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The Spike or Victoria University College Review 1934

The Library

The Library

Sunt hie plura sacra, sunt hie mundalia plura;
ex his, si qua placent carmina, tolle, lege. . .
Hic geminae radiant veneranda volumina legis.
condita sunt pariter hie niova cum veteri.

—Isidore of Seville.

It deserves to be recorded that the first Professors lost no time in drawing attention to the need for a library. When their first representations to the College Council were put aside, in the absence of funds, they sought aid elsewhere; and in Mr. Donald Manson of Palmerston North, Professor Mackenzie introduced the first of a line of generous benefactors. They persisted in their efforts, and at length in 1906 the history, as distinct from the annals, of the library may be said to have begun with the Council's decision to provide £200 a year for the purchase of books and periodicals. From that time the library has gone steadily forward. If, as a distinguished American librarian has lately asserted, it has "by far" the best of all four University collections in New Zealand, it is not a little due to the interest of the men whose portraits now hang on the library walls.

It is of the nature of libraries to grow. By 1914 the library had a home of its own, it had grown to some 9,000 volumes, and it had a librarian with a mission. The cupboards of the Girls' High School was simply a nasty memory, and the place where according to the Capping page 25 Song "Skinner ate his dinner" was becoming a place where students hardly dared to breathe. When the Great War broke out we really had a library.

The years from 1914 to 1927 were years of even greater progress. The income of the library more than doubled, the book collection increased to 21,000, the number of borrowers per year rose from 30 to 400, and in 1921 the present commodious reading room was opened. When at the end of 1927 Mr. Ward laid down his office, after seventeen years of service, the library was a place of which the College could well be proud.

But in those years the library had done more than grow. The books had been carefully selected worn and outmoded books (nearly 2,000 in all) had been steadily discarded, a catalogue had been compiled with care and, above all, a sound tradition had been created. About that tradition much might be said, but let it suffice to say that if a Sabbath quiet now reigns in the reading room, it does so not because undergraduates are by nature sweetly reasonable, but because a librarian was once systematically unpleasant to disturbers of the peace. The library owes a great deal to B. H. Ward.

Since 1927 the library has gone along faster than ever. It has attracted four notable benefactors. First of all, a graduate of the College, Mr. W. J. McEldowney, gave a large collection of books dealing with Colonial History; Sir Robert Stout bequeathed a large part of his library, including a really superb collection (1,100 items) of New Zealand pamphlets; Mr. R. F. Blair, a son of the first chairman of the College Council, gave us an equally large and valuable collection; and finally, the ever-bountiful Carnegie Corporation has come to our aid. This last gift, including a Travelling Fellowship for the librarian, a set of books and prints and photographs illustrating the history of Fine Arts, and an annual grant for five years for the purchase of books, will fall not far short of 30,000 dollars, and means a real turning-point in our history.

But still we are not content. We have still only the beginnings of a library. We have now some 30,000 volumes. In five years we shall have perhaps 45,000. But it will still be only a beginning. We shall want generous benefactors to carry us forward to the time when we shall be able to nourish those researches which are the life-blood, not merely of any university, but of any great community. At the end of that brief autobiography in which he describes the founding of the library that bears his name, "I found my selfe," says Sir Thomas Bodley, "furnished in a competent proportion of such fower kindes of aydes as, unless I had them all, there was no hope of good successe: for without some kinde of knowledg, as well in the learned and moderne tongues as in the sundry other sorts of Scholasticall literature, with some purse habilitie to go through with the Charge, without very great store of honourable friends to further the designe, and without speciall good leasure to follow such a worke, it could but have proved a vayne attempt and inconsiderate." Well, however it may be with the other three, we shall need such a "great store of honourable friends," and I take this opportunity to appeal for them.

May I suggest that old students should help us, even if in ever so small a way, along the line of their special interests. Some few will be able to help us in a large way, by gifts of special collections, but many a man will be able to help us in a small way, by giving us a single copy of a really good book, or by paying a subscription of a single periodical. When I was in America recently, I spent a morning with Mr. Andrew Keogh in that stupendous library of Yale University, and I was particularly impressed with his story of the way in which students of the University had helped to build up the collection. The building no doubt was the gift of a millionaire, but all over America there were alumni who had made it their business to watch over a particular section of the library and to help in howsoever small a way to its improvement. It is my hope that it may be so with us. We have begun well; is there any reason why we should not go on to become the Bodleian or the Yale of New Zealand?

Harold Miller.