Geoffrey Alley, Librarian: His Life & Work
Chapter 17 — Life in the Old Dog
Life in the Old Dog
Alley arrived home in late January 1971, finding 'so much to do', he told Jean Whyte. 'Everywhere I went or walked in and around the place there would be something to be seen to or fixed. And there was some really wicked clearing and burning to be done. I could write a treatise on what plants survive a tenant's neglect plus two very dry summers. However, roses have another virtue. Unless they are physically clobbered they do survive.' And he now began a regular course of advice to Whyte on what plants, especially roses, she should get for her Sydney garden. A list of floribunda roses that he would plant again after observing them included Cocorico ('red, full of blooms most of time'), Concerto ('scarlet, rarer flowering but worth it'), June Bride ('white, terrifically vigorous and a useful thing for cutting'), Pink Parfait ('lovely, good'), and Ma Perkins ('light pink, rather a common old thing, but I like it'). 'E. hasn't been so well,' he added, 'A bothersome congestive cough.' And for his part, 'I've not read enough, or listened to enough music or talked with enough interesting people. I feel in one sense I've reached the end of my (limited) intellectual road.'1
It was not long before the Alleys settled down to the mundane but interesting business of living their normal lives. There are references in their letters to their going to concerts and plays (one, a good performance of The Winter's Tale at Victoria University) and Geoff 's lecturing at the Library School, besides his work at home and in the garden. In 1973, when Euphan had her 70th birthday, he gave her a telescope, a thing she had always wanted, she told Joy, and in 1974, when Gwen celebrated her 80th birthday, they assisted at a big celebration for her. 'Geoff 's roses have been out of this world and he had no trouble at all in picking 80 show bench blooms to take to her … the Play Centre stalwarts organized buffet lunch for her. GT came back to Upper Hutt – he is lecturing three times a week until 6th December and a lot of marking and preparation is involved … C.E. Beeby made an excellent toastmaster and general MC, and it was good to meet again people like Walter J. Scott and his wife. Most of them had known our family at various ages and stages. [Roderic and Elizabeth page 416were there with their two children] and I was human enough to be pleased by [friends'] amiable remarks about the next batch of Alleys coming up the straight.'2
During the 1970s both Jean Whyte and Jean Adelman visited the Alleys in Upper Hutt. Geoff 's written correspondence with Whyte covered many things, including their gardens, their cats, and their colleagues, and after her first visit, when she had brought a special Australian wine with her, he reported on a family occasion when he had produced it as the raison d' être for the gathering:
I wish you could have seen the look(s) on sons' and daughters-in-laws' faces and 'heard' the silence as the first sips of the Grange Hermitage Bin 95 were taken on Sat Aug 5. Patrick and wife Valerie, Roderic and wife Elizabeth, Euphan and I had a luncheon planned around the wine. I brought it in tenderly, around 9.30 am, opened it most carefully and using a 'decanter' … I brought it to the light of day. Around 1.30 we had finished our 1st 2 courses, soup and a pork dish with wild rice, and I then produced the Grange Hermitage with some good cheese. We had drunk a white wine with the dish. Well, Patrick (aet. 31) stoutly maintains this is the high point of his drinking career! Liz, who is older and quite knowledgeable (accompanied André Simon on his N.Z. tour for the Broadcasting people) was really quite overcome. It was a majestic, yet quite friendly wine, no trace of evil of course. What a country to live in that has such things.3
In January 1975 Alley reported to Whyte that Keyes Metcalf had sent him a copy of one of the books published to commemorate the centenary of Robert Frost's birth, Robert Frost 100.4 Since he had met Frost when he was travelling in New England with Metcalf in 1961, this gift would have been an acknowlegement of the power that Frost's poetry had for both Metcalf and Alley.
Writing of her own visits to Upper Hutt, Adelman recalled that 'Euphan and I, we found, shared an amused impatience with some of his stubborn, prideful, demanding ways of being. I was fortunate in encountering him first in Canada, where he was, for him, relatively relaxed … I saw the more constrained GTA on several visits to New Zealand, and I observed him either with family or with professional colleagues being much more constrained, pompous, and self-conscious than ever he was in North America.'5
Alley, naturally enough, kept a close interest in the National Library that he had brought into the world, but he probably did not realise that by the early 1970s the library was in a rather bad way. A number of its troubles went back to his last years in office, to the odd way in which he had dealt page 417with his colleagues at that time, and the long-term effects of these actions which amounted to professional alienation. He was pleased when Hector Macaskill was appointed to succeed him, but fences needed to be repaired and Macaskill, although he was widely liked and admired, was not cut out, in the current context, to be a fence-mender. Alley's pleasure would in part have been due to the fact that the Alleys and the Macaskills had been good friends, and in part to Macaskill's superb performance as director of the School Library Service. Also, several librarians who could have offered themselves for appointment, and should have done so in his view, were not interested. Macaskill's School Library Service was probably the most peripheral of the functions of the National Library, and several of his contemporaries have remarked that he had problems in widening his focus. He maintained the hard line that Alley had adopted over several important issues, but without the mana of his predecessor or the wider understanding that might have closed the gap that had begun to develop between the National Library and the library profession.
There are some interesting comments on the state of the National Library at this time in a private letter written by a fairly senior member of the National Library staff to a friend in 1972, when Macaskill was about to retire. Macaskill had suggested that the writer should apply for the position of national librarian, and the letter was a request for advice on what to do. The writer was daunted by what he saw as a breakdown of confidence and understanding between the National Library and 'the rest', the aimlessness of planning (or indeed the lack of planning) for the development of the National Library's services, and the low morale of its staff. 'I often wonder,' he wrote, 'whether they're all just bad (which is easy to say and is often said) or whether they don't just need some encouragement and a chance to have a part in things and contribute. Certainly, our in-house communication is terrible'.6
In 1970 Alister McIntosh (Sir Alister since 1957) was appointed chairman of the Trustees of the National Library, of which he had been a member since 1966. From Alley's point of view this would have meant that the office was in the safest of possible hands, and McIntosh was in fact a hands-on chairman in the sense that he was prepared to use his background knowledge and his influence to promote and defend the interests of the National Library. In 1973, for instance, in commenting on a letter published in the Dominion which complained that 'the amendment to the Turnbull Library Trust, forced on the Library by the expansionist National Library, was a gross betrayal', he set out at some length the history and the rationale of the action that had been taken in the 1960s. 'In terms of his bequest,' he wrote, 'as set out in the codicil to his will, Alexander Turnbull bequeathed the library to His Majesty the King: "I desire (but page 418without imposing any trust) that the bequest should be kept together as the nucleus of a New Zealand National Collection." As such, and largely for this reason, and with appropriate safeguards, the Turnbull Library was made part of the National Library by the Act of 1965.'7
Alister McIntosh, whose thoughts on problems facing the National Library were published in New Zealand Libraries in April 1972,8 and who had accepted the office of patron of the NZLA in February 1972, would have been well aware of the fact that the appointment of a suitable person to follow Macaskill as national librarian was crucial for the library's future, and he would undoubtedly have seen it as part of his role to discuss the matter with those who would be making the appointment. The person who was chosen for the position was not the correspondent quoted above, who of course might not have applied but who would have been a credible candidate, but D.C. (David) McIntosh, who had joined the library profession in 1951 after a 20-year teaching career, and had then occupied various positions in the National Library Service and the National Library, including director of the Library School, deputy national librarian, and chief librarian of the General Assembly Library.
Since David McIntosh was due, under public service regulations, to retire in August 1975, his appointment could have been seen as simply a bridging one, giving time for thoughts on the future of the national librarianship to be developed, but, as it turned out, he achieved a great deal in improving relations between the National Library and the library profession in the three years of his incumbency. His attitude to officers of the NZLA was friendly and co-operative, he contributed a regular and informative column, 'News from the National Library', to the NZLA Newsletter, and he took initiatives in encouraging the discussion of questions of general library interest. In working as he did, he was undoubtedly acting as one of the pair of McIntoshes (who were not personally related), one the chairman of the Trustees, the other the national librarian, in trying to mend fences.
One example of the way in which the McIntoshes reacted to the outside library world is the way in which they responded to McEldowney's report, prepared for the New Zealand Vice-chancellors' Committee, on university library resources.9 After describing the way in which important functions of the NZLA's library resources committee had been supplanted in 1966 by a committee of the Trustees which did not properly represent the interests of the library system as a whole, McEldowney recommended that the vice-chancellors should recommend to the Trustees that their committee be reconstituted to provide for a substantial part of its membership to be filled by persons appointed by such organisations as the NZLA and the vice-chancellors' standing committee on library resources.10 This recommendation was passed on to the Trustees, who agreed to it very page 419promptly and reconstituted their committee as the New Zealand Library Resources Committee, with representative membership and wide terms of reference which enabled it to fill the gap that had opened up in 1966.11
McEldowney had also suggested that the Trustees' resources committee should be given a special fund, regularly augmented, to be used to buy important items not held by any library in New Zealand, which would then be placed in the libraries which were the most appropriate to hold them. 'Judiciously applied,' he said, 'expenditures from a central fund could tip the balance between a collection which is merely reasonably strong and one which is so clearly the strongest in the field that it comes to be recognized as the specialized collection on which other libraries will rely.'12 This recommendation represented a revival of the efforts of the NZLA to obtain special government grants to strengthen national resources, in which Alley had played a leading role, and it also arose from McEldowney's observation of the use, by London University, of a fund which was designed to strengthen the resources of libraries of the individual parts of that vast organisation. And it was, in the way in which it was put forward, an expression of the co-operative ethos of the time. When the vice-chancellors passed it on to the Trustees of the National Library, the Trustees adopted it, and for many years libraries throughout the country benefited from the work of the resources committee's sub-committee on strengthening resources.13
Allowing for the fact that Alley was not one of those people who, in retirement, are only too pleased to have no more responsibility for the work they have been engaged in, his life in the early 1970s was full of interest and personally rewarding. He huffed and he puffed at times over the inadequacies of the younger generation, to be sure, but he was not much more critical than many others. Jean Whyte, whom he regarded as a kindred spirit, was given the benefit of many of his thoughts of this kind. 'Those people,' he wrote to her, 'who are both capable and dependable, how much we need 'em, and how very few of them there are.' After the NZLA conference which was held in Wellington in February 1974 he wrote, 'The conference itself was poor in content but seemed to have lots of parties – what changes since the starving '30s and '40s – when we did something, however.' And in 1976: 'The NZLA is quite bankrupt of ideas and their meeting is badly planned, no papers prepared and circulated, no policy really, wining and dining paid for by taxes.'14 He was not pleased by public criticisms of his actions in his last working years, or by developments like the changes to the Trustees' resources committee. He was content with the situation of the Alexander Turnbull Library under Graham Bagnall's control. But he was emotionally anxious about the future of the Library School and of the Country Library Service, and at this point we should page 420look at what happened, in each of these cases, in the years following his retirement and leading up to the end of David McIntosh's term as national librarian.
In the case of education for librarianship, stalemate seemed to have been achieved in 1967 when the minister of education, Kinsella, rejected NZLA proposals which would have involved the establishment of a graduate library school at Victoria University and the further development of intermediate-level training within the National Library, but in August 1968, after representations from the NZLA, Kinsella agreed to set up a working party 'to consider the future education of librarians in terms of New Zealand's needs and economy and to report to me'.15 The membership of the working party, announced on 30 May 1969, consisted of Lindsay M. Graham (chairman), a former assistant director of education who had had a lot to do with Alley and the National Library Service in various capacities from 1950 to 1965; Jock McEldowney (University of Otago); C.W. (Bill) Massey (superintendent of staff training, State Services Commission); G.R. (Gordon) McDonald (curriculum officer in the Department of Education), and Brian O'Neill (director of the extension division, National Library). David McIntosh was its secretary. It met on 20 occasions between June and September 1969 to consider oral and written submissions and to prepare a report which assembled a good deal of factual information and considered the needs of the various areas of the library system. Its report was submitted to the minister at the end of September and published by the Government Printer in December.16 The working party became known as the Graham committee and its report as the Graham report.
Alley, in a brief and rather unfocused submission which he sent from Ontario, wrote that 'The North American policy of concentrating education for professional library work in universities seems not to have been an unqualified success', and, 'My main point would be that to follow North American practice in library education would be unwise at this time.'17 Submissions were also received from a number of other individuals and from library and teaching organisations, many of them presented personally. But one organisation which might have been expected to provide its views in some detail, and did not, was Victoria University. Professor Ian Campbell, who was acting vice-chancellor at the time, appeared before the working party, but only to state flatly that the university was not interested in adding education for librarianship to its responsibilities, at any level.
In its submission the NZLA had slightly modified its earlier stance by saying: 'While the Association believes the weight to lie with retaining if at all possible the connection in a single institution of both graduate and undergraduate library education, it would stress again that its major concern is the establishment of a graduate library school at the university.'18 page 421One individual, who was close to Alley, suggested that the real motivation of those who wanted the Library School to be in a university was that it would enable academic libraries to corner the output. This is hardly worth mentioning, except that it was exactly what Alley had said to McEldowney when the NZLA's education committee was preparing its policy statement in 1965. The person who now made this point was stumped when asked whether the National Library, in which the Library School was presently located, was managing to corner its output; it was of course a well-known fact that at this stage students did not want to work in the National Library. On the whole the submissions were carefully thought out and seriously presented, but none of them foresaw the quandary that the working party found itself confronted with by Campbell's flat refusal to consider the possibility of Victoria's involvement in education for librarianship.
Graham himself then produced a solution to the problem which the working party adopted and recommended to the minister. In chapter nine of its report the working party recommended the creation of a New Zealand College of Librarianship as an autonomous institution constituted under its own statute. It would take responsibility for the existing levels of education for librarianship, but would act jointly with the university in providing an advanced course for which some of the work would be done in university departments, and which would lead to a master's degree in library studies awarded by the university. The physical location of the college itself would, it was suggested, be within the new National Library complex, which, at this stage, was still at the planning stage.
It would be difficult, now, to establish how this idea was conceived and developed, or what off-the-record discussions took place to ensure that it reached the printed page fully fledged and ready to fly. It was obviously modelled on the College of Librarianship Wales, located at Aberystwyth and operating in close association with the University of Wales, but it would be interesting to know who drew it to Graham's attention, with detailed information about its organisation and method of operating. McEldowney, who had visited the College of Librarianship Wales and had been impressed by it, did not know that a scheme based on it was being prepared until Graham arranged a tête-à-tête conversation with him, filled him up, as he wryly recalls, with whisky, and then produced the proposal, worked out in considerable detail. One can only conclude that Graham had been an active and effective chairman, who had received very helpful advice. And then, when the working party put it to the intransigent Professor Campbell, he professed surprised delight without a moment's hesitation, thanked it for 'letting the University off the hook', and offered to attend the annual conference of the NZLA in February 1970 to say how pleased Victoria University was with the outcome of the investigation.page 422
Professor Campbell did not get to the NZLA conference. As soon as the Graham report was published, it became apparent that his voice had not been the voice of Victoria University. After influential members of the staff, including Professor D.F. (Don) McKenzie of the English Department, had examined the report closely, the professorial board in April 1970 asked the deans committee to set up a sub-committee to 'make an investigation of the ways and means of establishing a school of librarianship at this university'. And so began a series of discussions, investigations, controversies, and negotiations, involving the university, the Department of Education, the National Library and many others, which lasted a decade before a solution to the problem was found and implemented. The Graham report was, as Mary Ronnie has said, a landmark document. It provided a sound factual basis for serious consideration and a proposal which, in the light of what turned out to be a false premise, was, at least, imaginative. Its recommendations were not implemented, but it started things rolling.19
In a careful and insightful review of the Graham report,20 R.W. (Dick) Hlavac pointed out that the working party's recommendations were an attempt to produce a solution which was both workable and acceptable to all of the bodies concerned, Victoria University, the NZLA, and the minister of education, and he concluded that it had been only partially successful. 'The tragedy will occur,' he said, 'if, in trying to sort out the particulars of a solution which will be acceptable to both Victoria University and the NZLA, we get bogged down in an unnecessary argument about the relative merits and weaknesses of alternative proposals. For if it takes too much time to re-work out our requirements, everyone concerned – especially Government – will have lost interest and the Working Party will have accomplished nothing.'
For his part, Alley developed his thoughts on the library profession and appropriate forms of preparation for membership of it in an address he gave at the closing ceremony of the New Zealand Library School's 1971 graduate class in December 1971.21 A few extracts from this address indicate that the whole of it would still be worth studying by those who have difficulty in focusing on what is the purpose of their work. 'The elusive "body of knowledge", partly borrowed, that makes up the accepted stock-in-trade of the librarian's calling is in need of continual renewal, addition, and reshaping,' he said. 'Some keen and critical members of the profession look to the formulation of methods of bibliographical control to provide the intellectual content of the body of professional knowledge. No one would question the validity of the belief that classification and cataloguing are intellectual exercises, but are they enough by themselves? Similarly, the traditional view of the role of the librarian as a collector, in various guises, keeps recurring and certainly librarianship involves the formation of page 423collections by somebody, somewhere. But the decision to form a collection will result in decisions not to form collections in many other fields and, like most decisions, they require thought and skill.'
'Will the concept of "service" stand another look?' he asked, and in discussing this question he said: 'In nearly every case the librarian is not the begetter or instigator of the principal subject matter communicated, yet he acts as a key factor in this process even if he is not physically present when the user makes use of materials. For he has designed a service that has brought the two together. His is the part of the honest broker, the intellectual middleman, and this part is insufficiently understood by those who support, use, or design library services.' In looking at the concept of service, Alley referred to three 'obvious but as yet little studied ground rules' – 'Know thyself ', 'Know your materials', and 'Know your user' – and suggested that the last of these was the most difficult and complex and the area in which the profession was falling down. 'I see librarians … as servants of a special kind. As servants of knowledge, they are honoured and dignified by their association with the highest activities of mankind and they do not need to think about subservience or servility.' And he recommended that the graduates should study closely chapter 20, 'Intellectual and Practical Studies', of John Dewey's Democracy and Education.
Concluding, Alley said: 'I was glad to hear while away that the Working Party on library education had recommended that a college of librarianship be established, keeping all phases of library education together in one place. Although I with others thought at one time that a library school in a university should be our aim, I realise now that this would be a backward move, and that the overburdened, overcrowded universities as we now have them are not likely to be able to provide the kind of education that the library service needs.'
This address was given two years after the publication of the Graham report, and things were beginning to move in a different direction from the one that he preferred. By this time Alley was no longer able to influence the course of events, but it was by no means clear what course that they would take.
What should happen about rural library service and service to smaller centres was equally unclear. After the failure in the early 1960s to persuade local authorities in the lower North Island to commit themselves to a regional organisation for library service, Alley had virtually wiped his hands of attempts to revive this approach to the problem of ensuring full coverage of library service to rural areas. In part his attitude reflected a realistic acceptance of the fact that only when local authorities were co-operating for other services also were they likely to co-operate for library service throughout the whole country, and, as Helen Sullivan (Coway), who was page 424director of the extension division of the National Library at this time, has said, 'In this difficult climate we looked for ways to improve and use the services in operation rather than scrapping them.'22 There was, in Alley's view, a danger that too great an emphasis on substituting local or regional control, before the whole local authority system had been reformed, for the centrally controlled Country Library Service could result in the loss, with no replacement, of an organisation which, with all its limitations, had been popular and successful. Nevertheless, one must also say that his possessiveness did give the impression that, even if local body reform did miraculously happen, he would not be prepared to support the inclusion of library services in a new, locally or regionally organised, system.
These matters have been comprehensively dealt with by Mary Ronnie in her careful (and 'regionally' oriented) survey of the continuing discussions within the library world, Books to the People. In 1993, when this book was written, she observed, 'It now seems certain that the search by the New Zealand Library Association for a regional system for New Zealand is over: like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow it is forever elusive.'23 But in the early 1970s there had been another burst of hopeful activity. The short-lived third Labour government of 1972–75 set out to strengthen the power of the Local Government Commission with the aim of establishing various types of combined authorities; the NZLA made a submission to the commission recommending the integration of public libraries into regional sytems;24 and the National Library organised a two-day seminar which was held in Porirua, under the auspices of the Trustees, in October 1974, to 'consider the future pattern of public library service in New Zealand, having regard, especially, to the implementation of the proposals for change in the structure of local government … the role of public libraries in the community: comparative roles of local and central government in provision of public library service'.25
The Porirua seminar was not a great success. Alley was one of 23 people who were invited to take part, including members of the Trustees, librarians from town and country and representatives of local government, but there was no specific, concrete project for them to consider and much of the talk was simply repetition of what various people had said over many years previously. The report of the meeting did not create any waves, and in any case proposals for local government reform faded with the election of the Muldoon government in 1975.
Writing later about the seminar, Helen Sullivan (Coway [sic]) said her recollection was of 'some good discussion but also some undercurrents that were not resolved. Perhaps we had invited a range of interests that was too wide to be handled in the time. The contribution from the librarians was predictable and I don't think any people altered their attitudes.'26 Mary page 425Ronnie, who attended as the Dunedin city librarian, has called the report of the meeting a 'bland document' which revealed nothing of the sometimes sharp differences, and she noted an absolute conviction, 'which I was later to hear publicly expressed by Geoffrey Alley, that the Country Library Service would do it better, just as the School Library Service could do it better than any public library'. Summing up her account, Ronnie wrote: 'As one of those in attendance I can record the feelings of frustration with which I finished the Seminar exercise. Having been trained in an institution where changes were a part of life, the fixed attitude of conservatism within the National Library group was dispiriting. Proposals for change were taken as criticism of the past and present rather than response to a changing world. I returned thankfully to Dunedin'.27
As August 1975, the date of David McIntosh's retirement, approached, the State Services Commission set up the kind of selection panel that was prescribed for heads of government departments and similar positions, to recommend the appointment of the next national librarian. Alister McIntosh, as chairman of the Trustees of the National Library, was attached to it, and he took this assignment very seriously indeed; in fact, he seems to have made the running, both within the panel and in discussions with the chairman of the SSC, R.M. (Robin) Williams, and they all obviously decided that the decision should not be hastily made. In his last 'Notes from the National Library', David McIntosh reported that the commission had informed him that it had not yet been able to appoint his successor as it still had some inquiries to make, and that P.E. (Paul) Richardson, who had been deputy national librarian from 1972 and, before that, executive officer of the National Library, would take over temporarily as acting national librarian.28
In the meantime, Alister McIntosh and Williams had been very active. Clearly, there had been no applications which satisfied them, so they embarked on a headhunting programme. McIntosh first approached McEldowney, who had been spoken of as an attractive possibility, but found that he had his own 25-year development programme which he was not prepared to abandon. They then consulted McEldowney (as well as others, no doubt) about other possibilities, one after another, and he gave his opinion and also suggested the names of other people who should be consulted in each case. For one reason or another there was no progress until, one day, Williams rang and said, 'Alister has suggested we should look at Mary Ronnie,' and McEldowney said, 'That could be the answer.' He was then given the job of tracking her down, because she was in the wilds of Scotland pursuing her interest in Scottish country dancing. When she was found, she was invited to meet McIntosh and Williams as soon as she returned. At this meeting McIntosh asked searching questions about page 426how she would handle various problems faced by the National Library, and especially those facing the Country Library Service, and in the light of her answers said, 'You might be just the person we want.'29 She was then introduced to the selection panel, and after talking to them was offered the position. Ronnie, who had not thought of herself as a possible national librarian, was daunted by the prospect. She refused the offer at first, but, encouraged by senior colleagues, then decided to accept it. Her appointment as national librarian, with effect from 1 March 1976, was announced some time later.30
Mary Ronnie's appointment as national librarian was enthusiastically received throughout the library profession. Born in Scotland in 1926, she emigrated to New Zealand with her family at the age of 10, but she took pains to preserve her down-to-earth Scottish personality and accent while becoming a genuine Kiwi of the southern kind.31 She worked in most parts of the Dunedin Public Library from 1944 to 1976, being city librarian from 1968. She qualified for the NZLA certificate in 1946, but then completed her university degree and attended the Library School and gained its diploma in 1952. As City Librarian she maintained close and cordial relations with the University of Otago library, and she was elected to the council of the University of Otago by its court of convocation in 1974. She was active in the NZLA, of which she was elected president in 1973, and in promoting the association's policies. When she stood, with five others, for one of three vacant personal-member seats on the council of the NZLA at the end of 1974, she topped the poll with 515 votes, well ahead of the next most favoured candidate, who received 282.32 There was no doubt about her mandate. Those who doubted the wisdom of her appointment tended to be those who were suspicious of the Otago resistance to centralising government policies based on Wellington, and Alley was one of the doubters.
Alister McIntosh, on the other hand, showed in many ways that he had no doubt of the wisdom of the choice of Ronnie as the fourth national librarian to be appointed, and the third since the passing of the National Library Act. For a while after she took up her position he accompanied her to meetings with the minister of education and to Cabinet and other committee meetings, where Ronnie noted the enormous respect in which senior public servants held him – so much so that she almost expected them to genuflect when he entered the room. After he was satisfied that she had learned the ropes he left her to deal with such occasions, but he visited her often in her office, and even at home, since they lived in the same street. 'He never failed to listen,' she has said, 'to advise, to come with me and argue when I needed him; and to be philosophical of ups and downs.'33 She was fortunate to have McIntosh as chairman of the Trustees until his page 427death in November 1978, but she was also fortunate in being able, until the end of 1978, to deal with a minister of education, Les Gandar, who was probably the best holder of that portfolio since Peter Fraser.
In the wider library world, Ronnie as national librarian was generally felt as a breath of fresh air. She continued David McIntosh's good work in taking every opportunity to meet and talk openly with librarians of all kinds and in many contexts. It was noticeable, for instance, that when she attended, as an ex officio member, meetings of the standing committee on library resources of the Vice-chancellors' Committee, she was the first national librarian who seemed to enjoy the experience and who took an active role in its discussions. Public librarians have said that she gave the same impression when she met their groups. She was well received in branches of the NZLA where, again, she was 'one of us'. In this way she was a success from the start, but she also had to try to deal with problems within the National Library which had built up over quite a long time, and which called for a combination of firmness and diplomacy and had the potential to make her incumbency personally difficult and demanding.
Early in her time in Wellington Ronnie began a programme of examining the National Library's activities, which was made more urgent by one of the country's recurring economic crises. Among other things, she began to look at the functions of the Country Library Service and possible alternative ways of ensuring that its services could be continued and enhanced if the smaller local authorities could be, or wanted to be, more involved. At one point during these investigations, Paul Richardson, who was again deputy national librarian, pointed out that the cost of the CLS van service was about the same as the reduction in the National Library's budget that was currently being proposed, and they decided to draw this to the attention of the budgetary authorities, after doing some preliminary work on what would be involved in shifting the cost to local government. As Ronnie has pointed out, there was in fact no reduction in the National Library's vote by the conclusion of this round, so that the tactic could have been said to have been successful,34 but it is possible that, tactically, she had failed fully to recognise the sensitivity of this particular issue. When Alley was given a version of what had been going on he was enraged, and he remained in a state of paranoia about Ronnie as long as she was national librarian. He referred to her as 'the disaster from Dunedin', and said that McIntosh was greatly upset by what Ronnie was doing,35 though Ronnie has said that at no time did McIntosh ever indicate displeasure over the issue. Ronnie's motive in raising a number of pertinent questions was to convey to CLS staff that they needed to think about the future of rural library service so as to accommodate changes in society which had occurred or might occur in the future. And her premonitions of trouble ahead were confirmed when page 428wholesale changes engulfed the public service in the late 1980s – but by then she was no longer there.
Ronnie also became closely involved in the final moves to establish a library school at Victoria University. In 1977 Gandar, as minister of education, appointed her to the Victoria University council as a ministerial appointee, and just at this time the university established another of its series of committees to try to make progress on this matter. Chaired by Don McKenzie, it also included David Wylie, who was convener of the NZLA's education committee as well as being deputy university librarian, and Ronnie. This committee, helped by a minister who understood what it was all about, steered the university through the shoals that had trapped previous attempts. The requisite decisions were made, Gandar made his announcement on 24 April 1978, and the appointment of Roderick Cave, of Loughborough, as professor of librarianship was announced in December 1978.36 Cave later said that 'without the Ronnie/McKenzie alliance it would never have happened'.37
This sudden burst of energy was very satisfactory, even though Treasury's ready agreement with the proposal was influenced not so much by principle as by the fact that the National Library's school was housed in space for which the lease was not renewable after 1979.38 But there were still several unanswered questions which would have to be tackled later. For instance, although Victoria had clearly still not been prepared to accept the concept of an institution dealing with all levels of library education, the arguments in favour of such a solution, including the advantages of a 'critical mass' of staffing, had been cast aside rather than considered carefully and then rejected. The position of the certificate course was therefore ambiguous. It ended up in the Wellington Teachers' College, rather than in a polytechnic as originally proposed by the NZLA, in pursuance of an idea, long held by members of the Department of Education, that the role of the teachers' colleges should be expanded and enhanced, but it was by no means certain that the college understood the relative roles of the professional and intermediate levels. When the proposal which was adopted went to Cabinet, Ronnie commented, 'I'm very pleased with VUW attitude but concerned about aggrandisement ideas at Teachers College. Wellington TC is full of airy theorists who do not know what the Cert. NZLA is, and will try to create a degree course out of it if they can.'39
In his response to these developments, Alley's paranoia unfortunately reached a level for which a rational explanation is difficult to find, except as a reaction to his loss of control over events which he was no longer in a position to direct. When he wrote to Jean Whyte in June 1980, he referred to:page 429
the dreadful state of Library Association and Nat. library administration. The female person who is 'acting' as national Librarian is, I think, making a nonsense of it. I went to the last diploma-giving of our 34 year old library school last December – was appalled at the crass and stupid way it was handled. Enuf, enuf! Keyes [Metcalf] has a lot of fascinating comment in the first volume of his Random Recollections of an Anachronism. One of them is that he still thinks the old New York Public Library's library school did better for the students than most of the current library schools, but it is interesting to see his comment nearly 60 years later. I know the local (NZ) move has been a disaster. Instead of a good solid 43 or 44 week year the students are being fobbed off with the univ. 'term' of about 24 or 25 weeks. Of course if there are good people, and there will be, in the class, they will make their own way in their own time.40
Speaking at the ceremony to which Alley referred in this letter, Ronnie celebrated the record of the school which was now being superseded, and of its beginning as part of a remarkable period in New Zealand's library history – an achievement 'which results from the joint effort of a permanent head in strong sympathy with his Minister, in this case the Hon. H.G.R. Mason, Minister of Education, and Geoffrey Alley'. In her peroration she said: 'In its 34 years this Library School has changed our workforce from a well-led but ill-trained group into a strong and competent profession with some notable libraries in its care, and with its eyes on ever-changing future possibilities. Let us not underestimate that achievement.'41 Her implied tribute to Alley reads well in comparison with his comments on her.
Mary Ronnie resigned from the position of national librarian and moved to Auckland at the end of 1981. She had married Peter O'Connor, an Auckland historian, in mid-1981, which was motive enough, but she had also realised that delays to the programme for the National Library building would mean that it would not be completed before she was due to retire, and she thought that her successor should have the opportunity to see it through its final planning stages. Her five and a half years at the National Library had been important, not only because some longstanding problems had been tackled and at least opened up for discussion, but also because she had brought an outside perspective to what had become a somewhat inward-looking organisation. She was succeeded by P.G. (Peter) Scott, a New Zealander who had graduated MLS from the University of Western Ontario in 1970, when Alley was there, and after various library jobs in Canada and New Zealand had been Ronnie's deputy for 11 months in 1981. Alley was delighted. Scott was one of his boys, and now he could relax and finally enjoy a well-earned retirement. He did not know, of course, that the destructive force of the reforms which followed page 430the election of the fourth Labour government in 1984 would have a greater impact on the Country Library Service in Scott's time than anything that he could have imagined Ronnie might do.
Ronnie's later career, which included three years as Auckland's city librarian and five years' teaching at the Graduate Department of Librarianship, Archives, and Records which had been established at Monash University in Melbourne by Jean Whyte, as well as the publication of important research in the fields of regional library service and education for librarianship in New Zealand, showed her to be a much more substantial person than Alley would allow. In particular, her friendship with Jean Whyte was strong and enduring, and it is interesting that both Whyte, in the field of library education, and Alister McIntosh, in the earlier matter of the CLS, were supportive of Ronnie despite Alley's close relations with them and in the face of his hostility to her. Both, probably, decided to let his wrath wash over them without provoking him and without allowing their own opinions to be affected.
The extravagance of Alley's reactions to current events and current people obscures the fact that there was some substance to his concerns. In the case of the Library School he did not allow for the possibility that initial weaknesses of the organisation of Victoria's school might be corrected, or at least ameliorated, and this did happen a little later. Much more important was the fact that there had been profound changes, both in the social and political climate in New Zealand and in the library profession itself, which meant that the context in which the group of strong, far-sighted, and innovative librarians, of which he had been a relatively dominating leader, could make things happen was no longer relevant by the 1970s. By this time a much more diverse lot of younger librarians were taking charge of the library world, without the kind of simple, dedicated focus that their predecessors had had, and without their clear, shared assumptions. It could no longer be assumed, for instance, that everyone would agree on what it was that made a professional librarian, and underlying disagreements on this point alone were beginning to cause some problems. Handling the problems was made difficult by confusion about the nature and standing of the New Zealand Library Association, which for three decades or so had seemed to be, but was not, a professional organisation.
The NZLA was established in 1910 as an association of library authorities, which were typically represented at its meetings by members of the authorities and their senior librarians. Personal members were admitted in 1935, and within a few years effective control of the association had passed to the senior librarians, several of whom had been selected by the Carnegie Corporation of New York for training and experience in modern library practice; and they had a cadre of subordinate but equally enthusiastic page 431followers to support them. One could say that the association was hijacked by these senior librarians, but at the same time one would have to say that the remarkable transformation of library services over the period from the mid-1930s to the mid-1960s would not have been so successfully achieved if they had not taken charge, in one way or another. Their choice, and it was the obvious one, was to work through the NZLA, which came to be seen as a strong and effective professional body – but in fact it was still a mixture of library authorities, professional librarians, library staff, and anyone else who was interested in libraries.
One of the achievements of the NZLA was to establish or promote local programmes of education for librarianship, at two distinct levels: the certificate, for which the programme was designed for school leavers who were working in libraries, and the intensive postgraduate course offered by the New Zealand Library School. Theoretically, these programmes prepared students for distinctly different levels of work and responsibility, but as time went on the distinction was not happily accepted by all library staff. W.L. (Wilfred) Saunders, in his 1987 report42 (which will be referred to later), pointed out that the certificate was 'at a higher level than the technical qualifications that are found in a number of different countries of the world', but that 'although on the face of it the curriculum for the Certificate might appear to have much in common with that for the Diploma [of the Library School], there are differences in approach, level, and treatment that are sufficiently significant to justify the description of the Diploma as a professional qualification, but not the Certificate'.
Saunders was writing in 1987, but in commenting on what he described as 'one of the most divisive issues in New Zealand librarianship' he put his finger on a problem which was troubling the library world by the early 1970s: how to define 'professional' in the context of librarianship. The Graham committee in 1969 drew a clear distinction between the professional staff of a library and 'a group of people with an intermediate level library qualification, to provide support and assistance to the professional staff ',43 and it aligned the two levels with the diploma and the certificate, but some members of the NZLA found the distinction unacceptable. These included idealistic young professionals who, affected by current concerns for the underdog, felt that they themselves, with the advantages conferred by a 'professional' qualification, should not claim superiority over those who had taken a different route and emerged triumphant with a lesser qualification which had been salted with experience.
In 1951, of library staff members listed in Who's Who in New Zealand Libraries, 123 held diploma-level qualifications and 35 were qualified at the certificate level (including in each case foreign qualifications at equivalent levels). By 1971 there were 345 at the diploma level and 346 at certificate, page 432and the balance remained much the same until 1980. The balance was therefore probably about right, if one thought in terms of a professional cadre supported by intermediate staff. But the boundaries were blurred, so that there was a working majority of those who had an intermediate qualification, combined with some who had a professional qualification but did not think it should be counted as a higher one.
At the same time, there was no longer a clear focus, as there had been earlier, on a limited range of important jobs to be done by the library world. When Alley said that, in the old days, 'we did something', he was right. They did. And the things that they did became institutions, and it was the institutions that went on doing those things, using the energies of those who had innovative drive. That does not mean that there was nothing left to do, but the things that needed doing, or needed to be identified and analysed, tended to be more complicated, and many of the best people had their hands full. It was not so easy for ordinary people to attach themselves to leaders or to become leaders.
Alley himself was not pre-eminent as an ideas man. Many of his achievements came from the ideas of others – John Barr, for example, who made the first strong contact with the Carnegie Corporation; Alister McIntosh on rural library service and the subsequent expansion of the role of the Country Library Service; Collins on the creation of the National Library Service; Perry on the drive for a National Library; Harris on bibliographical control; and Bagnall, who knew how to create the National Library Centre. Alley was the one who understood the implications of the ideas and, with his administrative ability, his immense mana, and his persuasive powers, turned them into structural realities, when, without his contribution, many of them would have ended up in the Good Ideas basket. By the 1970s the ideas men and women were no longer concentrated in one small, cohesive group, and this is why the NZLA seemed to Alley to have lost its way.
In 1970 J.E. (Jim) Traue drew attention in New Zealand Libraries to decisions which had been made in 1961 by the Library Association (London) on its rules, 'to change from a body representative of personal and institutional members to a professional association limiting voting rights and membership of its council to chartered librarians'. He wrote that there seemed to be 'no good constitutional reason why the Association [the NZLA] should not be more active in directly promoting a sense of professional identity; it has the power and the means but seems strangely lacking in will'.44
Traue's concerns were shared by a number of librarians who wanted to see the NZLA, or at least a significant part of it, move in the direction that the British association had taken, especially by creating a body to page 433which entry would be by way of a professional qualification and which could examine the issues of the day from a professional viewpoint – and by a 'professional' qualification they meant a postgraduate one. The NZLA was not ready for this. It was not in a suitable state to take bold initiatives, and the state of confusion over the relative standing of the two levels of qualification made it difficult for the question to be considered rationally. Alley himself was ambivalent. Although he had insisted on professional qualifications for professional positions in the National Library Service and the National Library, he would never allow that what he considered to be degrading terms like 'non-professional' or 'technician' should be applied to the certificate which was held by the librarians of the small libraries which were at the centre of his heart, and, although he was no longer in a position to control matters, his influence lingered on.
Nevertheless, the question was not dropped. After Traue's paper, which was part of a symposium marking the NZLA's 60th birthday, was published, he was asked to convene a committee on future organisation which included a number of senior members of the association, and whose report was presented in 1974. The report included a proposal for a professional division which would become the association's main policyrecommending body on technical–professional matters, and its chairman, elected by the division's members, would be a member of the NZLA council. Membership of the division, which came into being in 1976, was open to holders of recognised New Zealand qualifications, including the certificate, or overseas equivalents, which was a step in the right direction but sidestepped the question of what constituted a professional qualification. Its committee included a core of members from the geographical area to which the chairman belonged, with additional members from other areas.
After a stuttering start, the professional division developed gradually into the kind of body envisaged by the committee on future organisation, culminating in a two-year burst of very productive activity in 1984–85, when the chair was occupied by Rosemary Hudson of the University of Otago Library, who assembled and motivated a keen core group of Dunedin members. For a short time the division acted as the NZLA had done in the days that Alley remembered so well, in considering and reporting on matters of professional importance and drawing up policy statements, but then its headquarters moved elsewhere, in accordance with its constitution, and not much was heard of it any more. When the association went through its next reorganisation, in 1989, the division was abolished. It did not fit into the diffuse organisation that the NZLA had become, and it is difficult to see how an effective professional focus could have been maintained at this time without the establishment of an entirely separate professional library association with much more stringent criteria for admission to membership, page 434and the time for this had not yet come. With whatever influence he still had, Alley would probably have resisted this kind of development, and he had not taken care, earlier, to build up a cadre of senior librarians who would think along lines that deviated from what he was used to.
Alley's criticism of the diploma course with which Victoria started its adventure into librarianship, a course of 24 or 25 weeks compared with the Library School's 43 or 44 weeks, was apparently, at the time, fully justified. There had no doubt been constraints of time and other pressures on the new department, but it was tactically unfortunate that Victoria's first move seemed to involve a downgrading of what had been a good introduction to library work. But the establishment of the new diploma was the first in a series of moves which were made fairly quickly, including a master's course in 1981 and the investigation of other initiatives, such as continuing education and the possibility of distance learning.45
Of more concern to many was the apparent ambition of the Wellington Teachers' College (soon to become the Wellington College of Education) to enhance its basic course to make it comparable to Victoria's, instead of being complementary to it. The motivation for this was the fact that, because they could not take time off to attend a full year's professional course in Wellington, an increasing number of library assistants with university degrees had been opting to study for the certificate, which was a block course. They were, as we have noted, taking a course which had been designed for school leavers, but, in the climate of the time, it was only too easy for many to conclude that the qualifications were more or less equal and for the college to promote this belief.
In 1981 a joint advisory committee on librarianship, involving the two teaching institutions, the National Library, and the library profession, was established to consider ongoing problems. A major result of its work was an invitation to Professor W.L. Saunders, emeritus professor of librarianship of the University of Sheffield, 'to evaluate the current training programmes for librarianship available in New Zealand, and to advise on the likely needs for future library and information programmes'. Saunders's report46 was published in 1987 and dealt especially with the situation that he found then, but he covered, and commented cogently and strongly on, many of the questions which had exercised Alley's thinking for a long time (and it has been valuable for treating these questions in this present work). Described by Ronnie as a report which 'was to have considerable significance',47 it repays study as a commentary on an important part of Alley's career, but it still has potential as a guide for future developments. Some of its recommendations which could not be implemented at the time retain their attractiveness for future action. And another thought – the change in education for librarianship in New Zealand from the National page 435Library to teaching institutions might have been beset by problems, but, in the light of the devastation of the public service that was caused by the reforms that followed the election of 1984, it was just as well that it had been moved to safe havens in 1980.
It is easy to be critical of Alley's reactions to the way the library world developed after his active involvement. In his retirement he became increasingly unhappy as the library profession seemed to flounder under unexpected difficulties, and it was a great pity, both for himself and for the profession as a whole, that he was unable to use his mana to help map out the way ahead. But the fact remains that his qualities were ideal for the period in which he became a leader (a leader among a small group of leaders, and the kind of leader they needed in their time), in a very productive period which consolidated a library system which had the capacity to grow, and New Zealand has reason to be grateful for this. He was a master builder rather than an architect, perhaps, but what he built stayed put.
And now, let us return to Upper Hutt and to Alley's last years.