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The Spike Golden Jubilee Number May 1949

The Library

page 70

The Library

Neither Queen Victoria, who gave the infant college a name, nor Dick Seddon, who gave it "a local habitation," could fairly be described as bookish; and so it was natural enough that the first students should be left to stagger along without a Library. Something was done by enthusiastic teachers to fill the gap; but it was not until 1906 that the College Council was able to provide an annual grant for the purchase of books and periodicals, and five more years were to slip away before the name of a librarian appeared in the Calendar. But, if the funds were small, they were now regular; and the librarian was a man with a mission: in these respects the royal college was better off than any of its sisters, and gained a lead that it has never lost. Twenty years after the appointment of Horace Ward as librarian, the two distinguished authorities who prepared a survey of New Zealand Libraries for the Carnegie Corporation of New York were able to declare that Victoria had "by far" the best of the university libraries.

The first librarian was a formidable figure. As he sat at his raised desk in the centre of the old reading room, wearing a neat grey suit and a clerical collar and a little black skull-cap and reading a Greek Testament or a copy of the Modern Churchman, he gave the place something of the air of a seminary. Few seminaries indeed can ever have been half so quiet; for movement was discouraged and "communication" of every sort—not simply speech—between reader and reader was strictly forbidden. Offenders against the rules were quietly invited to accompany the Librarian to his little room beside the main entrance and seldom emerged unshaken. By a combination of quiet persistance, and then brutality, the reign of quiet was established and preserved. In those circumstances only a serious student ever dreamt of entering the reading room, to take a book out was an act that required a certain counting of the cost, to fail to return it by the due date required a courage or a carelessness that set a man apart from ordinary peace-loving mortals. Even members of the teaching staff were made to toe the line.

No doubt it was overdone; but quietness is a good thing and hard to come by, and in this, as in other ways, Horace Ward served well the cause of learning. If he was irascible, he was also very conscientious, and worked hard and well for a very small salary. When he resigned, at the end of 1927, he left the library in good running order; the number of readers had risen to over 400 and there were 21,000 books on the shelves.

Four years after the appointment of the present librarian, i.e., in 1932, the library was transformed by the intervention of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, which not only enabled the librarian to go abroad for a year to study library methods but provided 25,000 dollars for the purchase of books. As a result the library was reorganized, the staff was increased and books and periodicals began to flow into the college on quite a new scale. When the grants of the Carnegie Corporation were exhausted fresh funds became available from the A. R. Atkinson and the Alexander Crawford bequests, which maintained the new rate of expansion for a number of years; and, when they were nearing exhaustion, an increased Government grant did something to make good the loss. We are now feeling, as a result of both a vast increase in the number of students and also a considerable increase in the number of subjects taught, the need for a much greater income; but, whether we obtain this or not, we now have a library of which our City and Province may well be proud. Between 1927 and 1947 the annual expenditure on books and periodicals grew from £600 to £3,300, the staff grew from two to ten, the number of borrowers grew from 400 to 1,500, the number of books borrowed in a year from 3,000 to 23,000. We have at present a collection of nearly 70,000 carefully selected books.

Up to 1932 the selection of books was confined very strictly to the subjects that were dealt with in the courses of lectures offered in the College, and the funds were divided equally between departments; but the Carnegie grants were given us expressly to enable us to venture into new fields and to allocate our funds according to the needs of each subject. It would be hard to exaggerate the importance of these changes. I think indeed that it may be quite freely said that the Carnegie Corporation and its advisers gave us a new conception of the library.

But we have had other benefactors, some of them very notable. From the libraries of A. R. Atkinson, D. E. Beaglehole, R. F. Blair, Sir Robert Stout and J. V. Turnbull we were able to select, in each case, between one and two thousand volumes in the fields of literature and history and politics; from W. J, McEldowney we received, in addition to valuable gifts in other fields, a very page 71 extensive collection of pre-Revolution American archives; from Sir Robert Stout we received a superb collection (1,100 items) of pamphlets relating to the early history of New Zealand; from Horace Fildes we received a very large and valuable collection of books and pamphlets relating to New Zealand and the Pacific; from Alexander Crawford we received £2,000 and from A. R. Atkinson we have so far received £2,400 for the purchase of books and periodicals. In addition to these we have received gifts from a long line of benefactors, together making a large and valuable addition to our resources.

We have done well; but, it is still only a beginning. We still need generous benefactions 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 great university but of any great community.

At the end of that brief autobiography in which he describes the founding of the great library at Oxford that bears his name, Sir Thomas Bodley says, "I found myself 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 knowledge, 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 work, it could but have proved a vayne attempt and inconsiderate." Well, however it may be with the other three, we shall need a "great store of honourable friends," and I take this opportunity to appeal for them.

May 1 suggest that old students should help—as, for example, our old friend W. J. McEIdowney has helped and continues to help us—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 or woman 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 the United States, a good many years ago, 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 old students of the university had helped to improve the collections of books. The building no doubt was the gift of a millionaire, but all over the United States there were old students who had made it their business to watch over a small or a large section of the library and to help in its extension. Might it not 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?

H. G. Miller