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



McEldowney (1962) in the introduction to his book, writing of a very active period in the history of the NZLA, and endeavouring to explain the extraordinary effectiveness of the Association during that period, said that nine persons alone would be sufficient to constitute an honours list for the organisation. What was true of the Association might also be said of the library sector at large. There are individuals who stand out as particularly effective and influential through persistent activity, and through a gift for persuading communities, the profession, library authorities, and government that a certain course should be followed.

Recognition of the careers of most of these persons is to be found amongst retirement tributes and obituaries in the pages of the Association's journal and newsletter, and in other journals and in newspapers. The search for more substantial treatments in book form yields virtually nothing. For example, the life of the key figure in library development in the three middle decades of this century, G.T. Alley, remains a 'work in progress'. Even the items in the periodical literature seem strangely random, reflecting little of the pace and pattern of library development. For example, the death of John Barr, partner in the landmark survey of New Zealand libraries in 1934, received no more than a one-page note in the professional journal: New Zealand Libraries (35, April 1972, p.147).

Nonetheless, there are some works which deserve notice. G.T. Alley, first National Librarian, around the time of his 80th birthday, published reminiscences of his work with people whom he regarded as pivotal: Peter Fraser, H.G.R. Mason, T.D.H. Hall, Alister McIntosh, Archie Dunningham, Professor James Shelley: Alley (1983). Dunningham (1948) wrote about Mark Cohen, founder of Dunedin Public Library and convener of the first gathering of library authorities in 1910. McEldowney (1973b) and Traue (1986) wrote on Graham Bagnall, an Alley lieutenant, but distinguished in his own right as scholar, writer, bibliographer and Chief Librarian of the Alexander Turnbull Library. H.O. Roth (1979) and D.O. Bozimo (1981) offered tributes to John Harris, whose professional life is the most widely documented, perhaps because he had pursued distinguished careers in New Zealand and later in Nigeria.

The record of women, in a profession which they dominated numerically, is even less adequately treated. Alice Minchin's death in 1966 received no notice in the profession's journal, a fact noted by the writer who later revived interest in her contribution to the development of the Auckland University Library: Johnson (1990). She had been appointed as the University's first Librarian in 1917, and battled on in that position against 30 years of gross neglect by the University authorities, establishing an organisation which though poor was well organised and properly run, ready to respond to the more generous treatment of the postwar years.

Another 30-year career of note was that of Alice Woodhouse, first Reference Librarian at the Alexander Turnbull Library. Her Chief, C.R.H. Taylor, in whose place she acted for a time during World War II, wrote a tribute to her after her death in 1977: Taylor (1978). The death of Mary Fleming was noted in New Zealand Libraries by five senior members of the profession, one of whom characterised her as 'influential rather than prominent'—a compliment to a person who provided leadership in the period when the system for training librarians was being established: White et al (1964).

The career of Mary Ronnie is documented progressively through the pages of professional literature in New Zealand, because her career has been marked by continuous involvement in professional matters and the politics of the business. It stands as a 'typical' story, yet one which is individual and distinguished. It has been acknowledged as a role model for women in the profession, but in a sense that accords it less than full credit; she was a role model for librarians generally. Perhaps significantly the career story has been most generously treated in a journal published outside the profession, Metro, reflecting the impact that this person has had in public life: Callan (1984).

Esther Glen gave her name and reputation to an award medal given by the NZLA/NZLIA to New Zealand writers for distinguished works of fiction for children—the oldest such award in the country. For a brief account of her life see Celia Dunlop (1993).

In an obituary for Dorothy Ballantyne, McEldowney (1995) placed her among that generation of New Zealand librarians who displayed what the author called 'missionary zeal'. The fields in which she chose to spread the message were books for children (about which she wrote under the name Dorothy Neal White) and library service for children; through the medium of her professional career she made the two fields one.

The American librarian Keyes Metcalf visited New Zealand once, in 1958, for three weeks only. However, his influence on library development in this country is considered to be such that the tribute to him in New Zealand Libraries occupies five pages. McEldowney (1985) traces the effects of that influence, which worked its way through Metcalf's classic book on academic library architecture, encounters with him at a significant seminar in Australia by key New Zealand library personalities, the visit to New Zealand itself, and continuing contacts with the people whom he had met in New Zealand.