Geoffrey Alley, Librarian: His Life & Work
Chapter 6 — Demonstrations And The Government
Demonstrations And The Government
The years 1935 to 1938 were crucial ones for the development of the New Zealand library system, and also for settling the direction of Alley's career. The effect of the various Carnegie initiatives was to produce a small number of enthusiastic young librarians who were anxious to continue the efforts of those like Barr who had been promoting the need for improvements in library services for several years; the Munn–Barr report, for all its weaknesses, provided a standard to rally around; there was a hunger for post-Depression planning, to make New Zealand a better place to live in, which affected even the tired old Depression government which was still in office in 1935. Added to which, the talented young librarians whose eyes had seen the glory in the United States (and in Harris's case, in Britain) had very small libraries to control and therefore had plenty of time to think of the greater good of society in general.
This period is also a difficult one to write about, because at the beginning every individual had his or her (mostly his) strong ideas about what should be done, so that several different lines of development were being promoted, not all of which could proceed side by side. Hard facts of politics and personalities sorted them out in the end, but it would be impossible to present a clear progression leading from point A in 1935 to point B in 1938 without oversimplifying what actually happened or ignoring the factors which caused one group of results to happen rather than another. It will therefore be necessary, in this chapter, to deal somewhat separately with a number of themes which had lives of their own although they were also intertwined, and to hope that the resolution they ended in will seem to be logical.
At the beginning of the period the Munn–Barr report had highlighted the general inadequacy of library services in New Zealand and, concerning public library service, had proposed a system of district libraries which had not been thought out clearly in relation to the facts of local body government. Ideas put forward earlier by Barr, for the conversion of the General Assembly Library into a national library, with its traditional services page 82to Parliament being augmented by other responsibilities, were also part of the Munn–Barr proposals. These responsibilities were to include both the exploitation of national resources through the maintenance of central records and inter-library loans, decentralised through a system of regional groupings, and also a centrally provided service to rural libraries which would replace the old government subsidies. The Forbes government picked up these proposals in its pre-election statement on its plans for a National Library Service. The importance of circumventing the stultifying effect of the subscription system of public library membership was emphasised by Barr and other librarians with British backgrounds, and the same message was received by those who spent time in the United States on Carnegie fellowships.
The Libraries Association changed its constitution to allow for individual membership, but the effect of this change was not yet obvious in 1935, and the Carnegie Corporation, which was not yet prepared to rely on it for action, had set up its own group to prepare for a Carnegiefunded demonstration of good library service in a selected district. The university libraries had been treated separately by the corporation, which had ensured that each of their librarians had been exposed to overseas study and experience. Further development of the library profession through training depended at this time on the courses of the (British) Library Association.
The key people, those upon whom hopes for the future lay, were very few. In naming them, it is instructive to note their ages in 1935. In the public library field there were Barr (aged 48) and to a lesser extent Norrie (55), together with Dunningham (28) and Norrie's deputy, Perry (27). The General Assembly Library, upon which so many plans depended, was headed by Scholefield (58), but the push for a national library came, within the government service, from his departmental head, Hall (50), and from McIntosh (29). Among the university librarians, those who were most significant in the wider sphere were Collins (26) and Harris (32). That was the lot, though they had an increasing band of followers. Their temperaments varied markedly, from the pragmatic to the visionary. What they had in common, besides membership of a small, close-knit group, was a determination to transform the library system. Alley (32) was not yet one of their number, though he was beginning to identify himself with the library world.
The new grant from the Carnegie Corporation for the Canterbury and Otago experiments in rural adult education became available from the beginning of 1935. It was, as we have seen, made directly to the two colleges through the corporation's special advisory committee, without involving the WEA. The corporation had indicated that it wished the page 83colleges to work more closely together, and it had stated firmly that the new grant, which would be paid annually on a diminishing scale, would not be renewed after this second five-year period.
For the purpose of carrying out the corporation's wishes the two colleges, together with the advisory committee, established an umbrella organisation which they called the Association for Country Education (ACE). This was not blessed with a formal constitution, but it was a vehicle for co-operation between the colleges and for the collection of monies received from individuals and groups who took advantage of the services it provided. Arrangements were made for the home science extension work, provided from Otago, to be extended into Canterbury, and for what the Otago people called 'the cultural extension work', provided from Canterbury, to be extended into the Otago district.1 In contrast to the previous arrangements for co-operation, which were never put into effect, the two experiments now operated throughout the two districts, but independently.
To hold this structure together the ACE appointed an organiser, who was based at Otago but whose salary was shared between Otago and Canterbury. This was Violet Macmillan, who had graduated BHSc from Otago in 1930.2 All the tutors employed under both schemes reported to her on their work, though the conditions of employment of each tutor were controlled by his or her employing college. Alley was appointed by Canterbury University College to a position of senior tutor under the new scheme from 1 February 1935, at £400 per annum, with an extra £100 for travelling expenses.3 In honour of the new organisation he had a bookplate produced which showed a reader in a book-lined room and a view of the Westcote fields through a window.
The ACE's life expectancy was clearly very limited, since its financial situation was such that, if the two experiments were to bear permanent fruit, their work would have to be taken over by established organisations before very long. The Carnegie Corporation had hoped, when it agreed to the new grant, that the New Zealand government would find it possible, as conditions improved, to honour its original agreement to provide matching finance, but there was no sign that the government intended to do so. The fee which the ACE was charging each of its clients amounted to only two shillings and sixpence a year, which would not be likely to take up the financial burden.
In these circumstances it would have been very difficult to provide additional transport for the extension of Canterbury's travelling tutorial work into the Otago district. In a report to the tutorial class committee of the WEA on the five years of the car scheme it had been suggested that, instead of a bookmobile, travelling box libraries should be used, plus coordinated monthly visits by the tutor,4 and this method was adopted for the page 84new scheme from the beginning of 1935. Instead of boxes, though, hampers were used. 'Miss Macmillan,' wrote Alley later, 'had had the opportunity, her father being a member of Parliament, of seeing the service given by the General Assembly Library with the small book hampers used there. She thought they were flexible, light, and stood a considerable amount of knocking about.'5 The contents of the hampers were carefully selected to match the requirements of the study groups, and they were passed on from one group to another. Alley was then able to plan visits to the groups without the distraction of issuing books on the spot. Fifty-one groups were formed during 1935, receiving an average of six and a half hampers each.6 They were spread over an area from Tuatapere in Southland to Hanmer Springs in North Canterbury.
Alley, by this time, was thinking of his work in terms which were more oriented towards library service than the adult-education origins of Shelley's experiment. In a contribution to a newsletter issued by the ACE in July 1935, he set out some points about the ACE library service that needed emphasising:
1. The A.C.E Library is not intended to be a cheap circulating library, by which is meant a book-club with any number of members, town and country, run purely for profit on the one hand and pleasure on the other. There is nothing wrong with either profit or pleasure, in their place, but those responsible for the A.C.E. Library have a wider viewpoint. They consider, and I think rightly, that these times of ours are anxious ones for all thinking people, that one great menace to world peace and the future happiness of mankind is ignorance – the 'don't care, don't know' attitude, and that any library worth its salt must aim to supply food for thought about urgent modern problems. A glance through the Contents List of the A.C.E Hampers will show that all kinds of books are included, Fiction, Adventure, Travel, plus the books that will not usually be found in country libraries. 2. The A.C.E. Library Service is an experiment. Nobody pretends that it is going to give immediate and complete satisfaction to all who join in with it, and in any case there can never be one hundred per cent of people satisfied with any library service, but the majority of reasonable folk in the country districts are liking the Hampers that have reached them. 3. The A.C.E. Library Service will pave the way for a wider and fuller library service that should come in time. Everybody realises that the day of the small country or local library is nearly, if not quite, over. The withdrawal of the Government subsidy has left many of these in a very weak position, and modern transport and roads have improved so much that it would be a simple matter for County and Branch Libraries to page 85operate in New Zealand. Under this system the choice of books available to each person is increased enormously, by instituting a central library that keeps its branches supplied with changes of books.7
Towards the end of 1936 Alley was dealing with some 70 groups and was drawing conclusions from his experiences with them. He had found that, although the ACE library privileges were theoretically open to any member of a rural community, groups tended to remain somewhat 'close corporations': 'It is difficult to get even an intelligent labouring man interested in a Library Group that has been sponsored by a local W.I. or a similar group. The bookmobile used in 1930–34 overcame this drawback.' The hampers, he had decided, were too small to provide sufficient choice, and the location of the books, often in private houses, inhibited their use; schools were better.8
A couple of months later he wrote:
It will be freely admitted that the A.C.E. Hamper Service cannot possibly be regarded as a final solution of the rural library problem in the area being served. In the first place it has no guarantee of permanence, no funds to enable it to do more than it has done, [or] point to a pressing need, and indicate some ways of meeting that need. The funds from the Carnegie Corporation that have been used for rural library purposes in the South Island have enabled a good deal of valuable experience to be gained about the possibilities of book distribution to rural areas, but these funds will shortly cease to be available, and rightly so, for they will have served their purpose, and the problem of giving financial and administrative support for the permanent carrying on of rural library services will inevitably be a domestic one – for the general Government or for the Local Authorities concerned.9
One result of the change from the book van travelling around Canterbury to the hamper service covering a wider area was that Alley was able to make more visits to established libraries, and in Dunedin he was able to observe the transformation which Dunningham had made in the few years since his appointment as city librarian. In reflecting later on Dunningham's influence, he wrote: 'I think Mr Dunningham's demonstration, in the Dunedin Public Library, of the provision and exploitation of a generous range of stock was a turning point in library history in this country. It was obvious to me that the Dunedin people took to this new service, this availability of books in hundreds of different subjects, like ducks to water.'10 And again: 'when I had seen the Dunedin Public Library and had talked with Mr Dunningham, I saw that adult education could best be served by page 86the development of library services on the generous and imaginative scale on which it had been launched in Dunedin'.11
When F.P. Keppel, the president of the Carnegie Corporation, visited Wellington in January 1935, McIntosh gave him a document in which he had set out his ideas on a demonstration, based on the Munn–Barr recommendations, of rural library service.12 He thought that a preliminary stage should occupy 1936–37 and the actual demonstration 1938–43, the ultimate aim being to achieve an efficient National Library Service. Such a service should be free of the constraint of subscriptions; it would need better funding than was possible under existing rating limitations; it should provide equal facilities for town and country; and the government should provide sufficient money over and above local funds to make the system efficient. 'Best means of achieving this – by a demonstration – with the Carnegie Corporation temporarily acting in place of Government.' McIntosh also urged the need for the Library Association to be reorganised to become a professional body with a two-fold educational function: (a) to educate librarians in their own technical sphere, and (b) to educate public opinion in all matters of library interest.
It was on the basis of this document that Keppel asked Barr to convene the Carnegie Library Group, with the task of preparing plans for a rural library demonstration. At the first meeting of the group, which was held on 16 April 1935, it was agreed that the Taranaki district would be a suitable one. Barr wanted to press right on with the demonstration, but Hall and McIntosh thought that a preliminary survey of the demonstration area should be undertaken, followed by the drafting of a scheme suitable to New Zealand conditions, one which it would be possible for local bodies to accept and which would also be within the scope of the government to finance. Munn and Barr, wrote McIntosh, 'expect to achieve this objective by an amalgamation of counties and the institution of a scheme similar to the English County system, but for local reasons this is not practicable. The English County system was taken over by the administrative county which has a long tradition of social service, an existing fabric of administrative machinery, and large sums of revenue. New Zealand counties are entirely different and very puny in comparison. … They have only one real function – that of tending the secondary roads.'13
The group agreed that a preliminary survey of the Taranaki district should be undertaken, but progress beyond that point was slow, since the next necessary step was to clarify various issues relating to the ultimate objective of the proposed demonstration itself. This was the time when McIntosh and Hall were helping the prime minister (Forbes) to prepare the government's proposals for a National Library Service which would start with a service to rural libraries. It was also a year which started with page 87high hopes for reform of local body government, later to be abandoned as too difficult; and in which the prime minister had asked Scholefield, while he was overseas, to look into the matter of rural library service, which, it was assumed, would be based on the General Assembly Library.
Once the decision to make a preliminary survey was reached, it was assumed that McIntosh would do it, but he became increasingly busy in the Prime Minister's Department, and when a by-election became necessary in the Lyttelton electorate he told Barr that he would not be available. To replace himself he suggested E.H. McCormick, who was closely associated with Dunningham at that time, or 'that man who did the Canterbury Travelling Library'.14 Barr doubted whether McCormick could work with hard-headed cockies in Taranaki; in Alley's case, he had been impressed by his thesis, 'but Bell told me when we met in Wellington that he is not suitable for library work'.15
So matters rested while preliminary discussions on the preliminary survey dragged on, though in October 1935, after Forbes had announced his government's plans, Violet Macmillan wrote to Barr, as convener of what she called 'the organising committee', offering the assistance of the ACE: 'I feel that we may have helpful advice to offer as from 1929 to 1935 our Librarian, Mr. G.T. Alley, M.A., conducted an itinerant library service, travelling with a van of books over large areas of Canterbury, and this year he has inaugurated a service whereby local branches throughout the provinces of Canterbury, Otago and Southland receive sets of books at monthly intervals.'16
On 1 December 1935 a meeting of the group agreed to a set of proposals for the objectives to be achieved by a library demonstration, of which these were the main points:
(a) The group accepted generally the recommendations of the Munn-Barr report (which had the effect of excluding New Plymouth, the main centre, a fatal flaw). (b) It was desirable for library service to remain the function of local bodies, but it would be essential for the government to give financial assistance. (c) 'Until larger units of local administration are formed, local bodies should, for library purposes, form voluntary groups on a co-operative basis. In the present state of public opinion alone it would be unwise to create a special library district with the necessary rating and other powers or to combine existing local authorities compulsorily.' (d) A district depository containing books for loan to local authorities would act as the co-ordinating centre. (e) 'Government control and direction should come through the National Library.'page 88 (f) The co-operative area would be directed by a central depository under a trained librarian appointed by and responsible to the national library. (g) Stocks would be distributed through existing libraries and through various voluntary organisations, as well as by bookmobile, cartage services, and mail. (h) Books provided to the libraries and groups should be lent to the public free.
The objects of the demonstration would be to show people in the country districts what library service was; to show the government the advantages of such a system; and to work out in detail the problems connected with a service which it was hoped would ultimately cover all rural districts of New Zealand.17
The election of 27 November 1935, which brought a new Labour administration into power, was not such a shock to those who had worked for the Forbes administration as it might have been. The new ministers were well known to their public servants, and Peter Fraser, the minister of education, who had been a member of the parliamentary library committee since 1920 and had a wide acquaintanceship in literary and intellectual circles, was a good friend of both Hall and McIntosh.
Moreover, the attitude of Forbes and his colleagues towards library matters had been liberal and forward-looking, so that what the Carnegie Library Group could reasonably expect would be an intensification rather than a change of policy. Fraser was one of those Labour people who had used libraries to educate themselves, and he was the one who later adopted a general statement on educational policy, drafted for him by C.E. Beeby but clearly expressing his own views, which began with this sentence: 'The Government's objective, broadly expressed, is that every person, whatever his level of academic ability, whether he be rich or poor, whether he live in town or country, has a right, as a citizen, to a free education of the kind for which he is best fitted and to the fullest extent of his powers.'18
Fraser was, however, a canny and honest politician who was not prepared to make promises before he was sure that he could carry them out. Even in 1937, speaking at the conference of the NZLA, he declined to announce a policy on libraries. 'The Government will announce its policy in due course,' he said, 'but again, for very obvious reasons, the question of the extension of libraries, of the national library scheme, of circulating libraries – all that has had to be postponed because of more urgent matters. … It would be almost cynical, when people asked for bread, to present them with books.'19
What most of those who attended that conference did not know was that Fraser had been considering library matters very carefully, and was page 89near the point of making his first moves. As early as January 1936 he had asked McIntosh to report to him on steps that had been taken towards instituting a national scheme of library reorganisation. Attached to his response, McIntosh gave him a copy of the recommendations agreed to by the Carnegie Library Group on 1 December 1935, Forbes's statement (memorandum no.34) and Hall's minute to Forbes on which it was based, and relevant extracts from the Munn–Barr report, and he drew Fraser's attention to the inquiry which Forbes had 'instructed' Scholefield to undertake.
In his accompanying comments McIntosh said:
But Mr. Forbes's scheme was only to be a transition stage, and we regarded it as a 'stop-gap' until the demonstration, which we were endeavouring to persuade the Carnegie Corporation to undertake, should have been tried, and would have shown the ultimate scheme which should be adopted for the whole of the Dominion. Briefly, under Mr. Forbes's scheme the General Assembly Library was to have attached to it a lending section for small rural libraries and for isolated individuals in the country. The Carnegie Corporation demonstration area was to serve a particular district on model lines and was to work out all the problems connected with such a service. Both schemes were to be undertaken simultaneously but by the time the five-year demonstration period had finished it was anticipated that the central scheme would be getting too big and would have to be decentralised on the lines that the demonstration would have indicated.
In dealing with more specific issues, McIntosh said that there were 'still a number of topics which have not yet been considered. For example, the question of school libraries and the Canterbury travelling library, to mention only two.'20
Scholefield's report (requested by Forbes) endorsed the general thrust of the Munn–Barr recommendations on rural and district libraries and on the development of a service attached to the General Assembly Library. McIntosh thought it was excellent as a description of systems which operated abroad, but he considered that Scholefield had missed the point of the differences between the local body systems in New Zealand and overseas. In particular, McIntosh disagreed with Scholefield's proposal that the law should be amended to extend to counties the power to raise library rates: 'I would like to say quite definitely that it is not practicable or possible for the counties in New Zealand to raise sufficient money for library purposes from rates.'21 In writing to Barr, McIntosh said that, in saying that nothing could be done until boroughs got power to raise their library rates in order to make their libraries free and until the counties were page 90given power to strike library rates, Scholefield was starting from the wrong end: 'Help must be given nationally rather than locally.'22
Scholefield's report was printed as an official paper23 and has been referred to often as a landmark document, but in fact it had very little influence on the course of events except in helping to make the topic respectable. Scholefield himself deferred to the ideas which were being developed by the Carnegie Library Group,24 and he was added to the group in February 1936.
Meanwhile, attempts to find a Taranaki surveyor to replace McIntosh continued. Bell offered his services, to the consternation of other members of the group; Barr said he would not be able to do it, and no one tried to persuade him to give it a go.25 Finally, McIntosh, Norrie, and Scholefield all suggested that Alley should be invited to attend a meeting of the group that had been scheduled for 1 August 1936 in order to give his views on rural library service (and so that he could be looked over for possible longer-term use).26 Immediately after this meeting the group invited Alley to undertake the Taranaki survey,27 which he did in a period of six weeks from the beginning of October after being briefed by Barr, McIntosh, and Dunningham.
Alley's task was to explain the advantages of a modern rural library system to as many interested persons, groups, and local authorities in Taranaki as possible, basing his approach on the Munn–Barr recommendations and on the policy document which the group had agreed upon on 1 December 1935; to gather the kind of information that would be needed in planning a demonstration; and to try to get from the local authorities an assurance of financial support if a demonstration were arranged. The proposal that he put to the local authorities was that service to borrowers should be free, and that the authorities should pay nothing in the first year, 10 per cent of an estimated cost of one shilling per head of population in the second, third and fourth years, and 50 per cent in the fifth year of the demonstration. He did not have to spell out what would happen after the fifth year, since that would depend on the success of the demonstration, as well as on moves which might be made by the government in the future. It was a very intensive programme for Alley, and by 8 November he was writing to Barr about the onset of 'complete exhaustion',28 but his personality and impressive presence ensured that his approaches were taken very seriously by the Taranaki people. He returned to Christchurch on 22 November, and his report,29 dated 21 January 1937, was made public before the conference of the NZLA which was held the next month.
In his report Alley described the library situation in each local authority area and set out the reaction of each authority to his proposals. In the case of Egmont county and its independent town district, Opunake, for page 91instance, he found that the Opunake library had a proportion of attractive and well-selected non-fiction which was higher than in most libraries of similar size, but very few reference books and only minimal provision for children. The extent of the problem he was uncovering is indicated by the fact that there were only 78 subscribers, of whom 20 were county residents, from a population of 4588 in the county and 1059 in the town district. 'A district library scheme would suit the Opunake library admirably,' he wrote, 'but the Town Board has not yet been able to see this.'30
A summary of the reactions of the local authorities showed that about onethird approved of the proposals, a slightly higher number were undecided or doubtful, and the rest (including Egmont/Opunake) rejected them. To an optimist, hope would have come from two-thirds of the respondents; but a pessimist could also have found confirmation of his fears from two-thirds. A table in which Alley set out the density of population and the number of dairy cows per 100 acres in 11 counties, compared with their reception of the proposals, was quite inconclusive, which was probably a useful piece of information in itself.31
To round out the report, Alley outlined a possible Taranaki rural library scheme, including the location of the district headquarters, the means of distribution of the district book supply, the type of book to be supplied, and the special needs of children and of Maori readers.32 He concluded this section by saying that the project would be feasible 'on the mechanical side', but he added a final comment which could have been taken as a warning: 'The only difficulties are administrative – who shall be responsible? It would be a melancholy reflection that no administrative framework can be found for so desirable a building.'33 This warning, which was a crucial one, was added almost as an afterthought, but it highlighted major flaws in the Munn–Barr approach: the vain hope that small, independent counties could be persuaded to co-operate for what they saw as a minor project and to stay co-operating through thick and thin; and, in addition, the absence from the whole scheme of the major library authority in the district, in this case New Plymouth.
To Barr, who looked forward to overseeing a demonstration on behalf of the Carnegie Corporation, the report was a signal to go ahead with plans and with the preparation of a case for financial support from the corporation. Scholefield was benignly disposed towards the possible eventual involvement of the General Assembly Library in any future rural library developments, while emphasising that his main responsibility must be to serve the needs of members of Parliament. Dunningham was busy working out a framework for regional and district schemes which would involve all kinds of libraries in all parts of the country and co-ordinate all kinds of library service in all kinds of ways, and to him such minor page 92administrative concerns would hardly have been hurdles. But what of Hall and McIntosh, who were acutely aware of political realities? Alley's afterthought would have been, for them, a strong warning indeed.
Hall and McIntosh had a very clear vision of a library system which, they assumed, would be part of a national library developed on the foundations of the General Assembly Library, and which would eventually include much more than a rural library service. Their ideas were no less ambitious than those of the more visionary members of the library community, but they differed from Dunningham, in particular, in certain important respects: they could not see how the weak New Zealand local authority system, which was the root cause of the strong tradition of centralisation in political and administrative thinking, could be overcome for library purposes except as part of a wholesale reform of local body government; they thought that the politicians they dealt with would be more likely to accept a step-by-step approach than the sudden adoption of a grand national scheme; and they wanted firm administrative structures to be put in place for each step.
After Alley returned to Christchurch he wrote that 'the Survey has produced, on my part, fresh understanding of the rural library problem in New Zealand, and I hope that some of the many things I have learned may be used for the benefit of the A.C.E. Library Service in the future. I hope … that there will be an opportunity for me to submit plans for the improvement of the existing A.C.E. Library Service, along lines that would make the ultimate goal of a nation-wide scheme in New Zealand more readily attainable.'34
It was at about this time that Alley formally associated himself with the newly reconstituted New Zealand Library Association, which was quickly becoming the focus of activity for those Carnegie-inspired librarians who wanted urgently to transform the library system of New Zealand.35 The council of the association from 1935 included Barr, Bell, Dunningham, Norrie, Perry, and Scholefield, who were joined in 1937 by Collins, Hall, and Harris, and by C.R.H. (Clyde) Taylor of the Alexander Turnbull Library. Between 1935 and 1937 societies of librarians were formed in the four main centres and then became branches of the NZLA. Alley was elected deputy chairman of the Canterbury branch on 5 April 1937.36
The conference of the NZLA which was held in Wellington in February 1937 was the first of its post-reform era. The association's official history says that it was at this conference that 'the Association came right',37 and it was from this point that it entered a period in which major issues in librarianship were debated at its meetings by those who were in a position to formulate policies and then either implement them themselves or try to persuade their employers to put them into effect. The list of the association's members was still predominantly made up of library institutions, librarians page 93being mainly members of the newly-affiliated branches, but it was the librarians who began to take charge. At the 1937 conference, committees were set up on bibliography, library training, inter-library loans, school and children's libraries, fiction policy in public libraries, and librarians' salaries, conditions and qualifications.38 Alley was appointed to the committee on inter-library loans, convened by Collins, which recommended in May 1937 that the NZLA sponsor a scheme, pioneered in 1936 by the university libraries,39 for lending between libraries which could meet criteria of reciprocal advantage – initially, libraries would send requests directly to each other, but 'When there is a national library and regional headquarters, with regional and national union catalogues, these centres should assume responsibility for inter-library loans.'40
The theme of the 1937 conference was 'A National Library System for New Zealand'. When Hall spoke to it he gave some thoughts on a national scheme in general; Scholefield spoke on the place of the General Assembly Library in a national system, Barr on rural libraries, and Dunningham on the city library. Alley followed these speakers (and a business session which intervened) with an address on country libraries and their problems41 which, as we see it now in print, was more practical and more focused than any of the others. He identified three main types of country library: '(1) the library serving a borough, (2) the library serving a town district, and (3) the small isolated country library which is generally an independent concern with a handful of subscribers'. All three types, he said, must inevitably suffer from a chronic shortage of books due to the smallness of the administrative unit, but in the case of the first two categories there was the possibility of demonstrating improvements in library service before the eyes of their local authorities. The case of the third category was very different because of the great difficulty of interesting a county authority in their doings.
'It is this derelict type of small country library,' Alley said, 'that is the most unsatisfactory feature of our rural library problem, for it attracts sympathy from the general government while it is considered hopeless by those who know its limitations. Even with grants of money or books it must remain unsatisfactory, often badly housed, inefficiently administered – a dead end in a wilderness. … Its salvation can only come from its participation in a planned district system, plus the direction and, I hope, the sympathetic understanding of a specialist district librarian. It must command respect, not only from the people who will use it liberally, but also from the responsible local authority … and the general government, who will then support it liberally, or rather the system of which it forms a part.'
Alley then went on to talk of the sociological environment in which page 94rural libraries had to operate, and the need for them to be able to respond to the cultural and informational requirements of rural people. He spoke of 'the extraordinary vision and drive of John Cotton Dana, who, when he took control at Newark, saw so clearly the role he wanted this library to play as a dynamic force in the community. Not merely more books issued, but better books, issued to more people.' And in speaking of the universality of great literature, to which everyone should have access, he quoted from Shakespeare's Cymbeline:
Fear no more the heat o' the sun
Nor the furious winter's rages;
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone and ta'en thy wages.42
'We who speak English can know and understand him,' said Alley, 'We feel the heat of the sun, and the furious winter's rages.' What was striking about this paper of Alley's was the combination of his appreciation of administrative realities with his sense of the purpose of library service. 'The rural library must be well equipped technically, and it must be soundly administered. … It must, however, so identify itself with every fruitful phase of human activity in its area that it will prove its absolute worth.'
After its conference the NZLA prepared a four-page leaflet, entitled 'National Library System for New Zealand', which was distributed to delegates at the annual conference of the Labour Party early in April 1937. The leaflet covered the need for a national system to provide for the post-school education of the people, specifically including rural and city libraries, the libraries of institutions and societies, and projected developments which would convert the General Assembly Library into a national library. It emphasised the importance of establishing free service, except for the provision of light fiction, from public libraries, and forecast the involvement of the Carnegie Corporation in a demonstration of rural library service.
This was a critical time for decisions to be made which would determine the way in which the library system of the country would develop. From the time of Barr's early conference addresses, through the plans which McIntosh worked out while he was in the United States in the early 1930s, the Munn–Barr report, the Forbes government's statement, and discussions within the NZLA, it had been assumed that national developments would be based on the General Assembly Library, and its chief librarian, Scholefield, tended to use the term 'National Library' interchangeably with his library's official title. All those involved agreed that the rural library problem was the one that most urgently needed attention, but this was seen as one element in page 95a large scheme which would eventually include various mechanisms for building up and recording library holdings and for making them available to the public through a network of agencies. Some, like Dunningham, were drawing up plans for extensive decentralised systems based on regional or district areas. Others, like Hall and McIntosh, were more inclined to build on existing units which had a firm administrative base, and this implied a high degree of centralisation. The National Library idea had not been worked out in any detail – and indeed, it would be many years before the difficult task of defining the term would be tackled. As far as rural libraries were concerned, the concept of a service in kind attached to the General Assembly Library was firmly established, though the Dunninghams would see it eventually being devolved to district agencies; but there was also the prospect of a Carnegie-financed demonstration in the Taranaki area, which would depend for its success on the voluntary co-operation of a number of small local authorities.
Scholefield was obviously a key figure in the plans for the future as they stood in 1936 and early 1937, but Hall and McIntosh had begun to doubt whether he would put his heart into a major revision of the role of his library. The reasons for their doubts were mixed. Scholefield had made no secret of his own priorities, which could have had the effect of a wet blanket, smothering a flame which needed to be coaxed into life; and McIntosh deeply resented the way in which the report he wrote on his return from the United States had been treated. Most of the comment that is available to us comes from McIntosh and needs to be regarded cautiously, even though there is no doubt a good deal of truth in it. Hall is likely to have taken a more measured view, though in the end it would have led him to the same conclusions as McIntosh's.
In his 1933 report McIntosh had, in effect, proposed a drastic revision of the role of the General Assembly Library which, in order to be accepted, would have had to go through many administrative and political hoops. Scholefield refused to pass it on to Hall; he shelved it, and it is quite understandable that he should have done so. In hindsight we can see that McIntosh was remarkably perceptive in the way he thought the national part of the national library system should develop, but the most perceptive of plans has little chance of success if it is sprung on people who are not prepared for it. McIntosh himself had earlier drawn attention, in writing to his American advisers, to the difficulty of dealing with the various bodies 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. As he wrote then, 'no one is responsible, all three can never be brought into unison, and none will surrender "constitutional" rights and privileges'.43 McIntosh moved to the Prime page 96Minister's Department feeling that he had failed to achieve anything in the General Assembly Library (after only two years!) and that Scholefield had frustrated him.
Scholefield, for his part, could be pardoned for finding his brash young staff member a little uncomfortable to live with, but his temperament was equable and he bore no grudges. In 1943, for instance, he regretted that McIntosh would not be available for the post of national librarian, if it were to be created then, 'but that was too good to happen. A man of his stature was bound to be used in a wider sphere.'44 Scholefield was prepared to take part in discussions on an enhanced role for the General Assembly Library, but it was obvious that, when it came to the point, the service to parliamentarians would come first. He was not opposed to the plans of those who would create a national library system, but he was not keen to get on the bandwagon that others wanted him to take charge of. 'The whole thing should have developed around the General Assembly Library, but Scholefield was the main weakness,' said McIntosh in 195945 – but there is no evidence that he set out to frustrate them, either.
Sometime in 1937 Hall and McIntosh decided to drop the idea of using the General Assembly Library as the vehicle for their plans and switched their attention to the creation of a stand-alone organisation, headed by Alley, which would begin by providing a service in kind to replace the subsidies to small rural libraries that had been temporarily abolished, but would be capable of taking on the extra functions which were needed for a national system. They had seen Alley at work on the Taranaki survey and had heard him talking at the 1937 conference of the NZLA. As Dunningham saw it later, 'Up until then Hall and McIntosh had been libraries' contact with government, but here was a person they could act through.'46
It is very likely that the new approach to the overall problem of the development of a National Library Service, let alone a system which would include the creation of library districts, was not thought through at that time. The first priority was to replace the subsidies by a more effective system of government assistance to rural libraries, and Alley was asked, probably by Hall, to draft a proposal for this purpose for submission to the minister of education, Peter Fraser. In carrying out this request he was helped by Dunningham 'one famous weekend when he stayed with me at my mother's home in Christchurch. We went for walks, we talked about the draft, then I put together the outline.'47
The draft was completed in June 1937 and was then presented to a meeting of the council of the NZLA, which was invited to submit it to the minister. After discussing it with a small NZLA committee, Alley sent a revised version to the honorary secretary of the NZLA (Norrie) on 10 July ('this seems to be very good indeed,' minuted Perry), and on 20 July page 97a deputation consisting of Scholefield, Norrie, Dunningham, and Alley, accompanied by Hall and McIntosh, waited on Fraser.
The document, entitled 'Assistance for Country Libraries',48 set out various ways in which country people were currently able to gain access to books – by belonging to a city book club, to a small borough library, or to a small isolated country library financed by subscriptions and able to buy only a few pounds worth of novels yearly. It estimated that at least 80 per cent of country people were without any kind of library service. It then proposed that the government should adopt a policy of assistance to country libraries, of which the two basic features would be (a) skilled assistance to these libraries by a specialist staff in the field and at headquarters, and (b) loan services of books which had been carefully chosen; and it commented that 'Without the services of a capable staff this service of books should not be undertaken.' It recommended that a free service should be given to boroughs and town districts, but that they in return should be required to offer a free service to their inhabitants. A contract service for a small charge should be offered to independent libraries and groups in county districts, which would be required to open their membership to all comers. The mechanics of implementing the proposals were set out in some detail, and the cost for the 1937–38 year was estimated at £3000; for 1938–39, £5500, including £600 for two service vans; and for 1939–40, £4130. A reference and information service would be allowed to grow 'as the need for it became evident'.
The emphasis, in the proposal, on free library service in boroughs and town districts, which followed a major recommendation of the Munn– Barr report, was of particular importance. Equally important, for its longterm implications, was the acceptance in the document of the inability of most counties to provide any kind of library service at all. Although it said that 'ultimately it is hoped that groupings of local authorities for library purposes will make possible a sound "district depository" system by which each contributing unit will be served efficiently from the larger source', this can only be read as a pious hope.
The presentation of the proposal to the minister by the NZLA was a landmark of a kind, too. This was one of the earliest occasions on which the name of the NZLA was attached to a major policy proposal, and the fact that it had been prepared outside the association did not diminish the importance of the occasion. Fraser, who had no doubt been well prepared in advance, accepted it as coming from the NZLA – the first of many such proposals over the years to come. After Cabinet approval, an item appeared in the Estimates for 1937–38 which were laid before the committee of supply on 28 September 1937: Department of Education Subdivision XIV (Miscellaneous Services), Assistance to country libraries, £3000.49 In his page 98accompanying financial statement the minister of finance, Walter Nash, said:
Assistance for country libraries. A scheme is being inaugurated for assisting small libraries in country districts. This will take the form of a regular supply of books from a central source, and will constitute the beginning of a comprehensive national library system. This service will be ready for operation early next year. A sum of £3,000 is to be provided as an initial grant.50
It is not clear when it was decided to attach the new service to the Department of Education, rather than to the General Assembly Library, but Fraser was not just 'sympathetic' to the idea of the proposed scheme; it had become a major interest of his. 'The decision was a Government one,' Alley wrote later, 'but Fraser's part in it was crucial.'51
Alley kept the ACE and its three governing bodies informed of the discussions with the NZLA and the government through his contributions to Violet Macmillan's bimonthly reports, and in the report for August and September 1937 he was able to say that 'The definite promise of assistance to country libraries by the Government in the recent Budget brings nearer the possibility of the A.C.E. library being absorbed into a national scheme on a permanent footing. It can quite definitely be stated that every phase of the experimental library work undertaken by the A.C.E. will be of great value in the proposed developments.'52
Writing in November 1937 on the ACE's programme for 1938, after more details of the government's decision had been released, Macmillan said, 'It would appear … that there is every likelihood that those responsible for the National Library Service will enter into negotiations with the N.Z. Carnegie Advisory Committee with a view to taking over the A.C.E. Library and with it Mr. Alley whose services, I understand, are desired either in the capacity of Librarian in the national scheme, or as Librarian in charge of the proposed Carnegie Library Experiment in Taranaki, should the latter be put into effect.' She speculated on whether the government would take over the whole service and its commitments, and on what terms its books, hampers, and other property should be made over to the new service. Her opinion was that 'although these represent a very considerable outlay, it would be inadvisable to set a price on them, but rather to offer them to the Minister as a nucleus for the new National Library Service, in anticipation of favourable treatment in the future in regard to other activities carried out by the A.C.E.'.53
After some delays which were no doubt due to operational requirements, Fraser convened a meeting to discuss the appointment of an officer-in page 99charge for the new service. Writing to Barr on 12 November 1937, McIntosh said, 'We had no option but to propose the appointment of Alley, who, to a certain extent, is persona grata with Peter Fraser, at least Mr. Fraser knew of him and approved his athletic achievements and his work with the A.C.E.'54 In saying 'no option', McIntosh would have been referring to the fact that time was running out for getting the Country Library Service (CLS) operational in the current financial year, so that it was not possible for a further meeting, including Barr, to be held. N. Lambourne, the director of education, recommended the appointment to the secretary of the Public Service Commission on 22 November.55 Alley was informed of his appointment on 29 November;56 the starting date was 1 December 1937, but this did not raise eyebrows either at Canterbury University College or in the ACE, which knew what was brewing. In fact, the decision seems to have ratified conclusions which had been reached during discussions involving the ACE, Barr's Carnegie Library Group, the NZLA, and Fraser himself.
In recommending the appointment, Lambourne said: 'It is proposed that Mr. Alley should be on the establishment of the Education Department and be seconded to the Legislative Department where he will act under the immediate administrative control of the Clerk of the House [Hall]. The rural library scheme, of which he will be in charge, will, however, come under the control of the Hon. Minister of Education, to whom all matters relating to the scheme will be referred for necessary approval. One of Mr. Alley's first tasks on his appointment will be to submit details of the organization he proposes to set up to carry out the intentions of the Government.'
Those who were present at the meeting which decided on the recommendation were the minister of education, the secretary of the Treasury, the director of education, Scholefield, Hall, McIntosh, and Norrie.57 In writing his memoirs later Scholefield said, 'I always regarded the meeting at which Fraser approved Alley's appointment to take the key post as a red-letter day for New Zealand.'58 The question of the ACE's library assets was satisfactorily resolved when Fraser assured the ACE that its library programme in the South Island would be continued and enhanced, and, with the agreement of the Carnegie Corporation and Canterbury University College, the book stock, catalogues, and hampers were transferred to the government free of cost.59 Another ACE staff member, N.A.J. Barker, who had carried on the ACE work after Alley's departure, was also, at the end of January 1938, appointed to the CLS.60 From the point of view of the ACE, the experiment that had started with the CAR scheme in 1930 had been successful, and success had come before the Carnegie money ran out.page 100
In the second half of November 1937, before his appointment had been legitimised, Alley went on a familiarisation tour of libraries in the northern reaches of the North Island. His notes on visits to 52 boroughs and smaller communities survive,61 and reflect the experience he had gained in his years in Canterbury. Among the more pungent are, of two of the libraries, 'A poor library and a rather complacent attitude', and 'A pathetic survival', but there were rays of light as well. Turua was 'One of the best small libraries I have seen. Run by an independent committee which is jealous of linking up with the County Council'; in Hinuera there was 'Good book selection. Condition of books good. Every effort made to circulate the books. Librarian is wife of local dairy factory manager and she arranges deliveries of books by cream cart.' Tauranga had 'a good library' and at Morrinsville there was 'a progressive library spirit in evidence'. Kaikohe was the jewel in the crown: 'The most interesting library visited on tour. Librarian (Mrs. Moore) and Committee member (Mrs. Orr) in attendance. Library small but administered on good lines. Re-organized 1937 on free library principles. Result is a decided improvement on anything seen. … Munn–Barr report taken as basis of re-organization and quoted as authority for new plan.'
A tour of the southern half of the North Island followed early in 1938, after some of the preliminary work for getting the CLS on the road had been done, including the appointment of staff, the occupation of premises, and arranging for the building of book vans. To get the book vans on the road, prepared for use, was a nightmare, he told a later researcher: 'Every step we took we knew would be binding our successors, or tending to.'62
The most urgent task at the start was to prepare an initial order for books. To do this Alley went to Dunedin from 13 to 18 December 1937, where he was able, with Dunningham's help, to make a list from the actual use, by readers, of a lively book collection. He sent the first part of the list to Hall on 18 December, and Hall referred it to Fraser, who commented: 'The list seems to me to be on the whole a fair one, to meet the tastes of all sorts of readers.'63 It comprised 1138 titles, estimated to cost £468 3s. 8d. sterling, and was sent to the high commissioner in London on 20 December. One can imagine the scramble which must have occurred when the books trickled in, to get them ready for early operations.
The accommodation that was provided for the new service was in the basement of the Parliament building, next to the boilers and below the Maori Affairs Committee Room. Alley later remembered 'walking into the smaller of the two rooms of the basement which had been allotted to this curious new service which Mr Fraser, Mr Hall, and others had brought into being. There was a chair and a table, a little black table, nothing else. The larger room had been used by a committee on fisheries page 101and they had done their report and departed. … They had decided there weren't too many fish around.'64 This accommodation could hardly be called high profile, but then the real impact of the CLS was to be in small communities throughout the country, not in Wellington. Its advantages included proximity to the centre of government, to the minister, and to Hall, to whom Alley had been seconded for a probationary period. The minister, in this case, was one who had the new service close to his heart, and the tradition of direct access by the head of the CLS to him and to his successor, H.G.R. Mason, became firmly entrenched.
Secondment to Hall was a master stroke for the induction of one who knew little of the ways of the public service. Hall had to teach Alley much about the day-to-day things that were done in government, and he taught him well; Alley was always meticulous in his observance of procedures and in maintaining the standards of integrity which were a mark of the public service in Hall's day. More than that, though, Hall and Alley had similar philosophies and were able, in those early days, to discuss the basis of the CLS and the objectives it should seek to achieve. Hall 'wasn't a librarian,' Alley has said, 'but he had very deeply rooted some of the philosophy of librarianship: the idea of access to information, the freedom of the individual to choose … Hall was an older type of civil servant, a person quite literate, quite articulate, a very cultured person in terms of the day … He believed that the strength of a nation lay not in great developments but in the hundreds and hundreds of smaller units and groupings.'65
The Country Library Service was formally inaugurated and declared operational on 30 May 1938 in the presence of members of the Cabinet and representatives of the NZLA, educational institutions, and farmers' and women's organisations. Fraser was there, Hall was there, and Shelley was there. Also present were two book vans which had been built in the Government Railway Workshops.66 J.W. Heenan, under-secretary for internal affairs, wrote, in accepting the invitation to attend and looking some way ahead, that he saw in the new service 'the beginning of the real national library housed in its own noble building, and comprising the present Parliamentary Library, the Turnbull Library, the Country Library Service, and a National Scientific Library'.67 Fraser, who by now was patron of the NZLA, and Hall, who by now was its president, spoke in their official governmental capacities, Hall paying tribute to the help which had been given by the Carnegie Corporation. Prime Minister M.J. Savage and James Shelley also paid appropriate tributes, and Alley said a few words. Altogether, it was a happy occasion.
The CLS began on a small scale, consistent with its origin as a replacement for the old subsidies to small country libraries. By the end of 1938 the book vans were visiting 16 public libraries controlled by borough councils or page 102town boards which had agreed to provide free service to residents (the 'A' service), and 179 small independent subscription libraries in county areas which paid a small fee and agreed to open their doors to all residents (the 'B' service). In addition, provision was made for the supply of books by hamper to small isolated groups ('C' service) and by post to isolated individuals ('D' service).68
Remember those letters, A to D – derived from the planning document of June 1937, they were, and remained as long as the CLS continued, a convenient shorthand for the different types of service.
In his report on the service's first half-year Alley wrote: 'A determined effort has been made to get libraries interested in the many kinds of books to which they have not been accustomed – books on social questions, child study, health, diet and nutrition, games and outdoor sports, music, art, gardening, and many other topics.'69 Fraser's view, given to Parliament in August 1938, was that 'The Country Library Service was one of the greatest educational factors in the Dominion and had succeeded very well as far as it had gone.'70 By the end of 1938 the number of books held by the CLS was 16,533.71 This seems very low by later standards, but at the time it suggested rapid growth.
Before Alley's appointment to establish the CLS his home had been in Christchurch, and it was by no means clear, at the end of 1937, whether the national library plans which were still being developed would involve a Wellington-based organisation, though that did seem likely. Nevertheless, it was prudent not to take any precipitate steps in relocating. For a short time in the mid-1930s Geoff and Euphan had been living in Clyde Road, where, on 30 August 1935, a second daughter, Ruth Christine, was born. But in February 1936 Frederick Alley died, aged 69, and the younger family moved back to Westcote. Frederick was buried in the Waimairi cemetery in Papanui, near his beloved mother. Clara, by this time, had become deeply attached to Westcote; she remained there, 'with her garden, her roses, her orchard, her bees, her ducks, and her memories',72 until her own death, though much of the estate was, in due course, sold to a neighbour, Walter Wright, who married Kath after he had been widowed.
The Alleys' third child, Roderic Martin (known as Rod or Roc), was born on 4 December 1937, in the midst of the excitement of his father's appointment. For the greater part of 1938 Euphan and the children stayed at Westcote with Clara, while Geoff boarded in Wellington, in Thorndon, near Katherine Mansfield's birthplace. Judith, who was then six years old, later remembered vividly his reading to her, on one of his visits to Christchurch, the story of the doll's house and the little lamp, and his description of the Thorndon area.73 So the lives of the Alleys proceeded more or less as they had done, and the CLS began to take on a life of its own, though there still page 103seemed to be a number of possible paths for the New Zealand library system to take in the future and for the CLS to follow.
Rewi made another visit to New Zealand early in 1937 before making a round-the-world trip to inspect factory security systems of relevance to his work in Shanghai. While travelling by rail in the North Island, he was 'met all up the line' by members of the Imperial Legion of Frontiersmen.74 He was disturbed by the possibility that they might turn into the kind of uniformed thugs who were so familiar in the '30s in other countries, even in Britain,75 but it must have been then that the New Zealand branch established a Rewi Alley Fund to help his work in China, to which the 1200 members contributed one shilling each with their subscriptions; these levies continued until 1949.76 Rewi and Geoff paid Joy's subscription to the Left Book Club during Rewi's 1937 trip, after visiting her in Pipiriki, where she was working as a district nurse.77
By the time the New Zealand Library Association met in conference in Nelson from 15 to 18 February 1938, it was a very different organisation from the Libraries Association which Lotus D. Coffman had described in 1931 as 'very ineffective', and which had not yet converted itself into the NZLA at the time of Keppel's visit at the beginning of 1935. Keppel had had good reason to by-pass it in asking Barr to convene the Carnegie Library Group to follow up the Munn–Barr report. Three years later, however, Fraser had been sufficiently impressed by the calibre of several of its new leaders to accept the office of patron, and the election of Hall as president for the 1938–39 year confirmed publicly its enhanced status.
E.J. Bell, who had preceded Hall as president, said in his presidential address: 'I would remind the younger generation that they cannot expect to achieve results all at once. Library development in this land is the result of many years of patient effort, and it is folly to undertake too many schemes until such have been thoroughly investigated and well thought out.'78 But the good keen men and women who made up the younger generation were of a mind to achieve as many results as possible all at once and to work unselfishly to do so. Committees which had been set up in 1937 were working to produce practical solutions to a number of problems, supported by the four branches, in which questions of national policy were debated by members whose seniority in the admittedly tiny profession enabled them to regard the association's concerns as theirs and theirs as the association's. A request to the Carnegie Corporation for financial assistance to establish an office and to help with the promotion of causes such as library training was prepared in 1937 and sent to the corporation early in February 1938,79 and moves were being made to have the association incorporated, so that it could more easily handle an increased level of activity and the funds that would be involved.page 104
The Carnegie Corporation had continued to award travel grants for library purposes during this period. Scholefield and Hall were both chosen once the question of rural library services had come under consideration, and in 1936 Keppel, urged by Ralph Munn, asked Hall to nominate children's librarians to study children's library service at the Carnegie Library School in Pittsburgh.80 Hall, with McIntosh and Scholefield, selected Kathleen Harvey and Dorothy Neal for this specialised assignment, which had an important long-term effect on a depressed area of librarianship in New Zealand: in Alley's view, 'an example of sensible, practical, immediate help for a really poor situation', and an example, too, of 'Ralph Munn's perspicacity, his assessment of the practicalities of the situation'.81
Another important person who was offered a Carnegie fellowship, but was unable to take it up, was Stuart Perry, Norrie's right-hand man but by no means his friend in the Wellington Public Library and the NZLA. Perry felt that Norrie had blocked his chance of accepting the offer, and he had to wait until much later for another opportunity.82
While the moves which led to the establishment of the CLS at the end of 1937 were going ahead, and the NZLA was quickly coming into its own as a body to be taken seriously (and one that might be able to secure Carnegie money), Barr, acting as convener of the Carnegie Library Group, was pressing on with plans for the Taranaki demonstration. In May 1937 Barr and Norrie, like two sea elephants, engaged in a brief territorial dispute. Barr started it by writing to Norrie saying that the association would have to be very careful in making requests to the Carnegie Corporation, since the corporation would have to be satisfied that the association was constituted 'in a manner likely to accomplish definite results … The plan of work for the Association, which the Group has been considering and will be submitted for the Group's approval at the next meeting, would suggest a cautious attitude on the part of the Council to the proposal of an immediate, direct appeal to the Carnegie Corporation for support.' He suggested that the group would carry more weight with the corporation than the association would.83
Norrie, in a four-page reply, said: 'I do not think it is – or ever was – Dr Keppel's intention that the Group should decide for the Library Association where or when it should speak on its own behalf … the Group was placed in the position of an expert body, a deliberative body and a recommending body, leaving the functions of the Association intact'.84 Barr responded in tones of injured innocence, but said that 'The Group, like the Association, is an independent body, and can please itself in the policy it adopts. Keppel insisted on an independent Group, and wouldn't be budged.'85
It was subsequently agreed that the two bodies should keep each other informed of their plans with regard to the Carnegie Corporation, the page 105question of whether either body 'supported', 'endorsed' or merely 'noted' the other's actions being left ambiguous. On 18 June 1937 the group got in first, with a request for £14,640, spread over five years, for a rural demonstration in Taranaki to convince residents and the government of the need to establish a district scheme and to work out problems associated with it.86 The request from the NZLA for support for its expansive programme, which was sent to the corporation in February 1938, amounted to £8305.
There was a rather nice element of farce in the sparring between the association and the group. There had always been, since 1935, a considerable degree of cross-membership between the two bodies, and by 1938 six members of the group (Barr, Bell, Dunningham, Hall, Norrie, and Scholefield) were also members of the NZLA council. Alley, who at one stage was thought of as the one to run the demonstration, joined the NZLA council in 1938, while McIntosh, Keppel's trusted adviser, was a member of the group. The difficulty which no one was prepared to tackle was the determination of Barr, who was not a team man, to maintain his own honoured position, and at first it didn't matter all that much, but it did become a bit embarrassing later.
In November 1937 Munn wrote to Norrie saying:
At the moment I am endeavoring to reach a fair recommendation concerning the demonstration in the New Plymouth area in view of the more recent acceptance by the government of the plan for rural service through the General Assembly Library. I am also told that the New Zealand Library Association is meeting at about this time to make demands upon the Corporation's funds. I am inclined to recommend that a decision on the demonstration be postponed until we hear from the New Zealand Library Association. I can see the hand of McIntosh in the government's favorable action. Certainly it is the most promising event in New Zealand librarianship, and you are fortunate in having McIntosh in his present position. I suspect that he is far more important to you in the Premier's Office than he could be in any library position.87
Then, in February 1938, the NZLA's request for assistance reached the corporation, and Keppel, who had been kept well-informed, especially by McIntosh, of the way things were developing in New Zealand, decided to make a move which would clarify the situation. He wrote to both Norrie and Barr on 22 April to say that the corporation was worried about the prospect of having to finance two large projects, and, after setting out a number of searching questions, suggested that the association and the group should consider them together and submit a joint application for assistance.88 He also arranged for his personal assistant, John Russell, to be page 106in New Zealand while these discussions were going on.
At a combined meeting of the NZLA council and the Carnegie Library Group, held on 17 June 1938, Alley suggested that, in view of the rapid growth of the Country Library Service, the group's request for funds for the Taranaki demonstration could be halved, to £7500, which would allow for a joint request totalling £15,000 to be sent to the corporation. This was agreed to and, on McIntosh's motion, a sub-committee consisting of Alley, Barr, and Hall was set up to draft a resolution which could be shown to Russell and then cabled to the corporation.89
At this point McIntosh and Russell, two buddies who were the real connecting link between the New Zealand library world and the Carnegie Corporation, came up with the idea of including, as part of a grant to the NZLA, the cost of appointing a liaison officer between the NZLA and the CLS,90 who would be attached to the staff of the CLS and would help to promote the rapid changes in library service which both organisations were engaged in. McIntosh also told Alley at this time that 'our retention of the demonstration is evidently calculated to surprise Keppel who considers that it is no longer necessary',91 but in the meantime this was treated as useful background information. The proposal for a liaison officer was included in the re-drafted request, but at the same time it was proposed that the demonstration should be organised and administered by the CLS and financed for three years by the corporation and the local authorities concerned, after which the government should assume financial responsibility in conjunction with the local authorities.
Because the CLS was now an integral part of the whole proposal, the draft request to the corporation was submitted to Fraser, through Alley, for his approval.92 Fraser's response was that the proposals relating to the NZLA application were in order so far as the government was concerned, but that the demonstration project was unnecessary: 'It was the Government's intention to undertake … the establishment of depositories as a normal step in the development of the Country Library Service.'93
The application which was then sent to the corporation was therefore for assistance to the NZLA amounting to £7425 over a period of five years, of which a little less than half was for the employment of the liaison officer, whose duties would include visits to libraries to promote library policies and provide advice, the organisation of correspondence courses and summer schools for the library training committee of the association, the preparation of instructional material and bulletins, and the organisation of voluntary work (for instance, for the compilation of a union list of serials).94 It was signed by Hall, Norrie, and Barr. The Carnegie Corporation responded very quickly by approving a grant to the NZLA of $29,700, which translated into about £7750 at the rate of exchange then current.95page 107
Fraser's pronouncement was a landmark in the development of the CLS and of the library system generally, and much has been made of it, especially in the emphasis which has been placed on Fraser's presumed dislike of the Carnegie name. M.K. Rochester, for instance, has presented his reaction to the draft of the joint request in this way: 'Fraser was still unwilling to accept Carnegie funding';96 and Alley, in his reminiscences, said that in his mind Fraser could not separate the Carnegie Corporation from the Andrew Carnegie of the steel works in Pittsburgh and his conquest of the strikers there: 'So in spite of the very good record of the Carnegie Corporation about which presumably Fraser was less well informed, it really constituted a … serious stumbling block.'97 In the folk memory of the New Zealand library profession is the picture of Fraser being confronted by a scheme in which the CLS would be associated with the old enemy and responding by saying that the government would do it all by extending the scope of the CLS.
This is not how it happened. There is no reason to doubt the reservations Fraser had about the Carnegie name, but he was a shrewd and objective man and, as we have seen, he was in fact very well informed about the corporation's past involvement in New Zealand librarianship and about the plans for a Carnegie-funded demonstration in Taranaki. McIntosh's memorandum of 23 January 1936, compiled at Fraser's request, was very detached and held nothing back, and it is also inconceivable that Hall and McIntosh, whose relations with Fraser were friendly and trusting, would have failed to keep him informed about later developments. It is much more likely that all three, joined by Alley at a later stage, would have discussed the rather complicated moves involving the NZLA, the Carnegie Library Group, and the CLS as they evolved. Furthermore, an extension of the role of the CLS was not a sudden decision: it had been forecast in the announcement of the establishment of the CLS, and it was a more logical way of proceeding than having a developing CLS running in tandem with a separate demonstration.
The real problem was Barr's determination to maintain the role and standing of the Carnegie Library Group long after the reasons for its formation had been overtaken by the renaissance of the NZLA and the establishment of the CLS. This was understood by officials of the Carnegie Corporation, and probably by those members of the group who had become senior members of the NZLA, but they undoubtedly wanted to find a solution which would be acceptable to all parties. Extension of the role of the CLS was one part of the solution; a liaison officer between the CLS and the NZLA was another – and if Fraser's Carnegie-phobia was another which could be suggested as an intractable stumbling block, well, why not? Why deny it? By the time the draft for a joint request which included both page 108the liaison officer and the demonstration had been developed, the CLS had become so central to it that the minister of education had to be asked for his approval, and Fraser's response had the effect of gaining the support of all parties for a straightforward policy based on the CLS. Fraser's objections to Carnegie did not extend to the Carnegie-funded liaison officer, or to hobnobbing between his officials and John Russell, so they cannot have been fundamental ones.
John Barr was happy to put his name to the final scheme, and this was one of the many positive things that he did in his career. He was, of course, the first to raise questions, in conferences of the Libraries Association of New Zealand in the 1920s, which were being dealt with in the 1930s; he was co-author of the Munn–Barr report; and he had a vision of a nationwide library system which others came to adopt as their own. 'It wasn't uncommon for people to think that Barr was outdated,' said Alley, 'but we must remember that he spanned two periods in the library development of the country. … Barr, although physically small, was really head and shoulders above most of his contemporary colleagues, with, of course, the exception of Dunningham and other newcomers.'98 He was also, however, something of a loner, and apt to surprise everyone by making a sudden move which undercut discussions others thought were still proceeding, as when he accepted a Carnegie travel grant at the same time as he and his public library colleagues were discussing who should be nominated for the grant; or when he set out to tell the people of Taranaki that they were going to get a library demonstration before Taranaki had been finally decided upon by the full Carnegie Library Group, only to be restrained by McIntosh at the last minute.99 McIntosh's description of him as 'a slippery little bugger'100 was not without foundation, but it was by no means the whole story.
Barr, in effect, rejoined the mainstream from this point. He was elected president of the NZLA at its conference in February 1939 (nominated by Hall), and in 1944, when he wrote an article to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Munn–Barr survey and report, he called it 'N.Z. Libraries, 1934–44, or, Hasn't it been Fun?'101
The CLS, by the end of 1938, was still a very small organisation but the way to its future had come into view. Alley, whose qualities appealed to Fraser, had begun to establish himself as a major adviser to the government on library matters, taking over part of the role that had been played by Hall and McIntosh. The extension of the scope of the CLS to incorporate the drive towards a better rural library service for which the Taranaki demonstration had been designed was the step which set the lines of development for many years to come, for better or for worse.