be contrary to the political wishes of the Minister.'
Alley, in a letter which supplemented his verbal evidence, said that a national library should be established 'in the interests of economical and efficient administration and the use of our national resources', and added that, provided existing services were safeguarded, and provided the country was not deprived of the nationwide access to books it had at present, the National Library Service 'could form one unit of a national library'. He was sure that safeguards for the Alexander Turnbull Library and the General Assembly Library could be provided for, and that both would gain from closer association with each other and with the wider stock of the national library.
Submissions by the NZLA22 were presented by Clifford Collins and Archie Dunningham. In speaking to them they pointed out that the work page 291of the NLS fell into three separate parts, of which only the National Library Centre, which controlled the headquarters reference and lending collection, carried out the NLS's bibliographical work, and acted as a centre for interlibrary lending, would be a core part of the national library. Of the other two, the CLS/SLS, already to a large extent organised separately, could well be supplemented by a regional scheme (a Dunningham touch, this). No particular comment was made on the Library School, which was the third part, presumably because it had not at this stage aroused any passions.
With regard to the General Assembly Library, the NZLA repeated a passage which it had included in its submission to the Hunn committee in 1955, in which it had said that it foresaw that a committee of the House would continue to guide the affairs of the legislative reference library. 'The present relationship between the authority of the Committee and that of the National Librarian would need to be clearly defined but the Committee would have direct control of the Legislative Reference Library.' Further, the legislative reference library should be physically accessible to members within the parliamentary block, and members would have specific privileges within the national library itself.
On the Alexander Turnbull Library, the NZLA said that it was 'of course' undesirable that its rare books and other similar material should be lent, but that other national lending functions of the national library should be retained in order to maintain services to scholars and advanced students.
The committee had had before it the report of the Hunn committee, and several of its members had been members of the parliamentary library committee which had discussed this report at length. During its own proceedings it had heard at least a good sample of reactions from both supporters and opponents of the national library proposals. Although its focus was officially on the ways and means of carrying out the government's decision to establish a national library, it could have reported against the decision or watered it down by recommending that its more contentious elements be removed. It did neither of these. The crucial recommendations in its report23 were:
1. That as an initial step the three existing State libraries be grouped together in a central organisation with a chief executive and other necessary officers, and that such organisation be placed within the jurisdiction of the Department of Education and under the control of the Minister of Education. 2. That the National Library be left to develop gradually by and through flexible administrative processes and with the aid of a suitably constituted advisory committee.
It acknowledged that a building for the national library could not be provided immediately, but it recommended that urgent action should be taken to provide better accommodation for the National Library Service. In doing so it strayed into areas of detail in which it began to flounder, putting forward a scheme for the construction of a building for the NLS on a site at the back of the General Assembly Library, planned so as to be able later to link up with the General Assembly Library and still later be expanded to accommodate a full national library. This was an unfortunate excursion into amateur planning which would inevitably have been discarded once serious planning for a national library got under way, since there would not have been enough space on the site for a suitable building to cater for all needs. In fact, the committee's first recommendation was the key one, early implementation of which could have averted other problems.
In introducing the report to Parliament on 19 September 1958,24 Carr said that it had really been drafted by Algie, and Algie, after saying that the report was a good one, strongly recommended it to the sympathetic attention of the government. 'We have been very reasonable,' he said, 'and not laid an unnecessary burden on the shoulders of the Government but have put before it a thoroughly practicable, reasoned proposition.' J.M. Deas (Otahuhu) asked for a full debate, especially on the question of the General Assembly Library, and was supported by S.W. Smith (Hobson) and J.G. Edwards (Napier), but nothing came of this request. In fact very little happened in Parliament following its receipt of the report. If action were to take place, it would have to be initiated elsewhere.
Alley wrote to the minister of education on 2 October 1958, drawing attention to the national library committee's first recommendation and recommending that a national library be established administratively under the minister of education, and that the Public Service Commission be asked to proceed with the appointment of a national librarian responsible to the minister of education. A ministerial paper along these lines was immediately prepared for Cabinet, but it disappeared into the maw of Treasury. Meanwhile, reactions to the committee's report began to emerge in the outside world.
Stuart Perry, in a prompt review of the report,25 noted that the committee had reached conclusions and recommended action which was 'not … markedly different from the proposals which represented majority Association opinion'. The NZLA made a similar comment in its annual report for 1958, but acknowledged that the report was 'only another step (admittedly a big one) in the direction of a New Zealand National Library. The Council will not let this matter rest,' it said, 'until a National Library is firmly established.'26 Arthur Sandall, current president of the NZLA, found that the report gave him 'the same feeling as the announcement, page 293during a prolonged war, that victory is in sight'.27 Such announcements often prove to be over-optimistic.
The Department of Internal Affairs, in its March 1959 annual report, agreed that there was a need for a national library, but disagreed with the proposals set out in the report. The national library should act as a reference and research institute at a scholarly level, it said, and the national lending service was 'properly the function of local authorities and should remain so.' Furthermore, the establishment of a national library would be premature unless simultaneously accompanied by the provision of a modern building.28 The National Library Service, in its annual report, welcomed the interim steps proposed by the select committee and said that, because of New Zealand's small population, the national library must be a national lending library, 'except for special collections and materials'.29
Below the surface there was a great deal of activity, much of it designed to ensure that no activity occurred. After the paper proposing the appointment of a national librarian had been sent to Treasury, Nash discussed it with Alley on 5 November 1958 and asked that it be re-submitted on a new basis leaving out the General Assembly Library.30 Clearly, the prime minister was not looking for trouble. Treasury, after sitting on the paper for five months, declined to support the proposal in a report in which its misrepresentation of the national library committee's report was so blatant as almost to excite admiration. Although the first recommendation of the select committee dealt with central organisation of the national library, it said, this did not signify that it was the first priority. In Treasury's reading, the most emphasis was given to the housing of the National Library Service, while the national library should be left to develop gradually.31 Alley commented that Treasury seemed to have missed the significance of the proposal as a whole, which was not simply to give the country an essential copingstone to the organisation and use of its printed resources but to effect economies and improve efficiencies in administration. The point about 'gradual development', which was to give scope for tact and discretion in breaking down the barriers of independent policy, had been entirely missed by Treasury.32
During the next year or so Cabinet deferred making a decision, there were occasional discussions between interested ministers, Hunn did a stint as acting head of the Department of Internal Affairs and convinced both himself and the Public Service Commission that the national library should be in that department rather than in Education, and the Public Service Commission tried in vain to get some action which 'would relieve the political odium of further Govt. inaction'.33 But inaction continued.
And Alley – well, Alley had a lot of other things on his mind, though he was careful to maintain the proprieties in dealing with matters concerning page 294the other state libraries. When, for instance, he was asked by someone to try to improve the coverage of literature, art, and libraries in the text and the bibliography of the New Zealand Official Yearbook, he said that 'NLS couldn't possibly be a party to a move to replace WTu [the Turnbull Library] as the fountainhead of bibliographical work in this field.'34 In the meantime, there was the question of regional library service to consider.
After the minister of education had suggested that the NZLA should await the report of the Royal Commission on Local Authority Finance before providing more information to the government on its request for assistance in promoting the principle of co-operation in organising a regional approach to public library service, Alley withdrew from the convenership of the association's committee on regional library cooperation in favour of Dunningham. Dunningham, with Hubert Brown, a Dunedin city councillor who was also chairman of the association's local authorities section, presented a submission35 to the royal commission which argued for federations of local authorities, similar to large city systems, each with a central library and many branches, facilitated by government cash subsidies on local expenditure. The Municipal Association supported the NZLA to the extent of agreeing with the idea of a government subsidy to local authorities for library purposes, and the royal commission also reported favourably, adding that it commended 'the suggestion of the Libraries' Association for the co-ordination of national and local library services [but that] this is a matter for discussion and decision among the parties concerned'.36
Meanwhile, the NZLA had suggested that two pilot schemes could be used to test the proposals, and the National Library Service had prepared a detailed scheme based on Palmerston North and covering a large part of the southern North Island, from Rangitikei through the Manawatu Gorge to the Wairarapa, but excluding the greater Wellington area. This scheme was placed before the government in February 1959 for consideration in conjunction with the report of the royal commission. In his March 1959 annual report, Alley echoed the words of the royal commission in commenting that implementation of the scheme would depend on 'the agreed co-operation of the local authorities concerned'.37 Government consideration of the proposal for a pilot scheme did not take place until late in 1959, after some other events to which we should now pay attention.
A special job which Alley took on when he became vice-president of the NZLA in February 1958 was the convenership of an activities committee. A committee of this name had been established in 1955 to consider the effectiveness of the association in realising its aims and to recommend appropriate action, including amendments to the rules. It had not reported and had been allowed to disappear, but the idea had not been forgotten. page 295Alley's new committee was a higher-powered one, including Clifford Collins, Archie Dunningham, E.O.E. Hill (a city councillor from New Plymouth), David McIntosh, David Wylie, and the registrar of the association, Doreen Bibby. It was asked to consider the association's committee structure, its system of sections and branches, communication between various parts of the association in the formulation of policy, and its secretariat.
Alley threw himself into this task, amassing a great deal of historical information, and prepared a draft report in a series of topical sections which he discussed with members of the committee in correspondence and in several meetings. This first draft,38 which went to 34 pages of foolscap, was (and still is) a valuable historical document, not only because of the information it contained on the association and the development of its policies, but also because of the informed commentary which Alley and other members were able to add. Having taken the work to this point, Alley retired from the committee in August 1958 and was replaced as convener by Stuart Perry, whose knowledge of the association was equal in depth to Alley's and in whom Alley would have had confidence. For most of the members the change would have been seen as continuity, but Hill, the city councillor who had not been around so long and was not so used as the others to working with Alley, wrote to Perry saying how glad he was that he had taken over the committee: 'I do hope now we can produce a report with less verbiage in it … And unfortunately Alley, although I admire him in many ways, does seem to object strongly to disagreement, so that you can't get on, if there is likely to be a majority against him.'39 Perry simply filed this letter.
Perry then steered the activities committee through a conference discussion in 1959, the preparation of a further long document, the sponsoring of papers which were published before the 1960 conference,40 and a consolidation of the rules of the association which included changes to those which governed the election of councillors and officers, the stated objects of the association, subscriptions, institutional delegates, voting methods, and the governance of sections.41 These proposals, none of which made fundamental changes, were accepted by the annual general meeting on 19 Febuary 1960.42 Another proposal, intended to reorganise and strengthen the professional membership of the association by converting its branches into branches of its professional section,43 was put forward by Jock McEldowney, the honorary secretary, but was shot down in flames.
In presenting the activities committee's proposals, Perry said that the work which had been done by the committee under Alley's convenership had been 'just amazing'.44 This was a fair and deserved comment. Alley had taken a moribund committee and made it work, and in doing so had done much to create a full historical document, which no one else could page 296have, or might have wished to have, done. But his work also displayed an obsession with the glory days of an organisation which by the late 1950s was beginning to change from the one in which a happy band of brothers and sisters felt that they, and they alone, were transforming library services for the benefit of all New Zealand. For some, 'the association' had been something like a religious order. Sometimes it seemed that it was more important to its most enthusiastic members than the work that put bread on the table or the family that consumed it. Alley would probably not have put it as baldly as that, but he was nevertheless becoming increasingly uncomfortable in dealing with heretical views and independent opinions, and unable to accept that the association which had been a major centre of his life would have to learn to adapt and work with other groups which had their own agendas. Hill, from outside the profession, had reacted against Alley's intransigence. Perry could still accept it as a fact of life.
In February 1958 (how that date keeps cropping up at this stage!) the four university librarians, who had been asked by the senate of the University of New Zealand in 1957 to recommend space formulae for the planning of new library buildings, decided, after this experience of working together, to establish themselves, with their deputies, as a standing committee of university librarians (SCUL), modelled on (but smaller than) a similar organisation in the United Kingdom, whence one of the librarians and two of the deputies had come to New Zealand fairly recently.45 Alley reacted vehemently to the news of the birth of this new arrival, maintaining that no organisation but the New Zealand Library Association, which had a university and research section subordinate to its council, had the right to consider or, worse, speak on library matters. He used the word 'sculduggery'. His behaviour embarrassed even those who disliked the propensity, at that time, of university authorities to appoint foreign librarians, and it certainly did not encourage the foreigners to think well of him or of his works.
The chairman of SCUL, Harold Miller, applied to the University of New Zealand for approval and funding for regular conferences, but the request was turned down in view of the ability of SCUL's members to attend NZLA meetings.46 At that time, before the establishment of an independent University Grants Committee in 1961, the government's link with the University of New Zealand on routine matters was through the officer for higher education (R.G. Rowley) in the Department of Education, and it is tempting to assume that that officer consulted Alley when SCUL's request came to his attention. Or Alley might have taken the initiative – who knows?
Shortly after he began his attachment to the Commonwealth National Library in Canberra, Keyes Metcalf agreed with the Librarian, Harold L. White, that he should conduct an advanced seminar for senior librarians page 297from libraries throughout Australia, similar to ones that he had successfully conducted in the United States. Metcalf suggested that some librarians from New Zealand should also be invited to take part, and he asked the Carnegie Corporation to consider making a grant to the NZLA to assist with the New Zealanders' costs. In writing to Arthur Sandall, the president of the NZLA, Stephen Stackpole of the Carnegie Corporation pointed out that the corporation was at that time primarily concerned with visits to and from the United States, 'but we would nevertheless I think be prepared to consider a proposal of this kind from the [NZLA] in view of the special circumstances'.47
After discussing the matter with Alley and Perry, and then polling members of the NZLA council on possible participants, Sandall nominated himself and Alley, as senior librarians, together with Jock McEldowney (then head of the order section of the NLS, and about to become acting director of the Library School in 1959), Brian O'Neill (Librarian, New Plymouth Public Library) and John Sage (deputy city librarian, Wellington) as 'senior members of the younger group of librarians in this country [who] could be expected to have a great deal to contribute to librarianship here as well as to have something to give to the advanced seminar in Australia, and to learn a great deal from it'. Assuming that he and Alley would be supported by their institutions, he asked the corporation for a grant to assist the younger group.48 The corporation responded with a grant of $US1400.49 Alley's attendance was approved by Cabinet, at a cost to the government of £150.50 At a late stage Metcalf said that he hoped that Dunningham and Peter Havard-Williams (University of Otago) could be included in the New Zealand contingent,51 but by then the list had been settled. In any case, Dunningham had almost finished his career, and Alley, whose choice probably prevailed, was clearly looking to the future; and that future would not, in Alley's eyes, have included Havard-Williams. The dates for the seminar were set at 13–21 December 1958, and the 25 Australian participants comprised three from the Commonwealth National Library (including the host), nine from state libraries, 11 from university libraries, one from a government research institution and one from the Free Library Service Board of Victoria.52
Planning for the advanced library seminar was based on Metcalf 's known ability to guide apparently informal discussion between members of informed groups of professional librarians in such a way as to draw out and perhaps reconcile differing points of view and to lay the basis for long-term thinking. He was also the unflamboyant but impressive kind of New Englander who could impose his personality without appearing to do so. In his introductory memorandum White said: 'Dr. Metcalf wishes to avoid technical details and will attempt to deal with basic objectives page 298and administrative decisions … To achieve the freedom desired, and avoid limitation of discussion to certain points only, it is proposed that the Seminar proceed under Dr. Metcalf 's oral guidance rather than on the basis of a series of formal papers prepared in advance.' Metcalf, in amplification, wrote: 'It might be said that the seminar is planned to give Senior Librarians … an opportunity to discuss together the basic problems which they face in their work and which they seldom have opportunity to consider due to the pressure of routine duties and procedures. It is hoped that all of us will come ready to discuss the problems freely, and with open minds and with a desire to think things through.'53 The topics set out in a brief 'Proposed Schedule' included acquisitions problems, cataloguing problems, public service/use of the library, personnel problems, space problems, and planning for the future.
The New Zealanders all allowed time in their itineraries to visit libraries, mainly in Sydney and Melbourne, before going on to Canberra. Alley and McEldowney travelled by sea (in the Union Steam Ship Company's trusty old Monowai), which enabled Alley to recall the sea voyage to South Africa in 1928; the others flew by DC-6 (six hours to Sydney). Either way it was a short journey, only 1200 miles, but for librarians it was a journey into the unknown. Difficult as it is to comprehend nearly 50 years later, at that time Australian and New Zealand librarians knew practically nothing of each other or of each other's libraries. A note by John Barr on Australian libraries published in 1946, and a correcting note by John Metcalfe of Australia published the next year,54 would have been the only glimpse of life across the Tasman that the New Zealanders had had, while the Australians would have been even less aware of bibliographical life in the Shaky Isles.
On his first morning in Sydney, as he set out to visit John Metcalfe in the Public Library of New South Wales (i.e. the state library), Alley remarked, 'I don't think I'm going to like these people.' There was no reason for him to say this, except that he was always apprehensive of new contacts. In fact, the Australian librarians turned out to be friendly, welcoming, and ready for discussions to which their visitors added a new perspective. There were quite remarkable differences between the ways in which important areas of librarianship had developed in the two countries, and consideration of these differences, while not on the agenda, added to the value of the discussions for both groups.55
The seminar was hard work, but no publication emerged from it. As Metcalf wrote to the participants later, 'In my opinion it was simply not the kind of seminar where the written record would be worthwhile. We purposely and deliberately had a wide open discussion which didn't always keep on the track.'56 But during the discussions Metcalf ensured that topics which were in the members' minds but had not previously been page 299aired constructively were dealt with in such a way that the 30 people in the room were probably able, in future years, to make more rational decisions than they otherwise would have done. At the head of a fairly outspoken and disputatious group he was calm and quiet, but there was no doubt whatever that he was the master. An interesting example of the way in which his mana had quickly become accepted occurred on the fourth day, when a midday picnic had been scheduled to be held at the Cotter Dam. The morning had dawned under heavy cloud, and Metcalf asked the local members whether the conditions indicated that the outing should be postponed. They gave conflicting advice, so he said he would have to make a ruling from the chair. His ruling was that the weather would not be suitable for a picnic that day – and at that moment there was a flash of lightning and a clap of thunder. It seemed that not Zeus, but Keyes, had spoken.
From the point of view of the New Zealanders, the differences between the two countries in the ways in which their library services had developed were enlightening. Much of the discussion was devoted to disputes which had arisen between the Australian university libraries and the state libraries. These arose from the increasing importance of the university libraries and a perception, by some state librarians, that these upstarts were encroaching on their preserve. Feelings had got rather out of hand, and one of Metcalf 's achievements was to help to make it possible for the temperature to be reduced in a discussion which some have described as cathartic. For the New Zealanders this was really a local problem, though instructive, but in other matters different ways had developed of dealing with common problems. In education for librarianship, for instance, Australia had followed British practice in conducting centrally controlled and examined in-service training, while New Zealand, after Mary Parsons, was committed to the American tradition of the graduate library school, supplemented by lowerlevel in-service training. The New Zealanders were less than impressed by Australian public libraries, which seemed to operate in isolation without the co-operative approach that they were used to, and found it significant that they were barely represented at the seminar. But on the other hand, the development of reference and research libraries, among which the state libraries formed an important group, was far more advanced in Australia. On points like these participants cross-examined each other, both in the meetings and outside.57
Of relations between Australian and New Zealand librarians it can be said that the seminar created a sharp boundary between the pre-Canberra and post-Canberra eras. Each group learned from the other, but it was even more important that they got on so well together, so that a sense of being a common group, participating together in trying to achieve common aims, page 300very quickly became established. From the New Zealand point of view, the extraordinary generosity of their Australian colleagues in the years and decades to come, in taking part in joint ventures and sharing experiences and friendship, has perhaps been the major legacy of the nine days' work in Canberra in 1958. Alley's foresight in helping to ensure that three of the New Zealand participants were 'senior members of the younger group of librarians' was an important contribution to this outcome, which Harrison Bryan, an outstanding Australian participant, has called 'a bond which has grown in strength with the years'.58
Alley himself did not take part prominently in the seminar discussions, and some Australian librarians have remarked that he made very little impact on them.59 Nor did he take a leading part in the close relationships which developed generally as a result of the seminar. But, in addition to attending a special meeting of the librarians of state and national library systems,60 he did form close friendships with three of the participants: Andrew D. Osborn, Jean P. Whyte, and Keyes Metcalf.
Andrew Osborn was an Australian who had started his library career in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library in 1920, when it was in Melbourne. In 1928 he went to the United States, where he became associated with Kayes Metcalf, first at the New York Public Library and from 1938 at Harvard University. One of his specialities was conducting surveys of libraries and library-related institutions, many of them together with Metcalf. These included surveys of the University of Illinois Library School, the New York State Library, and the Air Force Research Center Library. According to Ellsworth Mason, he was one of the few international statesmen in the library world of his time, his paper on 'The Crisis in Cataloging' being 'one of the pivotal statements in the technical processing of this century'.61 At the time of the Canberra seminar he was associate Librarian, and about to become the librarian, of the Fisher Library, University of Sydney.
Jean Whyte was in 1958 staff training officer at the Public Library of South Australia. During Osborn's time at the Fisher Library she joined him there in a senior position. She later went to the National Library, and then became the foundation head of Monash University's Graduate School of Librarianship. She came from a farming family, in the 'five-inch rainfall belt' of South Australia, and never lost the imprint of that background, despite her working life in major cities. Alley valued this, as well as her strong professionalism, her laconic style, and her love of roses and of poetry (for which she had a prodigious memory, more than matching his own).
Of the three, Metcalf was the one with whom Alley formed the strongest friendship, one which lasted until death parted them. Born in 1889, the 17th of 18 children of a father whose own birth was in 1822, he grew page 301up in an environment which had some similarities to Alley's. His father, Isaac, graduated from Bowdoin College in Maine and then worked on the construction of various railroads until he was 33, when he retired to bring up his increasing family, chiefly by subsistence farming in Ohio. In these conditions, hard physical work was necessary for survival and luxuries, such as candy, or fireworks for the fourth of July, were to be avoided. 'Since we had gotten along reasonably well with no running water or bathroom in the house, except for the kitchen pump which brought water up from the cistern, and a well near the side door,' he remembered as one of his father's guiding principles, 'why should we go to the expense of making a change?' But an education, at least through a liberal arts college, was essential.62
Keyes graduated AB from Oberlin College in northern Ohio, where he distinguished himself on the football (gridiron) and track teams. In vacations he worked as a hired hand on hill farms or, one year, 'as an axe man, the junior member of a surveying party that was locating ten miles of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, and Pacific Transcontinental Railroad in Montana's Bitter Root Mountains'.63 For a career he decided upon libraries, following the example of other members of his family. His first job, in the Oberlin College Library, led in 1911 to his becoming a member of the first class of the Library School of the New York Public Library, and then to positions of increasing seniority in that library until 1937, when he went to Harvard. In the New York Public Library and the other great library institutions of New York he worked with people like Minnie Sears, Isadore Mudge, and Margaret Mann, legendary names later to librarians outside the United States, and it was in the New York Public Library that he first met Mary Parsons, who later became librarian of the Lakewood Public Library in northern Ohio, where an older Metcalf brother was president of the board of trustees.64 This, still later, was another link between him and New Zealand libraries.
Metcalf 's career, like Alley's, had this strong element of real life in it which enabled them to put the academic world in perspective. With similar experience, similar temperaments, similar attitudes towards public service, and an appreciation of the needs of readers from all walks of life, they understood and appreciated each other. Metcalf, 'quiet, even-tempered, patient, and unhurried',65 was able to see the qualities that Alley's demeanour sometimes obscured and to appreciate his work; 'I think he provides the best rural library service in the world,' he told an Australian administrator.66 For Alley, Metcalf became another mentor on the same level as Alister McIntosh. He was, Judith has said, all that her father aspired to be.67
Andrew Osborn soon became involved with New Zealand libraries. In 1957 the NZLA council had decided to sponsor another major survey page 302of library resources in New Zealand and, with the assurance of financial support from the Carnegie Corporation,68 had started to investigate the possibility of appointing a suitable American librarian to carry it out. When Metcalf was in New Zealand in July 1958, Sandall and Alley discussed several names with him, and these discussions continued in Canberra in December. Metcalf recommended Osborn, because of his earlier experience of working with him on similar projects, but pointed out that he might not be able to undertake the task immediately, in view of his imminent assumption of the University of Sydney librarianship. Despite this small problem, which, annoying though it was, would have been less serious in its effects than the precipitate engagement of a less experienced surveyor, the NZLA council agreed to invite Osborn to carry out a survey, an invitation which Alley, by now president, conveyed to him in March 1959. Osborn was deeply appreciative, saying, 'I enjoyed our contacts so very much in December that I can think of nothing finer than an opportunity to work closely with you', and remarking in passing that he had taught New Zealand history at Harvard. He suggested October–December 1959 for the operation.69
When Munn and Barr carried out their survey in 1934 there were very few special or research libraries in New Zealand. Miriam Tompkins, in 1950, was asked only to examine public library services. Opinion within the NZLA in 1957, when the question of a new survey was raised, was that the library scene had changed so much since the war that it would be necessary to pay particular attention to those which were struggling to bring themselves up to international standards. This emphasis was reflected in the terms of reference for the survey, the first paragraph of which was:
The purpose of the survey is to inquire into and report upon the nature and extent of the resources of printed and associated near-print, manuscript, and audio-visual material in all types of New Zealand libraries supported directly or indirectly from public funds.
Other paragraphs referred to the adequacy of such resources, ways of increasing them, and action needed to ensure their co-operative availability and use.70
The survey was carried out under the aegis of the book resources committee of the NZLA, which, of course, was closely associated with the National Library Service. Alley got ministerial approval (giving an assurance that no additional expenditure would be involved) for him to give Osborn 'any facilities and information he may need for the study',71 and then, with the approval of the NZLA council, assigned Graham Bagnall to page 303be Osborn's New Zealand associate. These two then, after Osborn's arrival at the end of October 1959, embarked on an intensive series of visits to libraries of all types in the main centres and in some smaller towns, and Osborn wrote his 20,000-word report72 in time for it to be printed and presented to the NZLA conference in February 1960. As Bagnall described the operation, 'Although statistical data was available, the emphasis was that of a personal overview of a wide range of institutions and their holdings. It lacked, for instance, the analytical depth of McEldowney's narrower but more intensive survey of university library resources twelve years later.73 It nevertheless had the advantage of good timing being in phase with other committee proposals … The 31 wide-ranging recommendations covered not only the basic financial and organisational needs of the system as a whole but also those of school, university, special, and public libraries and the need for a national library'.74
Osborn and Bagnall were a good team. Bagnall knew as much as anyone about the whole range of library resources in New Zealand, and had strong views on them which were mainly in tune with Osborn's ideas. Osborn was experienced in quickly assessing the strengths and weaknesses of collections and was naturally conscious of his own standing in the field. An interesting example of their interaction occurred over Alexander Turnbull's collection, which Turnbull had originally intended to go to Victoria University College, but which he had decided, shortly before his death, to leave to the government because he had observed that the University of Otago had not known what to do with T.M. Hocken's collection. In a draft of his report Osborn wrote of 'the cruellest blow to the university libraries being the disposition of the Turnbull Library', a comment on which Bagnall registered a strong protest. 'Apart,' Bagnall wrote, 'from the fact that as a national collection it is available to all universities and is not locked up in glass cases as a pathetic fossilized gift like the Fildes collection at Victoria the latter example with that of the Hocken shows what its fate would have been as a university bequest. A bequest to WU would have been a real tragedy.'75 But 'the cruellest blow' remained in the report (page 30), in a chapter headed 'Long-standing Weakness of the University Libraries', albeit with an explanatory note.
One of the other committees whose work coincided with Osborn's survey was the government-appointed committee on New Zealand universities chaired by David Hughes Parry, whose report, dated 8 December 1959, was to lead to the expansion of the role of university education and research, including a transition from a single University of New Zealand with constituent colleges to separate universities dealing with the government through a University Grants Committee established by statute. When Ross Rowley, who had been assigned by the Department of Education to act as page 304one of the committee's secretaries, sought information on the library system as it affected universities, Alley urged that the committee should meet with Osborn to discuss library matters.76 Alley followed this conversation with a letter to Rowley (based on a draft by Bagnall), saying that 'Dr Osborn is very strongly of the opinion that a National Library is the key to the whole library problem and that its existence could greatly strengthen the university system.'77 Other points which he made in this letter were that the development of a national library should not prejudice the development of university libraries; that a national library board would replace the book resources committee of the NZLA; and that 'No plans for improvement in the university library field will be effective unless the quality and quantity of staff is improved. The loss of such a figure as John Harris … has never been made up.'
The Hughes Parry committee included a useful section on libraries in its report,78 which Alley later attributed to Osborn's on-the-spot presence.79 It urged, among other things, that the professorial boards assume more responsibility than they had hitherto, 'to ensure balanced growth in the university libraries, reflecting both the growth in student numbers and the diversification of programmes of study', and recommended that its proposed Grants Committee should establish a standing committee on library resources, with wide terms of reference.
In a review of Osborn's report which was published in the Library Journal,80 Keyes Metcalf said, rather disingenuously, that, having had the pleasure of seeing Osborn in action in 1958 in Australia, he had not been surprised to learn that he had been selected by the NZLA to make its survey; and he ended his review, which ranged over the history of New Zealand libraries since Munn–Barr, by predicting that the Osborn report would be another landmark if the impetus provided by it should result in prompt action, 'particularly in the development of a national library system and in more adequate university libraries'. In fact, the report itself did not make a huge impact, though it did provide useful quotations for special occasions, such as the presentation of submissions to the Industrial Development Conference in 1960. The time for broad general surveys had really passed. More important in 1959 was the fact that Osborn, who was an impressive figure with an impressive record, was available to be introduced to people who were involved in planning the future of education, and those who were in the middle of the long journey towards a national library. It is unlikely that the Hughes Parry report would have had such an important influence on the universities' attitudes towards their libraries if Osborn had not been available to talk to its authors. For librarians, Osborn was a concrete reminder of the emphasis on research and scholarship that came from the Canberra seminar.page 305
Work which could be carried on within the National Library Service, or by the NLS in conjunction with the book resources committee, continued normally at this time. Bagnall was able to report in 1959, for instance, that work on the section of the national bibliography covering the years 1890 to 1960 was about half done, though he did not mention, as Alley did elsewhere, that, because of his other commitments, he was doing the work 'outside normal working hours'.81 'Work is still at the stage of large-scale netting,' he wrote, 'although naturally the fish being caught are smaller and the examination to determine their status takes longer.'82 Work was also proceeding, with the co-operation of many librarians throughout the country, on the list of important works in sets and runs of periodicals which were not held in any New Zealand library, for which the NZLA had decided to ask the government for a special grant. Limited to items which were valued at £50 or more, and totalling about £30,000, which was about two and a half times the total annual book and periodical budget for a university library at that time, such a grant, under terms which would have placed each item in the library that was most suited to hold it, would have been an imaginative and effective way of breaking down many obstacles to research, but when Alley placed the list and the association's request before the minister of education he got nowhere. The problem seemed to be that the minister was shaken to find that so many of the titles were in foreign languages. Alley managed in 1960 to squeeze one small allocation, of £2000, from NLS funds for the purchase of some items,83 and a small sum received from lottery funds was applied to the same purpose, but apart from that the project had to be dropped.84
A similar lack of understanding was encountered when the government imposed severe restrictions on the importation of gramophone records after an economic crisis developed in 1958. On this occasion the minister of customs thought that production capacity in New Zealand was more than sufficient to produce all the country's needs, and it took 18 months, and the help of Professor Fred Page of Victoria University, to persuade him that the production capacity would not produce records for which there was very little demand but which musicians and musicologists needed to have.
And, of course, there was no progress at this time over the question of a national library. The recommendations which had been made by the national library committee were placed before Cabinet at regular intervals, together with other informative reports,85 but a decision was regularly deferred. Confronted by the adverse Treasury report, by differences of opinion over which department a national library should be attached to, and by difficulties raised by the various interested parties, no one was prepared to take the decisive step of implementing the committee's crucial page 306first recommendation, that a national library administration should be established, 'with a chief executive and other necessary officers'.
Towards the end of 1959 Alley became involved in a controversy over rugby relations between New Zealand and South Africa. In planning an All Black tour which was to take place in 1960, the New Zealand Rugby Football Union had decided, as it had done in the past, that it would be in the best interests of Maori players that they should not be selected for the tour. There was no reason to doubt the good intentions of the Rugby Union, but a large proportion of the population now thought that New Zealand should not insult a section of its own citizens in this way. A huge petition, of 153,000 signatures, organised by a Citizens' All Black Tour Association, called for the abandonment of the tour and for the government to intervene. Most of Nash's own official advisers, including top public servants, urged him at least to denounce the Rugby Union's decision, but although, as Keith Sinclair has pointed out, he had long been an outspoken critic of apartheid,86 he declined to do so.
Alley was one of many prominent people who associated themselves with the protest. After he spoke at a meeting in Lower Hutt he was told by the Citizens' All Black Tour Association 'how heartened we were by your statement … last week'.87 His friend Jim Burrows told the association that he was not able, as a serving officer, to take part in a deputation to the Rugby Union, but 'In a private capacity I have been able to take some action however, and will continue to do so.'88 Since the Rugby Union declined to receive a deputation at this stage, the association then decided to arrange for one to meet the prime minister. This meeting took place on 26 February 1960, when 51 people, including church leaders and representatives of many organisations, asked Nash and Jack Marshall, acting leader of the opposition, to call for the abandonment of the tour 'if absolute equality of treatment for members of a team selected on merit cannot be assured'. Prominent Maori players George Nepia, Nitama Paewai and Vince Bevan were members of the deputation, and Alley said 'he went as one of the team which left their Maori brothers behind. He had never forgotten leaving George Nepia, Jim Blake, and Jimmy Mills. He had never been able to get rid of the feeling of guilt about it. He hoped that the 1960 team would not have that feeling'.89 This protest did not succeed; the 1960 tour went ahead as planned, helping to build up a head of steam for future occasions.
In the week before the meeting with Nash on rugby matters the NZLA held its jubilee conference in Dunedin, the city which had taken the initiative in 1910 in calling the meeting of library authorities which established the Libraries Association of New Zealand. The conference was opened by T.K.S. Sidey, a Dunedin city councillor who had been president of the NZLA in 1950, and who read a message from the Hon. J.T. Paul, page 307the only survivor from those who had met in 1910. Presiding over the conference was Geoffrey Alley, who had been involved in most of the association's achievements over the previous 25 years, and there to support the celebrations were John Metcalfe, equally prominent in the Library Association of Australia, and John Harris, one of those who had been with Alley in their early days and who was now becoming 'the father of West African librarianship'. Members of the NZLA council in 1959–60 included two university librarians, five city librarians, five members of city councils, and six government librarians, including the heads of the National Library Service and the General Assembly Library.
In his presidential address90 Alley recalled the earliest years of the association, when Mark Cohen and others were advocating travelling libraries and aid-in-kind for small public libraries, closer co-operation between public and university libraries, and wider availability of books from the General Assembly Library. Looking back over 50 years of radical change in society and its libraries, he wondered whether library service and many of the things of the mind might be threatened by preoccupation with material advancement and by the urge to provide more and more 'consumer' goods. 'We have deplored the burning of books by fascists,' he said, 'the denial of public access to forbidden books by communists, we have stressed the need for free people to be able to go freely to the shelves of generously stocked libraries, there freely to choose. But it needs backing up with solid, generous but realistic provision of libraries for all needs. By emphasising, as we are tending to do, that progress is solely bound up with concrete dams, hydro-electric schemes, bituminised roads, motor cars, television sets, and hundreds of other material things, all good things in their place, we may forget that in the long run it is the quality of the minds of the people of a country that is going to decide its future.'
Guests at the conference dinner included Maurice Duggan, who received the Esther Glen medal for his children's book Falter Tom and the Water Boy, and the prime minister, Walter Nash, who proposed a toast to the association. As the diners moved towards the dining room, Nash told Alley, in the middle of the scrum, that he intended to announce the government's support for one of the association's objectives, and gave him the option of a building for the National Library Service or the finance needed to get one regional library system operating in the next 12 months. Alley, who had been rather unfairly put on the spot, had the presence of mind to choose the regional library option, and Nash made his announcement. Some of those who had worked hard to get the national library proposal over several hurdles were disappointed by Alley's choice, but Alley would have suspected that the suggestion of a building for the National Library Service had come from Treasury and that Treasury's motive might have been to get page 308the National Library Service settled in such a way as to pre-empt plans for a national library. Others, of course, would have been delighted.
Immediately after the NZLA conference the proposals for a pilot regional scheme based on Palmerston North, which had been placed before the government in February 1959, were developed into a detailed plan which the minister of education, Skoglund, got through Cabinet at the end of April.91 It was presented to a meeting of local authorities on 31 May 1960, after which a detailed survey of the reactions of individual authorities was begun. But by then there had been some temporary but dramatic changes in the management of the NLS.
On Saturday 26 March 1960 Pat Alley, aged 18, represented Hutt Valley High School in the senior shot put and discus in the post-primary school sports at Athletic Park in Wellington, coming second in each event. Alley drove Pat and Pat's friend Elizabeth Herrick to the event, and afterwards they took the Western Hutt road, which was then narrow and somewhat winding, to return to Upper Hutt. Coming from the other direction there was a heavy flow of traffic from a race meeting at Trentham, many of the drivers anxious to get home or to a pub which would close at 6 p.m. Just north of Belmont a car pulled out of the Wellington-bound line of traffic and smashed head-on into the Alley A40. Skid marks which remained on the road for some time afterwards showed that Alley went as far as he could to the left, to a high concrete wall which bordered the road.92
Many cars, including those of the A40's vintage, did not have seat belts in those days, so Alley's instinctive reaction was to throw a brawny arm across Elizabeth Herrick, in the front passenger seat, whose injuries, though severe enough, were not as serious as they otherwise might have been. His own injuries included major damage to his right leg: a fracture of the midshaft of the femur, a fracture of the tibia and fibula just below the knee, and a major disrupting fracture of the lower end of the tibia. He also lost a lot of blood, particularly from the fractures, and suffered severe shock. Pat, who had been dozing in the back seat, had relatively light injuries, including a wedge compression fracture of a lumbar vertebra. He was sure that his father was dead and, in a dazed state, got Elizabeth out of the car and then went back down the road a bit, where he was picked up by priests from St Patrick's College, Silverstream, who were in a following car. They found Alley in such a critical state that, as one of them later told Euphan, they gave him 'the appropriate spiritual comfort'.93 The other driver and his passenger were both severely injured, and the passenger, who had gone through the windscreen, died later in hospital.
Alley was kept in Hutt Hospital for seven months, Pat for seven weeks (much longer than would have been normal later). On the day following the accident, when three of the priests visited him, Alley remembered that St page 309Pat's Silverstream, which was celebrating its jubilee year, had won the sports competition the previous day, and gave them his hearty congratulations. He took a long time to mend, but he was mentally alert throughout his stay. He received senior NLS staff and kept a close watch on what was happening in the library world, and caught up on neglected reading, including The Bible Designed to be Read as Literature. And he formed a strong friendship with Dr W.S. Fogg, the medical superintendent, who placed on the walls for Alley's enjoyment some of the prints from the collection which he had built up for the hospital. 'Here you are,' Fogg said one day, 'Picasso's Fractured Woman – thought that might be appropriate.'94 But mentally, the discovery that he was not invulnerable was a blow to his pride, and physically he was never able to recover the ability to work on his estate as intensively as he had done. Pat recalls finding him at home two days after getting out of hospital, superphosphate on his crutches and in a foul mood from frustration, and Rod noted that after 1960 'the whole pace and tempo of what he could do out there changed hugely'.95
In 1960 the alcoholic content of accident victims was not routinely checked. The other driver was convicted of dangerous driving and penalised fairly lightly, but legal negotiations got Alley a large sum in compensation: about £5000 or £6000, which would have been about three times his annual salary. He had to undertake to refund the Public Service Commission 'sick pay from any sum paid by way of compensation'.96 He used part of the money to buy paintings for the hospital ward and a piano for the nurses' home, and he invested the rest with the help of a stockbroker who lived in Heretaunga and rode the train into Wellington often with him. They sat often in silence reading the Economist or the New Statesman, but members of the family remember this as one of Geoff 's strong friendships.
Alley's accident was dismaying for his friends and colleagues, not only because of the injuries to himself and his passengers but also because those who had been associated with him for a quarter of a century in reforming New Zealand's library system feared that his removal would jeopardise important projects which had reached critical stages. Among these, of course, were the campaign for a national library and the impending attempt to establish a pilot regional library scheme. As we shall see, his absence, or sidelining, was less disastrous than many thought it would be, and it is interesting to consider why this should have been.
In the first place, although Alley's name and mana were associated with the library profession's major projects, he was one of a relatively small but very talented and experienced group of senior librarians who had been instrumental in developing a comprehensive library system for the whole country in the context of the New Zealand Library Association. Several of these had been leaders in formulating projects which were grouped page 310in the public mind under the Alley label, and were at this time actively involved in promoting them. In some cases, in fact, Alley had recently formally withdrawn in order to avoid conflicts of interest, as current proposals reached the stage of negotiation between the library profession, as represented by the NZLA, and the government, knowing that there were others who could carry on. The NZLA was at the height of its powers at this time.
A second factor, which was equally important, was that, after working closely with him for 15 years, Graham Bagnall had become Alley's true right-hand man. Alley had other able lieutenants, but he and Bagnall had a special affinity in their wide-ranging ideas for the future of librarianship, in their understanding of political realities, and in such matters as their shared scepticism (not always justified) about the innocence of high-profile academics when they tried to understand real people. They had both graduated with well-deserved first-class degrees, but they did not regard the academic world with awe. Alley said of Bagnall, in his taped reminiscences, that 'his native powers, observation, insights, his reading, all contributed, showing … what can be done by people from their own efforts, on their own ground',97 and these qualities, much like his own, had drawn them together.