Geoffrey Alley, Librarian: His Life & Work
Chapter 9 — Climate Change
Labour, by 1949, was 'a complacent party', as J.C. Beaglehole described it in a much-quoted passage, 'it was a party that feared nothing so much as a new idea … It admired its own past with a passionate admiration. It shied off thought about a possible passionate future with a nervous agitation quite uncontrollable … The awful thing about 1949 was the alternative, however unavoidable it was. The naive, almost childish brutality with which the Chiefs of the National Party fell upon power may seem quite surprising, until one remembers how famished for power they were, and with what an innocency of experience they faced the world about them.'1
The electorate was ready for a change. It was tired of controls which resulted from wartime and post-war shortages and of industrial strife which seemed to be a poor return for years of upheaval and privation, and it sensed that the Labour government, which had done so much to transform New Zealand life, had nothing more to offer. But the question which now confronted those who had been involved in Labour's innovations was how far the new government would want to turn the clock back. At the top political level senior public servants now had to serve a very different group of people. In historian Keith Sinclair's words, 'Fraser and Nash, who had little schooling, were widely read and cared very much for books, the arts, research. Holland [the new prime minister], who had been to high school, gave the impression that he felt he had had enough learning. He was notorious for a cheerful vulgarity.'2
Many of the structural problems which had developed in the country's administration needed the attention of a fresh and vigorous government, but it was also known that there was a hit list of frivolities, from the 'play way' in education to vocational guidance to the national orchestra, which many members of the National Party thought the country would be better off without. The Country Library Service was relatively safe, since it was popular in the country areas which provided a solid core of National members of Parliament, but other parts of the National Library Service did not necessarily share this popularity, even in the minds of those who knew page 208of them. As well, the way in which Alley operated, holding colleagues in the public service at arm's length while dealing directly with his minister, meant that he did not have the intangible support of membership of a network of senior public servants which would have helped him in a period of adjustment. As Jack Hunn saw it, 'he suddenly lost the obvious patronage of Fraser and Mason' and faced the unknown attitude of Holland and the new minister of education.3
For someone in Alley's position the time of changeover was not one when it was safe to be away. In February 1950 he wrote to Whitney H. Shepardson of the Carnegie Corporation, saying that he was still unable to accept the corporation's offer of a travel grant to visit the United States. 'With the change of government last November,' he wrote, 'the prospect of any immediate decision on that question has receded. I am assuming that the Corporation may possibly find it necessary to withdraw its offer of a grant, should acceptance be too long delayed, but please accept my assurance that my inability to accept it so far has been due to circumstances here.'4
The new minister of education was R.M. (Ronald) Algie. The son of a postmaster in rural Southland, he had become in 1920, at the age of 31, Auckland University College's first professor of law. By 1949 he had been a member of Parliament for six years, 'undoubtedly the most effective parliamentary debater of his time'.5 After Holland had announced his ministry, Alister McIntosh, who by now was secretary of external affairs and head of the Prime Minister's Department, wrote to Carl Berendsen, his older mentor who was representing New Zealand in Washington, 'I feel sure that Algie will prove to be so extraordinarily weak and naïve as to be hopeless.'6 This was not one of McIntosh's more inspired judgements; nevertheless, in view of the new government's attitude towards the Labour government's educational initiatives there was cause for concern. Algie, says Beeby, 'was openly suspicious of me as a radical, and our first year together must have been as frustrating for him as it was miserable for me … [but] when we came to know each other better, I found him an excellent minister, a shrewd tactician who managed to get through Cabinet financial approvals that seemed hopeless'.7
Alley also had to be prepared to survive a difficult period with Algie at first, but his work had not attracted the same kind of uninformed hostility as Beeby's. He had the great advantage that Algie had grown up in a bookreading family in rural areas and appreciated what the Country Library Service meant to families of that kind. In addition, as one who had spent much of his leisure time in mountaineering, Algie admired Alley for his physical exploits and prowess. It became apparent fairly soon that, in his allocation of portfolios, Holland had dealt Alley a good hand.page 209
Both Algie and Peter Fraser, who was still patron of the New Zealand Library Association, spoke at the opening of the association's conference in May 1950. After twitting Fraser, who spoke first, for skipping a little too lightly over the achievement of his government in establishing the Country Library Service, Algie said that 'his [Algie's] work took him into many of the remote parts of New Zealand, and he wished that Fraser and his colleagues could hear some of the tributes of downright gratitude from country people for the service they got'. Speaking of a youngster in Arrowtown pursuing some line of investigation which was beyond the power of local resources to help, he said, 'But the library service is at his command to lift him over his first hurdle. He can reach out from a remote village, in effect, into the richest storehouse in his country.' And again: 'If there is any form of education that commends itself to me more than any other, it is the library. Drama is all very well; physical education is excellent, but if you can have a reading community that loves its books, it can be described as a welleducated community. So I see in our library service the greatest possible contribution to adult education.'8
When Algie and Alley appeared on the same platform on library occasions, Algie, who was a little fellow, tended to express his awe of and admiration for Alley as an All Black forward, to Alley's intense embarrassment: Alley 'seemed to turn into an Easter Island monument – inscrutable and immovable'.9 But it was surely worth the pain when the minister got on to other topics.
The section of the National Library Service that Algie had in his sights was, it turned out, the Library School. The school was vulnerable because of its declining enrolments, though its assumption of responsibility for part II of the NZLA's general training course, which was due to take effect in 1952, compensated for some of the shortfall. But Alley was determined to save the school because of its long-term importance for the library profession, and he persuaded Algie to accept the CLS postal service to isolated readers (the 'D' service) as a substitute to be sacrificed to the government's demand for economies to be made. In justifying this recommendation, Alley made much of the fact that the CLS provided aid to many public libraries, which could be expected, in their turn, to provide a service to isolated readers. 'If our ideas on regional service are to mean anything,' he said on one occasion, 'it is obvious that the provision of books for isolated readers is something that should be done locally'10 – though some cynics entertained the unworthy thought that he might not have minded causing a little inconvenience for a group of readers who would tend to be National supporters.
Algie was publicly open about his discussions with Alley about the Library School. When he spoke at the school's graduation ceremony on page 21023 November 1950 he said that when he became minister of education he 'knew nothing about the Library School, and couldn't see that it was necessary; a librarian might be able to recommend a new book, would make a note of its loan, and would send a reminder when it became overdue, but he could not see that a school was necessary to teach those arts. Therefore, when it appeared necessary to reduce expenditure, he had suggested to Mr Alley that the School might be done away with. "Mr Alley had the better of that discussion," he said. Convinced ("against my will") that the School must continue, Mr Algie had spared it, but he warned that other members of Cabinet were still as ignorant as he had been before Mr Alley had undertaken his education.'11 Two years later, at the 1952 graduation ceremony, Algie referred to Alley's advice that the postal service should be discontinued, and said that 'he knew it would be politically unwise to follow this advice, but he followed it nevertheless, and he was convinced that he had done the right thing'.12
Jack Hunn has remarked that any misgivings that Alley may have felt about his new minister would soon have been allayed by 'Algie's strong judicial sense of fair play', but that he may have been somewhat wary at first 'from uncertainty about his rating in the estimation of Beeby as Algie's adviser'.13 This is probably true, as far as Alley was concerned, but other evidence suggests that Beeby was quite happy that the direct access to his minister that Alley had enjoyed under the Labour administration should continue.
To further Algie's education, at least as far as public libraries were concerned, Alley included in his March 1950 annual report a brief chronology of legislation affecting public libraries in New Zealand, with references to other events like the Munn–Barr report and the establishment of the Country Library Service. This was followed by a statement of 'the kinds of work which local authorities would do if they had the funds available and enlightened librarians to advise them'. Under broad headings, he described the public library as an institution which could contribute to family life; should help the community towards fruitful use of leisure time; could be the most valuable instrument of democracy and good citizenship (countering the effects of zealots and propagandists); could sustain and raise the standards of public and social conduct; was the most powerful instrument for sustaining the desire to learn; would help citizen groups involved in drama, music, parent–teacher work and so on; would provide relevant books and periodicals to support the work of farmers and business and professional people; and would present art and imaginative literature in abundance. And the library was the place to go for 'a book to read', though light fiction would not be provided from public funds: 'A service of westerns, detective and romance novels can be given efficiently only on a commercial basis.'page 211
Commenting on this statement, Alley wrote, in a passage clearly designed to reinforce his lessons on the value of the Library School: 'it will always be impossible for a full service to be given until qualified librarians are employed in each centre. Local authorities will not be conscious that a full service is possible until trained people can demonstrate that it is so. When a mediocre service is in operation, demand for a full service seldom makes itself felt. There is the tendency for people to accept whatever is provided for them, without full knowledge of what they may have. There has been an immediate response, however, both from the people as a whole and in local-authority financial support, in those libraries where energetic and enlightened librarians have been directing the service, even after a few weeks' work.'14
Peter Fraser died on 12 December 1950. He may have left the Labour Party 'in some disarray', as Michael Bassett, who was a minister in a very different Labour government in the 1980s, has said,15 but he had been a great minister of education, a great prime minister and a great friend to the library world. The NZLA had acted honourably in re-electing him its patron after the defeat of the Labour government; as J.W. Kealy said, when the proposal was discussed, 'To replace Mr Fraser forthwith as patron of the Association merely because his party lost the last election, might seem a poor reward for the undoubted and valuable help which he has given to the library movement for many years.'16 John Barr wrote that 'His interest in books was lifelong and his belief in their efficacy never failing … He believed that libraries should be universal, that they should be free and that they should be at the service of everyone, young and old, who required them.'17 Writing in 1956, Alley said: 'I am glad that we found the reference we put on the flowers the Association sent to Mr. Fraser's funeral – a quotation from Rabelais which does express the kind of man he was. He would be talking rather forcefully about something, perhaps taking a strong stand, when a book would be mentioned, and his voice and expression would change, and he would quote from the book, and, perhaps, mention several others. On his card was: "His mind among the books like the fire in the heather".'18
Fraser's death meant, symbolically, the end of the very special relationship that had existed, during the 14 years of the first Labour government, between the library profession, the New Zealand Library Association and the government. For all those years all three of the partners had worked together, sometimes disputatiously but with a common objective, to transform and consolidate the library system of the country. By the end of the period Alley's role had become pivotal, but among librarians he was but one of a very talented group, and in his relations with the government he was dealing with people who shared the library profession's aims but were page 212knowledgeable enough not to be misled by false reasoning or self-interested lobbying. Superficially, the system which had developed was one in which the NZLA, in its branches and sections and council, and including Alley as a prominent member, worked out policies, which were then, if government help was needed, put to the government; the government, advised by Alley, then decided which policies it could accept, and the National Library Service, headed by Alley, then helped to implement them. But each of the partners had, in fact, more power and influence than a summary of that kind can indicate, and less ability to influence the others; and the government, of course, held the power of the purse. The whole situation was a most unusual one which depended on a unanimity of purpose, on the part of all three sectors, which could not survive change in any of them. Algie turned out to be a sympathetic minister, but he had not been deeply involved with the library world, and he was not in a position to set the tone of the government's interest in the way that Fraser and Mason had been.
The importance of the NZLA's position in the 1940s is indicated by the fact that a high proportion of its most senior members offered themselves for membership of its council and regarded their membership as a way to participate in directing the library system of the country. The council which took office in May 1950, and which was similar in its composition to those of the preceding decade, included three city librarians (Auckland, Wellington, and Timaru), three of the four university librarians, the heads of the three state libraries, the director of the Library School, three other well-respected librarians, and highly regarded local body councillors from three cities and a borough. These were people who carried weight with a government which shared their aims, and they were also people who could deliver on decisions they had made. When the council met, lesser library folk would hang around outside the meeting room waiting to hear what conclusions it had reached on matters they thought to be crucially important.
There was no sudden change in this situation. In many ways things seemed to go on as they had done for quite a long time, but little cracks began to appear in the edifice. Alley continued to commune with his minister, but could not be so sure that the minister could win his way with the other ministers. Submissions from the NZLA were not so readily endorsed. The position of Alley, standing between the library world and the government, began to seem more anomalous. And – it must be added – as the number of experienced librarians grew and libraries became more varied and specialised and their librarians became increasingly burdened by their own jobs, the old unanimities came under increasing strain. In 1920 the British Empire seemed still to be at the height of its power and influence, but we know now that the weaknesses which eventually led to its page 213dismantling were already beginning to affect it. There is a curious parallel between that empire story and the story of the New Zealand library world in the 20 or 30 years after 1950, and much of the rest of Alley's story is concerned with his reactions to the changing situation.
In 1952 Alley decided that he needed to distance himself publicly from the ambiguities that arose from his being honorary secretary of the NZLA at the same time as his position as director of the National Library Service made him, de facto, the government's main adviser on library matters. In 1947 he had been able to back away, without too much trouble, from his intention to resign the honorary secretaryship, but now the possible consequences of attempts to wear two hats simultaneously were too serious to be taken lightly. He therefore did not stand for re-election to the position in February 1952, but this time he made sure there was a suitable substitute. Mary Fleming, who had been the association's honorary assistant secretary since 1944 (with a break of one year while she was studying in the United States), was elected honorary secretary on 28 February 1952, while Jock McEldowney, who had been editing New Zealand Libraries since 1948, was elected honorary assistant secretary.19 Alley was elected an honorary life member of the association at its annual meeting on 28 February 1952.20
Fleming and McEldowney were, of course, Alley's surrogates, and no one pretended that they were not, but Alley's mana within the NZLA was so strong at this time (and remained so for at least another decade) that there was very little opposition to his continuing to influence its governance. It is fair to say, though, that neither Fleming nor McEldowney was simply a puppet. They shared most of Alley's attitudes and assumptions, to be sure, but then so did a high proportion of members of the association; and they were capable of bringing their own views to bear on the formulation of association policies and on the way in which it operated. What they did not have was the clout that enabled Alley to be accepted unquestioningly by outsiders as the personification of the library world.
The honorary secretary of the NZLA was, at this time, the equivalent of what would later be called a chief executive officer (except that he or she did not command a big fat salary package), working as a member of a highpowered group of councillors and also accountable to them. But the unusual aspect of the library situation at this time was that Alley's dominance – his physical presence, his command of all sides of the association's work, his meticulous observance of protocol in meetings and in communications both within and outside the association, his general air of authority – had established the office as a uniquely influential one; and that this perception of it really related as much to Alley as to the office. Furthermore, the perception would not necessarily have lasted much longer. The library system and the profession itself were beginning to diversify, so that, even page 214if Alley had not decided, for essentially political reasons, to withdraw from the public office, a greater measure of power sharing would have had to be accepted. From this point it was inevitable that Alley's relationship with the rest of the library world would have to be modified, in one way or another.
The first big event, in the library world, of the new era was one which had been planned and prepared for over the previous couple of years. In the 15 or so years since the Munn–Barr survey had been carried out and its report, which had acquired the status of a founding document, had been published, big advances had been made in the delivery of public library services in New Zealand, but there were also differences of opinion over the way in which these services should be delivered – most notably over the desirability and feasibility of regional or district organisation, but also over such matters as the free-and-rental system and whether state support should be available to the larger public libraries. These differences emerged when a committee set up by the NZLA council in 1947 to revise the 1940 publication The Case for Free Library Service failed to reach agreement. As the association's history says, 'The simple urge to establish free service had been replaced by controversy as to the best way to operate it.'21 Much interest had been aroused in the library world by the work and publications of the Public Library Inquiry which had been carried out in the United States in 1947–48 under the auspices of the Social Science Research Council,22 and the NZLA council therefore asked the United States Educational Foundation in New Zealand, which had been set up under the Fulbright Act, to sponsor a visit to New Zealand by a member or members of the American Inquiry team to carry out a similar inquiry here. In its annual report for 1948 the council said, rather hopefully: 'Just as the adoption and publication of the Munn–Barr Report was followed by greatly increased library activity, and also by financial support for the Association, it is felt that adequate finance for a further period for the Association could be expected to follow the adoption of an acceptable plan for development of libraries generally in the next ten years.'23
The foundation agreed to this request, and the person who accepted its invitation to conduct the survey was Miriam D. Tompkins, an associate professor of library service at Columbia University who had had long experience of working in American public libraries and teaching in library schools,24 and who had been one of four prominent librarians retained by the Carnegie Corporation as advisers from 1939 to 1941.25 With a special interest in adult education, she was notable for the pioneering work she had done in the Milwaukee Public Library between 1919 and 1929.26 She arrived in Wellington on 25 January 1950 and stayed in New Zealand until the following November. Alley had arranged for the National Council of page 215Adult Education to provide an office for her, and he assigned Ron O'Reilly and T.B. (Brian) O'Neill, a 1948 graduate of the Library School, to assist her. In writing to W.H. Shepardson of the Carnegie Corporation, Alley said, 'She will have a quick tour of one month in March, and will then plan her study in more detail.'27
Tompkins tackled her task with great vigour and perseverance, visiting large numbers of public libraries and talking to all the NZLA branches, but, as O'Neill has said, 'It became apparent as the survey progressed that the amount of work involved was much greater than it would have been for a comparable survey in the United States. The problems were considerably more difficult because of the great variety in conditions of service, the complexity of the library scene, and the absence of previously assembled information.'28 O'Reilly was the one who was charged with the task of compensating for the lack of information, but, although this kind of thing was something of a hobby of his, he suffered from an inability to enable others to see the wood, not just for the trees but for every branch and twig in it. He was also good at producing a proliferation of ideas, but not at synthesising them in digestible form. Alley, who might have been expected to explain the peculiarities of the New Zealand situation to Tompkins, was of little help – 'She complained he would not talk to her,' O'Neill said in a letter, 'partly his style but also I suspect he felt a responsibility to keep his distance.' On O'Reilly, O'Neill added, 'She should have told Geoff – or he should have seen – that she would be better off without him.'29
The course of the survey did not, therefore, run smooth, but during her visits to libraries and librarians Tompkins aroused a lot of interest and stimulated a lot of discussion on the problems that needed to be tackled in organising a comprehensive library service. At a meeting of the Wellington branch of the NZLA she set out four different options for the future, including endorsement of the present system but with correction of existing weaknesses, total withdrawal of the central government from responsibility for public library service, and all-out government support and financial aid for regional library authorities, either by financial assistance to voluntary groupings of local authorities or by the establishment by statute of regional or district library boards.30 She told the Otago branch that she was going to recommend the development of regional libraries31 – or perhaps that is what the branch reporter thought she ought to have meant to say; she had not at that stage had a chance to grapple with the unique New Zealand local body system, and it is very likely that she was more cautious than the report would indicate. That she would not have gone straight for the most difficult solution without further thought is suggested by her comment to a reporter from the Otago Daily Times that she was quite excited by some of the things she had seen in New Zealand in regard to library work, but that page 216the National Library Service was attempting to do too big a job with its present facilities and resources: 'but it was providing a magnificent service, and its influence had changed the character of libraries throughout New Zealand'.32
When Tompkins left New Zealand on 24 November 1950 she had not been able to complete her report. Her health had not stood up very well to the strain, and when she got back to New York she had to plunge immediately into preparing for her teaching responsibilities. It was necessary, therefore, for New Zealand librarians to be prepared to wait for some time for the written record of her work, but a large amount of useful information had been gathered and was available, and further thinking had been stimulated on a number of issues, particularly on the regional development of library services.33
The opening of a Country Library Service office in Hamilton early in 1953, to cover the northern half of the North Island, was a genuine attempt to continue the decentralisation of the CLS by adding a third office to those in Christchurch and Palmerston North. To the cynical it was further evidence that the central government's idea of delegation and regionalisation was to open a local office which was responsible directly and only to Wellington, but the facts of local body organisation in New Zealand, which had frustrated all proposals for any kind of regional library development that would allow the genuine devolution of responsibility, were intractable until local government itself was suitably reorganised, and it would be a long time before anything of the kind happened, despite regular commissions, reports, and tinkerings.
In such circumstances, decentralisation of a centrally controlled organisation can be effective, up to a point, if the organisation itself is oriented towards local service and if the people who are placed in charge of the individual units are focused on the needs of the inhabitants of their areas. Alley's experience made him very conscious of the interests and wishes of people, throughout the country, who were not part of the urban culture, and the CLS, by the 1950s, had a reservoir of staff members who had spent a lot of time on the road and who identified with the people who lived and worked in small towns and scattered communities – the people who gave the country its character. For the position of librarian in charge of the Hamilton office Alley chose Allan E. Mercer, who had been a field librarian in the CLS from 1940 to 1947, after which he had spent some time working in lending services in the Auckland Public Library and then in the order section of the NLS in Wellington. Mercer was one who was attuned to Alley's thinking on service to the people and who also had very good rapport with local body politicians and officials.
By the 1950s the CLS and its staff had been operating long enough to page 217have developed quite distinctive attitudes towards the libraries and library groups they served, and also towards the local officials with whom they dealt. Helen Sullivan (Coway at that time) was then on the receiving end of CLS service but was later a senior member of the CLS staff, both in Wellington and in Palmerston North. Notes she has written34 convey, succinctly but as well as anything else that is available, both the attitudes which made the CLS so popular and the pervasiveness of Alley's own principles. Writing of 1959, when she became an organising librarian in the CLS, Sullivan says that by this time many of the borough libraries receiving the 'A' service had been helped to change from the subscription plan and to become linked with the CLS. 'The CLS offices were sending the bookvans to these libraries and giving them the usual request and loan collection services. In addition the Librarian in Charge of the appropriate office would be writing frequently to the librarians of these libraries offering encouragement and assistance with any problems.' There were 88 of these 'A' libraries in 1950, and the number had risen to 107 by 1958 (and to 163 by 1978).
Writing of relations between the CLS and borough councils, which under existing legislation either were or had the potential to be effective library authorities, Sullivan describes Alley's methods as follows:
It was the policy of the CLS not to take initiatives with local authorities that were not linked with it. However, if a Field Librarian happened to know the librarian of a town that she was passing through she would often pop in for a friendly chat. If a local resident had visited another town where the library was linked with the CLS, often the resident would make enquiries about the procedure to become linked. This would sometimes mean flagging down a bookvan or possibly writing to the CLS office. From there the Librarian in Charge would emphasise that any request to become linked with the service would need to come from the local authority of the town. If the local resident could form a committee of interested residents they could request the CLS to prepare a report setting out the services that could be obtained and the conditions required from the local authority supporting the library. Often these reports were prepared by the organising librarian in Wellington after she had visited the town to meet the Town Clerk and the Librarian.
GTA would take a lively interest in the preparation of these reports and would often suggest suitable quotations to be included. The progress of discussions between the appropriate Librarian in Charge and the local authority would be reported to Wellington and if necessary GTA would visit the town and talk to the local Borough Council. During most years until his retirement he would be taking a special interest in page 218some Borough Council somewhere where discussions were being held about the reorganisation of the local public library and the local residents' committee would be working hard to convince the council that this was wanted urgently in the town. Sometimes a visit by GTA was the trump card that would persuade the council.
In the case of the county areas, where it was difficult for the local authority to accept responsibility for library service because of its limited role and resource base under existing legislation, the government had agreed, when the CLS was established, that a direct service should be provided to small individual groups for a nominal fee which substituted for the rates which would normally have been used for this purpose. In Sullivan's words, 'The "B" service was also operating in the counties at that time. The volunteer librarians were often highly intelligent people who made good use of the CLS on behalf of those who used their libraries. Of course these small subscription libraries when well administered could be the channel for readers to obtain a wide range of reading. While the Field Librarians greatly enjoyed their visits to these delightful small libraries, the staff of the CLS were always very clear that these libraries were an interim measure until the counties could be persuaded to take an active role in providing library service.' There were 691 of these groups in 1950, and the number of them peaked at about 850 later. They, of course, were the whistle stops which took the book vans to every corner of the country.
Alley's objective was that all citizens should be able, in one way or another, to gain access to the full range of books which an intelligent community could benefit from. It paralleled the democratic policy, expressed by Fraser in his famous statement on education, that all citizens should have free access to education, and Alley was particularly concerned that the people involved in library service should be of the kind who would pursue his objective. 'The number of titles available to the local librarian,' he wrote in his contribution to a Festschrift published in honour of Lionel McColvin,35 'is, theoretically, the number in the whole system, but the practical and realised number depends on the imagination, energy and intelligence – the librarianship – of that librarian. Visitors from libraries overseas who have seen the superb work of the librarians of many of New Zealand's public libraries where national aid and encouragement are used to help local effort have always been impressed. There is, I think, nothing like it anywhere else.'
In 1956 Alley wrote of Lucie Heine, librarian of the Motueka Public Library from 1943 to 1951, and then of the Greymouth Public Library, who had died at the age of 45: 'I remember one hot summer afternoon in February 1951 on a visit to Motueka [population ca. 2500] we traveled page 219through the hop and tobacco growing country seeing the pickers leaving the fields for their evening meal. We saw Miss Heine at the library and she told us that from the hop pickers and tobacco workers she had had many requests for worthwhile books. Just that week in fact she had been asked for three books, one a Dostoevsky, one a Thomas Mann, and the third I have forgotten, but it was also a translated novel. She had been able to supply all three, and with a twinkle in her grey eyes, she told me they were all from her own stock.'36
Heine had gained the NZLA certificate while working in the small library at Motueka. 'With her background of belief in the things of the mind and the spirit,' wrote Alley, 'it was inevitable that she should think of librarianship in terms of books and not merely in terms of organization of services.' This tribute tells us as much about Alley as it does about Lucie Heine. Heine was the kind of person he had in mind when he objected, at the Wellington NZLA meeting in 1949, to 'clear-cut stratification' in the classification of training levels, but unfortunately his comments of this kind tended to encourage less-talented people than Heine to consider that they could be professionals without fully professional qualifications.
When it came to the staffing of the CLS, Alley did insist on professional qualifications for professional positions, but he also looked for people who understood the librarians and the readers for whom the service was created, as well as the local authority councillors and officials upon whose goodwill the service depended. They also needed to be well informed about the services available, the stock of the CLS and the kind of material that could be called upon from elsewhere.
The field librarians were something of an élite within the staff of the CLS. Not only did they need to have the range of qualifications and qualities that were required of all professional members of the staff, but once they set out with a van they were responsible for driving it, seeing that it was kept in good running order and maintaining a tight schedule, in addition to their work with books and readers. In writing of the CLS book vans in 1950, before the Hamilton office was opened, Allan Mercer and Hugh Lorimer (another early field librarian), said:
The first requirement of a CLS bookvan is that it shall stay on the road and remain free to the utmost possible extent from mechanical and structural disorders. When a van sets out from its base at Christchurch or Auckland or Palmerston North it is presumed that it will maintain schedule throughout the whole trip, which means for three or four months. Its arrival at Pirongia, Rotorua, Denniston or Bluff is announced to the nearest minute of time some three weeks in advance, and if, as on rare occasions, an appointment is not kept, the cause is more likely to be a washout on the road or a broken page 220bridge than a disabled bookvan. Without this assurance of vehicular fitness the whole programme of book exchanges, involving an average day of fifty miles travelling and three libraries five (or six) days a week, would be unworkable. That it is workable is due, to begin with, to the fact that all CLS vans have been constructed on brand-new chassis and are covered by strict maintenance procedures.37
When Mercer and Lorimer were writing, one of the two original vans which had been commissioned in 1938 had been in for refitting. It had travelled 120,000 miles without serious breakdown, 'and had been host and friend to some 20,000 rural readers. Its design was basic to CLS needs then and now: elevated brow for frontal roominess, maximum width for space and stock capacity, ample height for head-room, short wheel-base for manoeuvrability. It was the essential CLS bookvan'.38 And, it might be added, it incorporated the lessons which Alley had learned in coping with inadequate vehicles in his Canterbury days.
There is a story which used to be told around CLS campfires about a field librarian who drove her van through the misty gorges and bush-clad hills between Gisborne and the Bay of Plenty and, when she stopped at the official service station in Opotiki, the steering assembly dropped on to the floor. The story is almost certainly apocryphal, but, like all good apocryphal stories, it could have happened. Such cautionary tales are great motivators when safety is at stake.
'Nowadays,' said Mercer and Lorimer, 'when a CLS bookvan passes the saleyards at Waipawa or grinds its way down into the Ida Valley neither sheep nor shepherds stare. It wasn't always like that. When the first vans set out, one from Wellington and one from Christchurch, they were met on all sides and at every stop with incredulous gaze and many puckered brows. By the time the first additional van went into action from Wellington in 1945 the CLS van was beginning to be accepted as a regular visitor, no stranger on the road…. And now with six of them in existence a CLS van … is a CLS van New Zealand over. Grey painted, with a line of scarlet lettering, it is a simple, roadworthy job, solid with books.'39 It is not surprising that some bright young graduates were attracted to librarianship by the thought of driving a CLS van – or that some had to be told, at that early stage of their lives, 'Not everyone gets to drive a van.'40
By 1953 the School Library Service was providing regular loans to 2114 schools, distribution being carried out from offices of the SLS or the CLS in six centres and from eight public libraries (from Whangarei in the north to Invercargill in the south). Books were also being lent to the public libraries in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin for circulation among 164 schools.41 In addition, schools were able to send page 221special requests for individual titles or for books on specific topics and the SLS provided assistance on library organisation and the planning and equipment of school libraries.42
There was rather less dramatic success in the development of library services for prison inmates. The CLS had been providing books and other services for several years, but the importance of library service for a prison's rehabilitation programme had not really been appreciated in the Justice Department. After discussions with the head of the department, in which he advocated the appointment of a qualified prisons librarian to the department's staff, Alley suggested that Ron O'Reilly be seconded to the Justice Department to report on the library needs of the prison service. The secondment was approved by the Public Service Commission on 20 June 1950, and O'Reilly visited the institutions and had discussions with officers of the department between December 1950 and February 1951. In his report43 O'Reilly pointed out that the scale of service which had been established by the CLS after Jean Norrie's survey in 1947 had presupposed that it would a supplementary, rather than the main, service to prisons. The scheme had been well received by prisoners, despite doubts by prison staff, but to be fully developed it needed to be run by a professional librarian on the staff of the department. The context in which the recommendation was made is indicated by the fact that O'Reilly had to set out clearly the distinction between the position of justice librarian/research officer, which the department had recently created, and his proposal for a public library type of service to prisoners.
Some improvements resulted from O'Reilly's report, including the allocation of Justice Department funds for prison libraries and recognition in the Criminal Justice Act 1954 of the role of libraries in rehabilitation programmes, but the position of librarian was not established until much later. Gail Cochrane, in a 1985 thesis, commented that 'An early appointment of a Penal Librarian would have done much to advance the cause of prison libraries, but at a time when the importance of libraries was only just being recognised by the prison authorities, such a proposal had little prospect of being accepted.'44
One of his areas of responsibility that Algie wanted to look into was the National Council of Adult Education, which had been reconstituted in 1947, when Alley was appointed to it. There was some mistrust among National Party leaders of the adult education which had been nurtured by the Workers' Educational Association, which was thought to be too closely associated with the Labour Party,45 but there were also structural problems which impaired relations between the national council and the regional councils. In David Hall's view, 'The National Council had proved a clumsy initiator of new ideas in its own right. On the other hand, the page 222structure over which it reigned tended to hamper new ideas being tried out by its subsidiaries, the regional councils…. The philosophic basis of the National Council's work remained, at best, a dichotomy, at worst, a mild confusion.'46
At a meeting with the council on 11 May 1951 Algie raised these questions: was adult education reaching people in numbers justifying the expenditure and were there better ways of reaching more people; and could there be closer linkage between the work of adult education and other agencies of adult education such as libraries and radio?47 These questions sparked discussions which continued in a desultory way for some years but did not come to anything for another decade. Alley, with so much else on his plate, was not able to give high priority to these discussions, but he did contribute ideas which helped to shift the emphasis away from the traditional system of WEA classes and the like. In speaking on adult education to the Wellington branch of the NZLA, for instance, he dealt with 'a service more deeply rooted in this country, namely, library service', and emphasised 'the fundamental importance of local bodies in this matter of library service, the basis of local support being more honest and giving safeguards more sure than those of a centralized administration'.48
Alley would also have been instrumental in having the NZLA, in May 1951, set up a standards research committee 'to formulate a statement of the objectives of New Zealand public library work, in terms of units of service, buildings, stock, librarianship, etc.'. The standards research committee was convened by Brian O'Neill and included among its members Archie Dunningham, Stuart Perry and, of course, Alley, who was at this time still honorary secretary of the NZLA. Its work, which drew on the data collected for the Tompkins survey, led to the formulation of a set of basic standards which will be referred to later, but at this point it is worth noting that its first report was a discussion paper on adult education and the public library49 which reflects very clearly Alley's and Dunningham's thinking on the subject. It suggested, for instance, that 'The aims of public libraries and adult education in New Zealand are similar in that the achievements of both must show themselves in the lives of individuals in communities. As a consequence of this common basis in the life of the community, both organizations must depend on being accepted as a necessary element of community life; they must become part of the community. It is difficult to see how this common purpose can be achieved unless the local organization is treated as the basic unit, and not as an outpost of a central government activity.'
In July 1953, when Algie invited comments on questions which should be considered in relation to adult education, Alley suggested the following topics: '(a) Organization versus individual and local informal education page 223(is the organization top-heavy?); (b) Supply services (need for a complete national supply of books, etc.); (c) Qualifications of tutors; (d) Consumer interests and reactions; (e) Administration and cost (has the national and regional council plan worked or is there an over elaborate administrative pattern?)'.50 But Alley was not fired with sufficient enthusiasm for the work of the National Council of Adult Education to allow it to overshadow developments in the library world in which he now had a more direct interest.
The topic which was going to engage Alley's attention increasingly for the rest of his career was the question of a national library for New Zealand. It emerged in 1950 as a recommendation from the Palmerston North branch of the NZLA 'that a committee be set up to investigate the possibility of co-ordinating special libraries such as the National Library Centre, Alexander Turnbull Library and General Assembly Library under the heading NZ National Library', and arose from a discussion with Miriam Tompkins in which it had been suggested that 'there was some waste in Wellington due to duplication in the main libraries, and liaison between these was not what it might be'. Tompkins had said, 'Why not co-ordinate them as a National Library? They should be unified.'51 From such small beginnings do mighty rivers grow. One is reminded of the Lewis River, which starts as a sparkling stream in the Southern Alps, grows in size until it adds its flow to the Boyle, which in turn joins the Hope, which further down the valley adds its bulk to the Waiau, one of the major rivers of the east of the South Island. The Palmerston North branch, standing near the Lewis Pass in 1950, could not have foreseen the rapids, the wide plains or the gorges that would have to be traversed before the innocent stream and its numerous company would flow into the Pacific Ocean.
There was nothing new, of course, in the notion that New Zealand should have a national library. The term had been bandied about for a long time, but it had never reached the point of being defined. Different people had different ideas on what a national library should be or do, and ideas differed on what priority should be given to each of its possible functions. For a long time it was assumed that the General Assembly Library should be developed as a national library, and indeed Charles Wilson, the parliamentary librarian, wrote in 1912, after a resolution to that effect had been carried at a conference of the Libraries Association of New Zealand, that 'a very large proportion of the books now bought for the Library are bought with the idea that sooner or later they will form part of a national reference library … It is quite possible,' he added, 'to combine a purely Legislative Library and a National Reference Library.'52 But Wilson was making a bid for more space to be allocated to his library in the new Parliament building, and his argument did not prevail.page 224
Alexander Turnbull's collection, when it came to the nation in 1918, could well have been placed under the control of the General Assembly Library, which was administered by the Legislative Department, but instead it was placed in the Department of Internal Affairs, which very quickly developed defences against Legislative predators. John Barr suggested in 1926 that the role of the General Assembly Library should be altered to make it the national library of New Zealand and that the organisation of a rural circulating library should be entrusted to it. Guy Scholefield pointed out in 1928 that the General Assembly Library administered the copyright law, which was a national library function. Alister McIntosh recommended in 1932 the amalgamation under one control of the General Assembly Library, the Alexander Turnbull Library, the New Zealand archives and the library of the New Zealand Institute, and the allocation to the combined body of a number of national library responsibilities. Munn and Barr, in 1934, said: 'In the General Assembly Library the Dominion has a fair start towards a national collection, and being the library of deposit for all books published in New Zealand the Government has tacitly admitted it to the status of the Dominion's national library. All that is now needed is to reorganize the library on national lines.'53
As late as 1936 T.D.H. Hall, Clerk of the House of Representatives, wrote to Joseph Norrie, honorary secretary of the NZLA, saying: 'In regard to the National Library scheme the Government has definitely approved the principle of establishing a National Library in Wellington, the General Assembly Library to be developed to fulfil the functions of such a library. The Government has approved of my approaching learned and other Societies who have special libraries with a view to considering the terms of incorporation in the National Library and I have already been in touch with the Royal Society';54 and Hall was also involved in discussions which could have led to the establishment of a rural library service attached to the General Assembly Library. But, as we have seen, in 1937 the decision was made to establish a separate Country Library Service which would 'constitute the beginning of a comprehensive national library system'.
A 1991 photograph of Frederick Alley's farm, subdivided from the Castlerock Station near Lumsden, which he brought in 1905–6. Author's collection
Geoffrey T. Alley, South Island rugby rep 1926 and 1927. Alley family
G.T. Alley, All Black 1926 and 1928.
Clara Alley in 1930.
Euphan Jamieson in 1923, who married Geoffrey Alley in 1930. Alley family
James Shelley, Professor of Education at Canterbury College and Alley's mentor.
Alexander Turnbull Library, PAColl-8200
John Barr, Auckland City Librarian, 1913–52. Alexander Turnbull Library, PAColl-5920-09-02
T.D.H. Hall, Clerk of the House of Representatives 1930–1945 and influential supporter of New Zealand library developments.
Alexander Turnbull Library, PAColl-5920-04-01
Alister D. McIntosh, the librarian who became a notable public servant and supported Alley throughout his career. Alexander Turnbull Library, PAColl-5920-09-01
CLS van on the road, 1948. Evelyn Franklin, of the Library School class of 1946, is the field librarian. Alexander Turnbull Library, F-16090-1/4
Clara Alley in 1952, shortly before she died. Alley family
Euphan Alley in 1956. Alley family
Geoffrey T. Alley, Director, National Library Service.
Alexander Turnbull Library, F-30006-1/2, A5583
Mary P. Parsons, Director, Library School, 1945–1947.
Alexander Turnbull Library, F-77532-1/2
A. Graham Bagnall, Librarian, National Library Centre, 1946-1966; then Chief Librarian, Alexander Turnbull Library until 1973. Alexander Turnbull Library, P23458, F-72642-1/2
W. John Harris, Librarian, University of Otago, 1935–1948. This photo was taken in the 1960s, when he had earned the title of ‘Father of West African Librarianship’. Hocken Library, S06-317.
Clifford W. Collins, Librarian, Canterbury University College, 1934–1961; and University of Canterbury 1962–1971. Hi Alexander Turnbull Library, PAColl-5920-03-01
Archibald G.W. Dunningham, Dunedin City Librarian, 1933–1960.
Hocken Library, S06-323a.
J.K. (later Sir Jack) Hunn, author of the report, ‘Proposed National Library’, 1956.
C. Stuart Perry, Wellington Deputy City Librarian, 1933–1946, City Librarian, 1946–1973. NZ Free Lance Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library, PAColl-6388-04
The Hon. T.P. Shand, minister in charge of the state services in the lead-up to the National Library Act 1965. S.P. Andrew Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library, F-20127-1/4
Houses in Sydney Street East, Wellington, home of the headquarters of the National Library Service. Alexander Turnbull Library, F-30004-1/2
A fascinating folly: the first architectural concept for a National Library building, in Hill Street, displayed by government architect F.G.F. Sheppard to Sir John Ilott and G.T. Alley.
Alexander Turnbull Library, PAColl-2893-1
A 1960 model CLS van in Wingfield Street in 1969 on ground later covered by the National Library. Alan Smith
Committee of Officers, National Library of New Zealand, 1967. This was taken for the record shortly before Alley's retirement. Front: P.E. Richardson, G.T. Alley. Back: J.O. Wilson, H. Macaskill, A.G. Bagnall, T.B. O'Neill. National Library Extension Service Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library, PAColl-0522-1-15
Committee of Officers, National Library of New Zealand, after the implementation of the act in April 1966. J.O. Wilson, A.G. Bagnall, P.E. Richardson, G.T. Alley, H. Macaskill, T.B. O'Neill. Alexander Turnbull Library, PAColl-0522-1-1/4
Geoffrey Alley cuts the cake at a social function at the National Library. Paul E. Richardson Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library, F-83273-35mm-17
Paradise subdivided. ‘Alley's Way’ today, where Geoffrey and Euphan had their home in Ebdentown Road. A. Redican and Alan Smith
Molesworth Street 2006: The building housing the National Library of New Zealand.
N.L. Brand Collection
The council of the NZLA did not consider the Palmerston North resolution with undue haste. It received the resolution on 23 August 1950, and it decided to ask for further information about the branch's purpose in forwarding it.55 The branch replied promptly, on 21 September,56 but the council did not get around to considering this reply until 1 May 1951, when it rejected a proposal that a committee be set up 'to study the question of co-ordinating special libraries such as the National Library Centre, the Alexander Turnbull Library and the General Assembly Library under the heading of a NZ National Library' and opted instead for a committee 'to report to the Council on the degree of co-operation and co-ordination existing between the various Wellington libraries with a view to the formation of Association policy'.57 This committee, which was convened by Graham Bagnall, included the heads of the three state libraries – Alley (ex officio as honorary secretary), W.S. (Bill) Wauchop (the new head of the General Assembly Library) and Clyde Taylor (Turnbull Library – added later) – none of whom wanted to rock the boat, together with E.H. (Ted) Leatham of the DSIR, Harold Miller of Victoria University College and Stuart Perry (Wellington Public Library). Bagnall wrote a report58 for it which was full of interesting information but short on bold proposals, and it reported to the council with a series of recommendations (which the council approved), of which the most notable were:
1. That this Committee reaffirms the Association's approval of the desirability of a National Library implied in its adoption of the Munn– Barr report, and considers that unless there is a single library building there will not be possible a greater degree of co-operation than exists at present. 2. That this Committee, representative of the major Wellington libraries, considers that it would be useful if it were able to meet annually as an Association committee.59
One can imagine the committee, after recording from time to time with regret the successive deaths of most of its original members and welcoming page 226their replacements, holding its 50th meeting in AD2000 and still noting that difficulties were caused by the lack of a single library building.
Stuart Perry, who had been the Wellington city librarian since 1946, was elected president of the NZLA in February 1952. After some months, when nothing more had come from the moribund committee, and 'by way of spurring the Association into activity when the attitude was one of defeatism, and impelling reluctant Government librarians to consider seriously and to discuss the prospect of a closer association with one another',60 Perry gave notice to a meeting of the NZLA council on 15 August 1952 of his intention to move that the committee be set up again and report by the following February.61 He forgot to move the motion, but he went ahead anyway, called the committee together for a special meeting on 26 August, and got the council's standing executive committee on 30 September to give it stronger terms of reference: it was 'to study the matter of reformulating the Association's policy on a National Library for New Zealand and report to the Council in February, and … in the meantime … be authorized to take whatever action may be possible to bring before the public those elements of Association policy which have so far been settled'.62 Perry retained the convenership, and Clifford Collins was appointed as an additional member. Leading the way on the public relations front, Perry had also written an article which was published anonymously in Wellington's Evening Post on 13 September, in which, noting recent Cabinet approvals for work to be done on the General Assembly and Turnbull Library buildings, he pointed out that the National Library Service, which carried out important national functions, was also wretchedly housed, and suggested that the amalgamation of library functions under one department of state 'may ultimately prove to be the desirable solution of the New Zealand problem'.63
Perry's moves at this time were decisive in starting what became the campaign for a national library, but credit should also be given to Miriam Tompkins, whose wide experience and understanding of library issues enabled her to go straight to the heart of the matter during the discussion at the Palmerston North branch of the NZLA, even though her formal brief concerned only New Zealand's public library service. But she never completed her report. She died in New York on 2 March 1954, after increasingly severe bouts of ill health.
Tompkins had been faced with problems which she could not have foreseen. The first was the expectation that hers would be another Munn– Barr report, a follow-up to the seminal document which had made such a striking impact in 1934. But follow-up reports are often disappointing. Munn and Barr were dealing with a very simple situation in which simple solutions, agreed upon by people of goodwill, could start a process of page 227improvement and reform. By 1950, though, things had become more complicated. Impediments which could be glossed over earlier, such as the effect of the country's local government structure, had now to be taken seriously; decisions had been made and administrative structures created about which there were differences of opinion; libraries were beginning to become more specialised and to lose their sense of cohesion; and senior librarians were becoming busier and more inclined to focus on the problems of their own separate groups.
The second problem was what has been referred to as 'the lack of previously assembled information' and the rather misdirected enthusiasm with which Ron O'Reilly tried to fill the gap. Shortly after her return to New York Tompkins wrote to Alley: 'I am finding some of Ron's material difficult to work with. He has done an excellent job of handling the data, but it would never do to use some of the material as he has presented it. We should certainly support the validity of our findings, but I am sure most librarians would not have the patience to read his densely packed pages. I think we should use them sparingly'.64 Alley agreed with these comments,65 but of course he should have known that O'Reilly's methods were not suitable for a job of this kind and he should have intervened at an early stage. This could be counted as Tompkins's third problem.
Among the papers that Tompkins left was a set of notes headed 'Future Development', which was sent to Doreen Bibby, secretary of the NZLA, by an American friend who had been sorting her effects.66 From these notes it is clear that she had been considering a strengthening, rather than a withering away, of the Country Library Service component of the National Library Service, with an increase in the number of CLS depots, closer cooperation with local libraries, which would include an extension of the policy of seconding CLS staff for specialised work, and more effective national planning to co-ordinate the work of the NLS, the NZLA and the National Council of Adult Education. She had also noted, as a topic to be dealt with, integration of the General Assembly Library, the NLS, and the Alexander Turnbull Library, and, regarding the Library School, 'N.Z. Library School in building, tho affiliated with Univ. of N.Z.; degrees to be awarded by Univ. of N.Z. – master's for university graduates; certificates for others'.
O'Reilly's role in the survey has been criticised above for obvious reasons, but in his more philosophic mode he was a thinker who did not always receive the attention he deserved. Writing after Tompkins's death, he said:
For the first time we were face to face with the complexities of the problems which the Association had set out so innocently to solve at the Wanganui page 228 and other conferences. Without more than a cursory glance at our libraries in the first month of her stay, Miss Tompkins could have given us a very competent transcription of orthodox formulas relating, for example, to regional service. It is interesting to know what the effect would have been if this had happened, because it became clearer to us all as the months slipped by that these formulas would not produce a mixture that would work.
There would have been no reaction between the domestic ingredients in New Zealand. The risk of destroying the CLS structure in the attempt to dissolve it into something still better was too great …
Certain types of problem (e.g. scientific ones) are in principle completely solvable. The complexities make some more difficult, but no one doubts that given the time and the application the answer (the one true answer) will be discovered. Other problems, such as technical ones and administrative ones, may, in fact, at any given time, have no solution … Miss Tompkins could not allow herself to believe that there is, at present, no adequate solution for the main problem she set herself, and that is the source of the tragedy … 67
O'Neill, writing at the same time, said of Tompkins: 'She was a kind, thoughtful and humble person, and a worthy representative of what is most likeable of her country.'68 It would be idle to speculate on how she would, in the end, have dealt with the question of the regional development of library services in a country in which there were no effective regional government structures, but if there had been time, and if Alley had come down from the mountain, it is very likely that they could at least have clarified the issues together, for it must be remembered that Alley was persuaded of the desirability of a regional solution. What he was not persuaded of was that there were administrative structures that would make it possible. When it was obvious that Tompkins was having difficulty in completing her work, Alley said to O'Reilly, 'She will produce a report: she is too much of an American not to finish what she has started.'69 It was unfortunate that Alley did not realise just how hard-pressed Tompkins was, for in many ways he would have found her American approach compatible and he could have helped her to understand and take into account the particular problems of the New Zealand situation. The fact that, although she had given the impression early in her stay that she intended to recommend the development of regional libraries, her later notes suggested a system firmly based on the Country Library Service, indicates that close collaboration between Alley and herself could have been fruitful.
Nora Bateson, on the other hand, had no doubts at all about the need for a regional library system in New Zealand, or that she knew how it page 229should be organised. She had run one in Nova Scotia, after directing a Carnegie demonstration in Prince Edward Island, and she had acted as a consultant for other Canadian schemes. She was forthright and dogmatic, with something of the memsahib in her, and she had little patience with Alley's pragmatic methods of operating. Although she ran the Library School well and efficiently, on such matters of library policy there was no meeting of minds between the two. Ruth Wylie, a student of the Library School class of 1947 who came to know her well and to appreciate her qualities, has said that Bateson thought that Alley was not interested in how things were done elsewhere, and was hurt by his lack of response to what she had to tell him.70 Brian O'Neill has commented that 'the easy exchange of ideas was not his forte, and to someone like Nora Bateson this was an insuperable barrier'.71 He also observed: 'I once visited the McGill Library School and found there the values of civilised idealism of which Nora was an example. She must have found us a provincial lot devoid of spiritual values.'72
A different view is given by Mary Ronnie, who attended the 1952 class of the Library School after working in the Dunedin Public Library from 1946, and who thought that Bateson had an unfortunate penchant for singling out students for most-favoured or most-unfavoured treatment, which Alley tried to modify, to the extent of telling her, on one occasion, that she must accept an assignment presented by an unfavoured student, even though the student had had some help from others in writing it.73 And perhaps it could be added that this 'provincial lot' has in fact scored some modest achievements, like getting to the top of Everest, splitting the atom, inventing the jet boat, treating eye troubles in aborigines, and delighting opera audiences without behaving like prima donnas. Perhaps the CLS could have been seen by an outsider to have failed in theory while it was successful in practice.
One could go on collecting points of this kind and conclude, in the end, that these two good people simply didn't get on. McColvin's report to Alley on Bateson was a shrewd assessment which would have been better to have been heeded, and perhaps it resulted from McColvin's summing up not only of Bateson but also of Alley. Bateson could very well have been right to try to bring knowledge of what was done elsewhere into the rather closed New Zealand library community, but it was unwise of her to appear to rubbish what Alley had achieved in difficult circumstances – and Alley was not one to accept criticism tolerantly and with confidence.
The section devoted to Bateson in Alley's taped reminiscences74 is shorter than any other section and more restrained. After pointing out that when Mary Parsons left in 1947 it would have been difficult to replace her with a New Zealand director, he said that the time Bateson spent in the Library page 230School was important, but 'Nora Bateson's contribution was just that, that she was here at the right time and she is rightly remembered for that'. He said that she was not an easy person to get on with, but 'She stood up and was counted in the cause of library development.' Then he devoted a long paragraph to what was clearly the main cause of the differences between them:
Her background as a consultant in various schemes in Canada I didn't understand until I actually saw Canada [1968–70] and saw the very bad state of their regional library services. This was so bad that really one could only be appalled. Any notion of a library being supported, fed by a regional system was a very, very thin one indeed. In Ontario, a province that was spending, at the time of my stay there, some five million dollars, probably double that now in so-called aid, the practice was, if you please, to have the libraries belonging to regional schemes, but if a little library wanted a book, it was sent the book – it was bought for it, sent to it, and it was charged not only for the price of the book but for the cost of cataloguing and preparing it for circulation. This to me is utter and absolute madness and I think probably the other schemes in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick about which Miss Bateson tended to talk, these would probably have followed similar lines but would not have gone into the business of really supporting the smaller libraries. The notion of a really vigorous book supply to smaller libraries simply hadn't taken hold in Canada, or for that matter in most of North America.
These reminiscences were recorded in 1983, 30 years after Bateson had left New Zealand. Neither music nor time nor anything else had soothed the savage breast.
Bateson departed in May 1953 to return to England. Jock McEldowney said, at a meeting of the Wellington branch of the NZLA, that, when she arrived, 'only one class had gone out from the School, the second was about to go, and the prestige of the Library School hung in the balance; it depended on what the graduates did and on the future administration of the School. Miss Bateson had made a great impression on librarians in New Zealand by her persuasiveness, charm and tact – though the issue was never evaded when it needed facing up to – and this had enabled the School to be settled in its right place. The effect of her work would increase, despite her going. Her students, among others, would be working out, developing – and even, perhaps in some cases, denying – her ideas.'75 In a letter to the editor of New Zealand Libraries Bateson wrote: 'When I came to New Zealand nearly six years ago I was impressed by the vitality and imagination so noticeable in the approach to library problems here. The school itself and its shape and page 231content was a product of this imaginative leadership. Early graduates of the school have now had some years of experience and are beginning to make their contribution, individually and collectively'.76
There remains Bateson's farewell to Alley, who must surely have been one of those in her mind when she wrote of 'imaginative leadership'. Her letter to him, which she wrote on board ship and posted from Pitcairn Island, began, 'Dear Mr Alley: And how very formal that sounds when written out. I had hoped to leave a note behind me betokening some sort of reconcilement but no word came to me';77 and the rest of the letter was fairly bland. What a pity it had to end that way! She died in England on 6 January 1956, aged only 59. 'Of all the places she was in,' David Wylie wrote then, 'one felt that it was in Nova Scotia that she had been happiest.'78
To replace Bateson as director of the Library School, Alley chose Hector Macaskill. He had thought of Ron O'Reilly for the position,79 but O'Reilly had been appointed city librarian in Christchurch (a breakthrough for New Zealand-trained librarians), and because of the decline in enrolments the Public Service Commission had refused to maintain the directorship as a full-time position (a situation which continued until 1961, when enrolments had risen again). It was therefore necessary to appoint as director on a part-time basis (with an extra-duties allowance) someone who already held a senior position in the National Library Service. Macaskill had been librarian of the School Library Service since 1947. He had been a teacher from 1929 until he enrolled for military service in 1939, was one of the more mature students of the first Library School class, and had been a friend of Alley's since before the war. He ruled the Library School with a fairly light touch until 1958.80
Library School enrolments continued to be depressed throughout the 1950s, due mainly to the fact that new university graduates, who came predominantly from the low birth-rate years of the Depression and the war, were in heavy demand, especially as teachers in schools which were being filled by the post-war bulge. Although the school was still permitted to accept 30 students annually, an attempt was made not to relax standards and actual enrolments of New Zealand students averaged 14 annually from 1951 to 1957. The assumption of responsibility for part II of the NZLA general training course from 1952, which added another batch of students, at a less advanced level than the professional course, for a six-week period each year, helped to keep the staff of the school busy, and in 1953 and 1955 the first Asian library students brought to New Zealand under the Colombo Plan joined the professional course. These two were from Pakistan and South Korea; the 24 Colombo Plan students who followed them in the next 10 years were mainly from Indonesia and Singapore, and, page 232in Mary Ronnie's view, helped to justify the school's existence during this difficult decade.81
Despite the problems of its doldrum years, the Library School was making an increasing impact on the library profession and the library system in New Zealand. Of the 353 librarians listed in Who's Who in New Zealand Libraries 1958, 104 had a Library School qualification, of whom 18 were also among the 99 who had the NZLA certificate. Thirtythree had overseas qualifications. Those who had no library qualification included a number who had been in library work for a long time, some of whom had played an important part in establishing training courses, but the greater number were in junior positions or in charge of small libraries or branches.82 New graduates of the Library School, diminished though their numbers were, were joining a profession which had been strengthened immeasurably by the output of the school in its first years, and which was able, thanks to Alley's decision to stake all on keeping the school going, to absorb a steady flow of reinforcements.
In 1952 David Wylie noted that the initial tendency for graduates of the Library School to find jobs in the National Library Service had begun to be modified. Comparing those who were still in library work in 1950 (from classes 1–4) and in 1952 (from classes 1–6), he showed that the number who were employed in the NLS had risen from 38 (of 100) in 1950 to 42 (of 132) in 1952, a net increase of four, while the number employed in public libraries had risen from 19 to 33, a net increase of 14.83 At the same time, Jock McEldowney recorded an increase in the number of librarians with New Zealand training who were occupying offices or doing work for the NZLA, especially at the level of branch and section committees, editing or writing for NZLA publications, and tutoring or examining for the general training course.84
Conservative resistance to the employment of products of the newfangled school had been most marked in some of the middle-sized public libraries, but it evaporated as Library School graduates moved steadily into vacancies, throughout the library system, which arose from retirements or from the expansion of services, and as they, in their turn, gained experience and were appointed to more senior positions. Appointments such as those of Ron O'Reilly as city librarian in Christchurch and Bob Duthie as city librarian in Auckland were notable landmarks, but one by one positions of responsibility were occupied by those of the new breed who had proved themselves in lesser positions.
Alley, by the early 1950s, had senior staff members who had matured with time and through their close association with national library developments in which he was an acknowledged leader. At their head was Graham Bagnall, whose interests were differently focused from Alley's but page 233who shared Alley's vision of a co-operative national library system, and who had become his indispensable associate in the overall management of the National Library Service while pursuing his own lines of expertise. Bagnall was more directly in control of that part of the NLS which was concerned with what might be called standard national library functions, while Alley kept a close watch on the extension functions which included the Country Library Service and the School Library Service. But there was close co-ordination between the two; neither of them was the kind to assume that his sphere of librarianship derived from the only true faith.
The everyday work of the CLS continued to expand as local authorities became convinced of the advantages of working with it to provide a service which widened the horizons of their communities. Between the 1950 and 1958 March years the number of local authorities (mainly boroughs and town districts) receiving CLS service increased from 88 to 147, and the number of rural groups in county areas from 691 to 832. A small start had also been made in persuading some county councils to contribute to the funds of adjacent public libraries so that they could provide a free service to county residents,85 though it had become clear that this kind of arrangement could only be achieved in unusual circumstances.
Underlying these developments in the public library field was a corps of CLS workers who became close colleagues of the librarians and the local body elected members and officials they served. Jean Wright in Christchurch was the doyenne of these, a solid source of support and advice for Alley throughout their careers, but there were many others who projected Alley's ideal of a fruitful partnership between central and local government for the benefit of the citizens to whom they were responsible. Some, like Ron O'Reilly, Brian O'Neill, and Courtney Shearer (CLS Christchurch, and later engineering librarian at the University of Canterbury) moved on from the CLS. Others, like Allan Mercer, moved up in the CLS ranks. There were those, like Jean Norrie with her hospitals and prisons, and the School Library Service people like Kathleen McCaul, who had special spheres of interest. Others, like Helen Cowey, moved between the CLS and the public library worlds. There was a high-flyer in Priscilla Taylor, whose career took her in unexpected directions,86 and others who were content to stay as field librarians with their vans, their books, and the people who were always ready to welcome them. This was the period when the CLS was at the height of its innovative and enthusiastic powers.
In Alley's mind the role of the CLS was not merely to provide consignments of books in a wholesale sort of way, but to help local authorities to develop, under their own control, collections and services which were tailored to the needs of their own people and were supplemented by CLS effort. CLS staff were encouraged and trained to regard themselves as members of a network page 234of library workers, other members of which owed their loyalty to their own authorities. They acted at various levels, according to the nature of inquiries, and the regular field staff were supported by the organising librarians, who might spend extended periods helping with major reorganisations. Helen Sullivan (Cowey), for instance, has written of one of Ron O'Reilly's first assignments after he graduated from Library School, when he was seconded to the Lower Hutt Public Library to work with the librarian in reorganising her library: 'He introduced many innovations, and it was not always easy for existing staff to follow him. However, Judith Williams [the librarian] was very understanding and diplomatic and the library became a very busy and exciting place. When I went to Oamaru I tried to use the diplomacy of Judith Williams and sometimes the inventiveness of Ron.'87
Alley regarded the location and planning of library buildings as being critically important for the effect they could have on the use that people would make of libraries. As honorary secretary he had encouraged the work of the NZLA's library buildings committee, convened by Priscilla Taylor and including other CLS staff members, which was established 'to investigate the possibilities of improvements in planning and design of small library buildings', and he used its clear and practical statement 'Elementary Principles of Library Planning', to which he had probably contributed and which the association published in 1949,88 to influence the decisions of local authorities, and, on one occasion, the town planning section of the Ministry of Works in Auckland, the Auckland City Council and the School of Architecture at the University of Auckland.89 The tenor of this statement is indicated by these brief extracts:
The library should not be placed in a park or reserve. The library building is not a monument, but the centre of an active service.
It should be in the busiest part of the town, on the main street. No site is too good for the library, which, when properly administered, can be one of the most popular services of the town. A popular library will give added value to the neighbouring properties.
If there is no librarian, or if there is likely to be a change, the planning should await the new appointment.
These general statements were followed by more detailed specifications, and a later contribution by Priscilla Taylor continued the no-nonsense theme: 'What the borrower sees when he first comes in the door is very important. In planning a house we don't put the washing machine, or the bread bin, or the lavatory just where it greets the visitor. Neither should the reader page 235first see a working desk, no matter how attractive the librarian who stands behind it.'90 There are many good library buildings in good locations in medium-sized towns in New Zealand which owe their quality to Taylor's work and the way in which it was carried on by CLS staff. One can see why Alley was upset when Taylor, whose ideas were so well attuned to his own, blasted off into outer space,91 although he was later proud of her 'fine contribution to librarianship' in New York, Singapore, and Nigeria.92
It was part of Alley's attitude to small libraries that he was keen that they should build up lively collections of books of their own, chosen for local use, which would be supplemented, rather than supplanted, by books supplied by the CLS. In 1951 John Sage, who was then in charge of the order section of the NLS in Wellington and therefore responsible, among other things, for the selection and purchase of books for the CLS, initiated a cyclostyled publication called Books to Buy which listed popular non-fiction books which were recommended as suitable for purchase by 'A' libraries served by the CLS. It was compiled from books which had been received by the NLS during the previous three months, and included succinct comments written by members of the NLS staff who had read them. Alley took a close interest in Books to Buy, which became a regular monthly (later weekly) publication, and in the 1960s, when Malvina Overy (later Jones) was a member of the committee which produced it, was still setting a good example to other senior staff members by contributing to it regularly. 'Each week when the list came out,' she says, 'he read it with interest. Particularly he looked to see if the committee had altered his recommended grading of a book or the editor had amended his annotation. He always noticed … Sometimes GT considered another reviewer's assessment of a book to be quite wrong and the committee to have shown poor judgement in letting it appear in Books to Buy thus. I remember some fairly tense phone calls.'93
In 1954 Alley seized an opportunity to help improve services in an area where there was a run-down library but a library committee which included a number of very good people who wanted to upgrade it and turn it into a community asset. The Turanganui Public Library in Gisborne was a subscription library controlled by a committee of subscribers.94 There were funds from an endowment and the library also received grants from the Gisborne Borough Council and from the adjacent Cook County Council, both of which appointed additional members to the committee. The subscribers' members of the committee included professional people who wanted the library to be improved and made available to a wider membership but were aware of the financial difficulties in the way of achieving this. The councillor who had been representing Gisborne borough had recently retired, and H.H. (Harry) Barker, a somewhat deliberately abrasive but page 236dynamic man who had recently been elected mayor, had decided that he would be the borough's representative in his place.
Early in 1954 a study of public library services in the Gisborne area appeared in New Zealand Libraries.95 Written by David Trudgeon, a CLS field librarian, and Bruce Bertram, librarian-in-charge of the CLS Palmerston North office, it described the current situation in the East Coast area, which included the boroughs of Gisborne, Wairoa, and Opotiki (Trudgeon), and examined the possibility of organising a regional library service for that area (Bertram). It had been sent to the editor by Alley with an appropriate disclaimer (views of the authors 'not necessarily held by this Service'). It is not clear whether the article was drawn to the attention of the subscribers' committee or whether its members were readers of New Zealand Libraries, but an approach was made by the committee to the NLS, as a result of which Hector Macaskill visited Gisborne and returned with what Helen Sullivan has called 'a colourful report' about the poor library service there. The library was upstairs in rooms rented from a hotel. The staff were all under 21 and unqualified. The stock was crammed on the shelves so tightly that when one wanted to take a book the back would come away and leave the book behind. Macaskill told Alley that he should go to Gisborne to discuss matters with the committee himself. When Alley met the committee he was impressed by the calibre of several of its members, and he also saw the possibility that something could be developed from the interest shown by both the Gisborne Borough Council and the county council in the library. It was a situation which called for a degree of imaginative unorthodoxy, but success would depend on there being available an unusually imaginative and competent librarian who could effect improvements quickly and encourage the citizens to put in place the orthodox administrative and financial arrangements which should underpin them.
Alley persuaded the committee to agree to appointing a qualified librarian for an initial period of six months at a standard salary rate. The position was to be reviewed after six months, and then, if the librarian was no longer required, he promised to find a place for him or her on the staff of the NLS. He then asked Helen Cowey to consider moving from Oamaru to Gisborne, and she bravely agreed. 'It is so boring,' he wrote to her, 'that we haven't been able to crack anything lately – since 1948 or so it seems, and the prospect of advancing instead of coagulating is good. Admitted that you haven't been exactly idle for nearly 5 years at Oamaru, but I feel that the Gisborne thing will make so much difference to a big segment of the remaining tasks'; and, 'Agree that Gisborne is a sufficiently daunting prospect. You have no way (I think) of knowing how appallingly bad it is now, and that offers at least a good prospect because it will mean page 237you will be able to bring it up from absolute zero to at least a passable stage without too much difficulty.'96
There were obvious parallels between the library situation in Oamaru and in Gisborne, but there were also significant differences. In each case, members of a subscribers' committee had started moves towards the conversion of an unsatisfactory subscription library into a public library controlled by local government, but in Gisborne the committee already included members appointed by the borough and the county, and Gisborne's new mayor was a very strong character who had made public library service one of his priorities. Following the Oamaru precedent would have led to the library being taken over by the borough, but Alley hoped that it might be possible to retain and build on the degree of co-operation that already existed between the borough and the county. This, in its turn, could have caused delays, since the county was not as keen as the borough on increasing its financial commitment. There was also the complication that Gisborne's population of over 20,000, which was about to cause it to be declared a city, was above the current limit of 15,000 for CLS service. But there was also the knowledge, gained from the Oamaru exercise, that Helen Cowey could turn around an unsatisfactory library situation in a short time97 and that her contribution might be able to consolidate the advantages before apathy set in.
Alley decided to pull out all the stops in demonstrating what could be done, beyond what had been achieved so far, in widening the range of public library service. He was prepared to anticipate success and to ask his minister to agree to steps being taken which were strictly outside the rules the CLS operated under, in order to avoid delays. He left the question of the formal transfer of the library to local authority control until later, in the hope that it would be joint borough/county control, though he did insist that free service should be offered, which would require an increased financial commitment from the local bodies. For his part, Barker persuaded the borough council to agree to increased financial support, but also, when the county council jibbed, agreed to allow it extra time for reflection.
At a critical point during the negotiations, Arthur Stock, a solicitor who was one of the subscribers' committee members, suggested that Alley should be asked to visit Gisborne and talk to the county council. This he did on a hot January day in 1956, while Stock, Dr Singer (chairman of the library committee), Barker, and Cowey waited anxiously outside. Alley succeeded in convincing the council,98 and Stock laid on a party that evening to which he invited some of his friends, including Maurice Brownlie, 'one of the most outstanding loose forwards of all time',99 who had captained the All Blacks in South Africa in 1928.
Cowey remained in Gisborne until 1958, when she moved to an page 238organising librarian position in the CLS, having created the kind of library service which ensured that subsequent events would unfold satisfactorily. She was followed by her deputy, R.S. Mackay, who maintained Cowey's standards and powers of persuasion. In January 1961 the 'private' library committee resigned and the constitution of a new committee was made up of four members from the Gisborne City Council and three from the Cook County Council. In October 1962 the family of the late H.B. Williams offered to meet the cost of a new building, and the H.B. Williams Memorial Library, a beautiful building on a prime site, was opened on 7 April 1967. An account of its planning and construction gives its 'Library authority' as 'Gisborne City Council and Cook County Council'.100
After Alley's successful discussion with the Cook County Council, Cowey asked him how long he thought it would be before all counties were persuaded to contribute to library service, since it seemed to her, even then, that the regional co-operation that was regularly discussed in NZLA meetings was a long way off. In reply, Alley delivered himself of one of the Delphic utterances for which he was well known, quoting from Ecclesiastes: 'To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.' The Gisborne exercise was a success, but it depended on a number of very favourable circumstances which came together at the right time. It was a demonstration of what could be done (though on a much smaller scale than Trudgeon and Bertram had envisaged), but it was not to be repeated.
The close attention Alley paid to the Country Library Service, which had a staff who were intensely loyal to him and which he treated in such a way that its members felt they had his trust and support, tends to obscure the fact that he kept just as close a watch on other areas in which the National Library Service was developing. He was, however, a good delegator, understanding, as some heads of large organisations do not, that successful delegation does not equate to abdication. In the case of the National Library Centre he was able to rely on Graham Bagnall to bring to life a concept which was very much a part of Alley's own thinking, but which Bagnall also made his own as he shaped and directed it. Alley and Bagnall worked together closely and harmoniously, but it would be a mistake to think either that Bagnall simply carried out Alley's wishes or that Alley put Bagnall's preoccupations out of his mind. To Alley, the strengthening of the nation's book resources, the support of libraries of all kinds in serving their own users, the creation and operation of a library system which would ensure that resources were efficiently recorded and readily accessible, and the creation of a central organisation which was vital to the system without controlling it were parts of an overall strategy of which the CLS was another part. Those who had worked with him during the previous decade or so understood this better than some who came in later.