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

Library service for children

Library service for children

Attempts have been made from time to time, in the name of progress or professional innovation, to remove distinctions between services to children and services to other age groups, by integration of the book stock in public libraries, by merging of a community's public library and its school library, by pooling of staff in the children's library and the general library. However the designation of services specifically for children has remained established practice since the first children's libraries were opened in Wellington and Dunedin in 1910. The rationale for dedicated stock, services and staffing is positive; the objective is not the restriction of children's reading but the enlargement of their reading by exposure to the richness of children's literature.

This child-centred view of library service, allied with a thorough knowledge of children's literature, lay behind the revitalisation of children's librarianship in the late 1930 and the 1940s. Much of the energy and inspiration for this came from the experience that was gained overseas by New Zealand librarians, again with critical Carnegie Foundation support. One of these agents, Dorothy Neal White (1961), provides a brief history of children's service to 1946. Trevor Mowbray (1993) extends the account and describes the state of services at that date.

Another critical event within this process was the creation of the School Library Service in 1942. It took books to schools and smaller public libraries, and it provided expertise and guidance in the development of library services for children. The story of the service in its first 46 years is told by Lois Luke (1988).

Both the major surveys, Munn-Barr, and Osborn, made reference in passing to the quality of services to children, but the area first received individual attention in a survey conducted in 1974 by the American expert Sara Fenwick, at the invitation of the NZLA and the New Zealand Council for Educational Research. The report, Fenwick (1975) provides a useful description of existing services, and lays down lines for development of services; it should be read in conjunction with a statistical appendix, published in 1977. Libraries in schools had been given close scrutiny the same year, within the context of the Educational Development Conference: EDC (1974). The pressure generated by the Fenwick Report led to the establishment of a Government working party on school libraries, and another landmark document, the Foley Report (1978). The setting and the significance of the Foley Report are described by P.L. McDonald (1981).

It was ten years before research and review on a comparable scale was undertaken. The National Library examined its own services to young people, and the use made of various other library services by young people: Chalmers and Slyfield (1993).