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

Libraries and print culture issues

Libraries and print culture issues

Libraries, at least those of the public service kind, have regarded themselves as partners in a wider operation: the promotion of print culture, culture in the broadest sense, education, and provision of information. On the other hand, they have, by virtue of their size and their position within the print sector, become embroiled from time to time in fierce debate with other 'partners'. Notable amongst the issues have been library-versus-local bookseller; authors' rights; photocopying and copyright.

The first of these issues has receded in recent years. In earlier times some booksellers benefited from business arrangements with their local library, indeed some councils insisted as a matter of policy that the library buy from local booksellers. This business has largely disappeared as a result of statutory demands for increased local government accountability, and the parallel development of a specialist market in library supply, which is dominated by overseas suppliers. Shrewder booksellers saw that the local library was adding a fresh dimension to the retail book market, not simply competing with them for a share of a static market.

The manner in which New Zealand worked its way through the question of authors' rights, known in some other places as 'public lending right', provides an interesting comparison with the experience elsewhere. In the United Kingdom the Library Association and the authors were in opposition, often bitterly so. In New Zealand the libraries responded earlier and in a more positive fashion. Perry (1968a-b) in two articles retailed the history of public lending right around the world, and debated the issue for New Zealand. The initiative taken by the NZLA probably explains why the arguments put to the government by the libraries and by the authors were agreed on two important points: that compensatory grants to authors for the use of their works in libraries should be funded by the state, and that the administration of a scheme should not be a burden on libraries. The Kirk government announced the establishment of the New Zealand Authors Fund in 1973. A good account of the history of the Fund and an account of its work was given by the second Chairman of the Fund's Advisory Board, a former university librarian: Sage (1987).

The first photocopiers were installed in libraries in the late 1960s. They were not sufficiently convenient or efficient to pose a threat immediately to owners of copyright, but by the mid 1970s the debate was running strongly. A university librarian posed the question: photocopying—the new heresy?: Wylie (1976); the book trade response on behalf of copyright owners, White (1977), employed such terms as 'piracy' and 'theft'.

Paradoxically the pressure being brought to bear on libraries was reduced as photocopiers became more numerous in the community, and the increase in their practical efficiency multiplied many times the risk of abuse that copyright owners were fearing. It helped that libraries had adopted codes of practice, as White had advocated, and generally shown themselves to be responsible parties. The passing of the Copyright Act 1994 caused libraries to review their procedures, particularly for interloan transactions between libraries. Interloan had increasingly come to mean supply of photocopies rather than lending of original texts. Two informative guides have been published: NZLIA Public Document 1995/7, for libraries in general, and National Library (1995) a guide for schools.

The attention of the copyright owners came increasingly to be directed at the sectors where the risk and the scale of abuse were very much higher: in the teaching departments of educational institutions. In his 1977 article White had pleaded for a change in the law, shifting the balance in favour of copyright owners, and recommended specifically the introduction of copyright licensing. And so it was to be. Under the auspices of the publishers' representatives in New Zealand a copyright licensing agency was established in 1988, and by 1996, with the added authority of the Copyright Act 1994, it had extended its control comprehensively over the tertiary education sector and was beginning to negotiate with the school system. Gerard Reid (1991) representing publishing interests, explains the possible implications of licensing for libraries.

Black and white photograph

Despite the apparently respectable and almost universal wearing of hats, social restrictions on readers at Wellington Public Library in the 1930s resulted in gender segregation. This photograph by Gordon H. Burt (1893-1968) is of the first purpose-built library on the corner of Wakefield and Mercer Streets, opened in 1893 and demolished in 1946. Since then its successor has been recycled into the City Art Gallery, and the library now operates from a striking building, enhanced by metal nikau palms, designed by well-known Wellington architect Ian Athfield. Gordon Burt Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, NZ, reference number F-117797-1/2-)

Another notable area of public and political pressure was that of control and restriction of publications. This had a curious manifestation during and immediately after World War II. Publications were subject to restriction and control for economic reasons. In the days of our overwhelming dependence on publishing centres in Europe, Australia and America, imports of books and journals were potentially a significant drain on overseas exchange. The role of libraries in a system of control was acknowledged by the Government. The feeling of those times is conveyed in an article which interviews Stanley Unwin, Walter Nash and J.C. Beaglehole: New Zealand Listener ('Importation of books', 1949). A bureau for overseeing and approving the importation of books and journals by libraries was established within the National Library Service, and it continued to operate until 1962, until the principles on which it operated were overidden by New Zealand's adherence to the Unesco Agreement on the Importation of Educational, Scientific and Cultural Materials.

The initial signing of the Unesco Agreement was marked by an article in New Zealand Libraries ('End of duties on books in sight', 1950). It was this agreement which protected libraries from import restrictions and from imposition of import duty during the next couple of decades. It was used without success by the New Zealand Library Association in its arguments opposing the imposition of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) on library materials.

The more common grounds for restriction of publications have been sedition, blasphemy and indecency. Libraries are among those social institutions which feel the effects of a common impulse amongst human individuals to exercise control over what other individuals read and view. Libraries are subject daily to pressures from users, from governing authorities and from the government.

The primary point of control, up to the passing of the Indecent Publications Act 1963, was at the border of New Zealand. Customs officers were the censors. Libraries, as recipients of relatively large quantities of overseas publications, were placed in a close relationship with that Department. Libraries were privy, as no other citizens generally were, to the lists of classifications that the Customs Department maintained for their own guidance. A bound collection of these lists is to be found in the collection of Wellington Public Library.

A description of the state of New Zealand's censorship system, some comparisons with systems elsewhere in the world, and an account of the library profession's views on the matter in that earlier period of censorship policy and administration, are set out in articles in New Zealand Libraries by Horn, Hood, Roth (1949). The 1954 amendment to the legislation, drafted and passed in the wake of the moral panic over the Mazengarb Report, received a commentary from a library point of view: Wylie (1954a).

The NZLA was involved in the radical review of the legislation that led to the passing of the Indecent Publications Act 1963, and for a period of many years this was reflected in the membership of the Indecent Publications Tribunal. The first librarian who served on the Tribunal was author of the standard work on the Act and the operations of the tribunal: Perry (1965a).

The mechanisms for control were to undergo further review and change with the appointment of the Ministerial Committee of Inquiry into Pornography (1988). The NZLA made a submission to the Committee. An Association statement, 'A question of injury', on which the submission was based, appeared in New Zealand Libraries (NZLA, Intellectual Freedom Committee, 1988).

And then there is the matter of the enemy within. Do librarians, in exercising the judgment that is necessary for selecting new items for stock or discarding older items from stock, practise a form of censorship? Do they, in the day-to-day administration of their organisations commit small or grosser acts of censorship against the public? These questions were explored in a pair of matched articles: Cauchi (1988) and McKeon (1988).