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

Types of library

Types of library

The most recent and comprehensive descriptions of the various types of library in New Zealand are to be found in Richardson (1993). Chapters in this book are devoted to public libraries, library services for children, university libraries, college of education libraries, polytechnic libraries, special libraries, the Parliamentary Library and the National Library.

'Public library' denotes the type of library service which is operated for the general community and administered almost exclusively by district councils. Funding is derived from the local area, and standards of service are determined entirely by the governing authority. There have been few exceptions to this pattern. The period of large government public works saw a few public libraries established under the auspices of a government agency, but these reverted eventually to local control. A typical example was the Tūrangi Public Library: N.G. Williams (1974).

The public library sector had for most of its history been marked by extreme diversity and disparities of scale. Services ran the gamut from a few books in a cupboard in a local country store to urban library systems comprising a central library, branches and mobile libraries, with all the gradations between. There had been hopes for rationalisation through reorganisation in regional units, but little progress was made until local government itself was reorganised in 1989. Dorothea Brown (1989) sets out the issues that the government's programme of local government reform were posing for public libraries.

There has been no discursive or reflective account of the state of public library service in the period since 1989, and no assessment of the effects of reform, but the National Library has published three reports which convey statistical information, derived from surveys: Sweeney and Thomson (1991), Sweeney (1991), Chalmers (1995). The more reflective kind of account is available for earlier periods: Alley (1968) surveyed the period 1946-67; Wylie (1954b) the period 1954-64; Perry (1972b) the period 1962-72.

The readiest contemporary account of public libraries is given by Dobbie (1993). The paper includes a list of references and further reading which draws attention to current issues in the field. Keith Davison (1991) gives the results of a survey run amongst 500 public libraries in Australia and New Zealand, recording the new services that had been established between 1985 and 1990.

There is general agreement on the functions and purposes of a public library, despite the increasing divergence of opinion politically and economically on how the objectives of the library are to be met. The functions are set out simply in the NZLA's Standards for Public Library Service in New Zealand (1966, 1980). The same ideas expressed in the language of an earlier time, and reflecting different social conditions, may be found in the National Library Service annual report of 1950. The National Library has been active more recently in defining what constitutes a satisfactory library service in its pamphlet A Good District Library: National Library of New Zealand (1990).

The role of public libraries in relation to society, continuing education in particular, is explored and explained in McKeon (1976). It is examined also by Levett and Braithwaite (1975) who charged the public library system with having increased rather than reduced the gap between information rich and information poor. The rejoinders to their claims in later issues of New Zealand Libraries deserve study.

University libraries are described by Michael Wooliscroft (1993). Some understanding of the organisation of university libraries may be gained from a text on library management written by the University of Auckland Librarian: Durey (1976). Any description of the state of the university college libraries prior to World War II would be depressing. They were in a condition which was at odds with their age and nominal status in the community. Munn and Barr in their 1934 report dismissed them as 'unimportant' in the lives of their institutions. The story is best taken up immediately after the war. A representative of the new generation of university librarians has given an account of the period 1945-59: Sandall (1959).

Some progress was made in the period that Sandall describes, but the condition of the libraries was still poor enough to attract criticism from Andrew Osborn in his 1960 survey report. The criticism, directed more at the university authorities than at the library managers, related to levels of funding. The cumulative effect of low funding over many years left libraries with weak collections, incapable of supporting advanced studies and research. Two surveys of library resources were commissioned, the first in 1972 by the Vice Chancellors' Committee, the second in 1982 by the Committee of New Zealand University Librarians. Both of them were directed by the Otago University Librarian: McEldowney (1973a, 1983).

In the conditions of the late 1980s it was inevitable that the global approach to university funding and the funding of their libraries would yield to the market approach, leaving each institution to find its own way. Two papers which point the new direction are Elliott (1987) and Durey (1988).

Special libraries are most comprehensively described by Keitha Booth (1993). However, there is a dearth of recent material about types of special library or individual libraries within the sector. By coincidence the only up-to-date accounts refer to libraries which are working on opposite sides of the circle: Monica Hissink (1991) who describes the disintegration of the government science research structure and the associated libraries, and Barbara Frame (1995) who describes the theological libraries in New Zealand.