Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Local libraries should have local history

At some point, someone within the Waitakere City Libraries administration made a decision that all local history information formerly held at community libraries in the city's area should be centralised in Henderson.

I know I live in Auckland City, and don't pay rates going into the kitty across the Whau River, but -- I think such a policy is daft. Certainly, if you want years of news clippings to be kept safe in case of theft, fire, all the other hazards -- copy them, and allow the local community library to have something with which to help a school kid coming up to the counter in need of answers to some query about the community where they live. Now, though, it seems folks are directed to Henderson, from wherever they live in Waitakere City.

This issue came up in the light of what happened to a book I donated to the New Lynn library, a copy of The Zoo War. I gave it to New Lynn because I wanted something I had written lodged in the library of the area where my mother got her first house (on Veronica Street). I specifically stated I did not want it gravitating towards Henderson. The staff wrote a note on the top of the accession form to that effect.

You can guess what happened. It's now in Henderson, where (the librarian who answered my rather irate query says I should feel honoured that they considered it to be of such national importance that they thought it should be there rather than just in New Lynn.

I disagreed, lodged a formal complaint -- and never had a response.

So, yesterday, I was in New Lynn library. I advised them that as there's stuff that's appeared here on New Lynn history (such as the Poudrette Factory piece), they might want a copy for their files -- but would that head to Henderson as well?

The library's manager said yes, it would. They no longer have a vertical file for their local history. Everything goes to Henderson. I remember a few years ago they'd asked if they could have some of my Green Bay notes for their file, but I never got around to sorting them out (usual business of time passing in a flurry). I'm glad now that I didn't -- it would have been a waste of time.

I'm glad that Auckland City Libraries do not have this policy. Sure, the Auckland Research Centre has information banks such as their scrapbook indexes and the like, but -- they've always had them. Our local community libraries, in varying degrees, have their own collections. I can go into a library in my city, no matter which suburb, and ask to see their local history collection. I end up directed to a drawer, or a filing cabinet, and there's usually copies of articles and photographs for me to do research with. My own collection of Avondale stuff started with me copying from Avondale Library's vertical file (in those days, in the 1980s, you handed over your library card as security.) These days, not forgetting those beginnings, I give stuff to the library now in return. Avondale Community Library and the Avondale-Waterview Historical Society have a great relationship.

What will happen under the impending Super City is anyone's guess. I don't think what's happened to Waitakere City's community libraries can be easily undone, which is the sad thing. I hope that whoever runs the new system can put something back into the local libraries, so we have a chance of keeping local history alive in our schools. Good thing kids can access the Internet at least -- I'm even more glad, now, that I started this blog.


  1. I do live in Waitakere City, in Titirangi, and am slightly irked that when I want to research some aspect of local history I must go to Henderson library. Sometimes, the Henderson staff are kind enough to scan material and send it by PDF, but this is not practical in all cases. Priceless manuscripts or items that require special storage/handling aside, I'm with you that local history should be kept in local libraries. On the other hand, until it closed for renovation, the Titirangi library did have a few photos of Lopdell House in its early days stuck on a wall!

  2. I heard on good authority that the Super City will offshore the local history reference desk to a call centre in India. There will be Indian representation on the governing council. Once they start centralising, one day "suddenly" the local branches are deemed superfluous. Budget savings all round...

    Seriously, I think you should do an "Arthur Desmond" on them (your post of August 19, 2009). Stir up your supporters to barrage the library administrators with "please explain" letters, emails, in-persons.

    Desmond, incidentally, was on to something, just a century or so ahead of himself. One way libraries could remain of relevance is to adopt something of an Amazon or Netflix model: ship books & other items out for short-term lending (for postage & small handling fee), deliver even more on-line. Locally, they need to do the sort of things that will encourage local in-library patronage - they know children's storytime works, but so does the "best little" collection of local history!

  3. Thanks, both of you (and a wry chuckle from me in reaction to your first paragraph there, Kuaka!)

    Actually, I believe Manukau City still have local history in their community libraries. Apparently Mangere Bridge does, at least. I know that North Shore City does (one research project late last year involved a day on the North Shore buses going from Northcote to Glenfield to Takapuna to Devonport, each library with its own collection, although Takapuna had the central collection as well.) The odd one out seems to be Waitakere City.

    It's a bit late to do an Arthur Desmond, with all the Super City stuff -- and, yes, I think it's also too late to reverse what Waitakere has done. Stuff that goes into a centralised holding doesn't come out. I've just come home from attending a launch at Mt Albert library of four heritage studies commissioned by the Eden-Albert Community Board - and the Board gave copies of the studies (which I did work on commission-basis for) to the library for people to read and use for history study. That is very, very cool (copies also to the local historical society). The stories about where you live should be where you live, and not just miles away in a central repository.

    Thanks again for reading my rant, folks!