Closed but partly openApril 24th, 2020 By Chris Szekely
Thursday 26 March was the first full day of COVID-19 Alert Level 4, New Zealand in lockdown. The National Library building in Molesworth Street, from which the Turnbull operates, is closed. But that doesn’t mean that everything stopped. Here is an update on what’s been going on with the Turnbull Library over the past few weeks.
Firstly, we’re all safe and sound so far in our various bubbles. Some of us can work from home to a limited extent for a limited time. In those few days when the country was at Alert Level 3 prior to lockdown a few of us (not all) were able to take home keyboards, mice and screens and hook-up to laptops and tablets. So, internet and intranet willing, a bunch of us are still connected and on the job.
Secondly, the collections are safely stored. Onsite security continues as an essential service, and thanks to modern technologies we’re able to monitor environmental activity, systems and controls at a distance. We were pleased to have a couple of days’ notice to ensure that collection items were either put into storage or protected during lockdown.
But what about services, and the various functions that support services? Well…, it varies.
Ask a Librarian
Around a third of the Turnbull Library’s 22,000 per annum research requests come to us from a distance, via the Ask a Librarian button on the National Library website. This service is still running. Many of the questions we answer require us to consult physical items in the collections. While we can’t do that during lockdown or Alert Level 3, there are still lots of questions we can help with using great reference skills and the many digital tools and resources we have online.
Some researchers have requested physical items to be put aside ready for when our building reopens to us, (and in due course, to the public). Since lockdown began we’ve received around 450 requests, most of which we’ve been able to answer. Additionally, we have filled around 100 photo orders for high-resolution files of digitised images. See some examples on our website.
Check the research guides section of the National Library website soon for an online guide from Matt Steindl, who heads our Reading Room service. Matt has prepared a guide with lots of useful links and advice on accessing digital collections and tools.
For a limited time, some of our databases that ordinarily could only be accessed onsite, due to license arrangements, will be available at a distance. You’ll need a login and password, but we can set you up with that via Ask a Librarian. We’re thankful to the database vendors who have temporarily eased access conditions, and to colleagues in other parts of the National Library for setting this up.
We’re still on the case with the catalogue
The main way into the Turnbull unpublished collections is through our online catalogue, Tiaki. Our Arrangement and Description team is very much on the case doing clean-up work so that search terms are more accurate – for New Zealand place names for instance, we’ve added nearly a thousand georeferencing links. We’ve been wanting to get onto this for ages, and now we’ve got the chance.
And of course, newly-acquired digital items continue to be added and described on Tiaki and the National Library catalogues.
Our Cartoon Archive contains great examples of digitally-born and digitised cartoons that we can describe at a distance.
We’re still collecting
New Zealand cartoons and memes are having a field day online during lockdown. They are among the vast amount of Internet material that we’re harvesting every day. It may not be widely known that the Turnbull has a Digital Collecting team who, along with the National Library’s Legal Deposit team, scour the Internet for New Zealand content that is kept and preserved in the Turnbull collections. The overwhelming news of the day presently is the Coronavirus pandemic, and we are actively documenting life online in Aotearoa during COVID-19.
Look out for a post here on the National Library blog in a few days from two of our curators, Dr Shannon Wellington and Deirdra Sullivan for their views and advice around other formats such as photographs, video diaries, cards, letters and so on, that reflect individual New Zealand experiences of the Coronavirus pandemic. Libraries and archives around the country – including the Turnbull – will almost certainly have an interest in hearing about this material. As always, we welcome potential submissions for the Turnbull collections. We can also provide referrals and contact details to other local, regional and national collecting institutions.
Some of our curators are focused on researching and proposing new acquisitions in line with our usual collecting plans. One example is this map of the Waikato produced by Cecil George Savile Foljambe, 1st Earl of Liverpool (1846–1907), and printed in Melbourne in 1864. We purchased this a couple of weeks ago from a vendor in London.
We’re still turning 100
2020 is of course the Turnbull Library’s centenary year. The centrepiece of our centenary celebration is an exhibition called Mīharo | Wonder. The show was well on track for opening on 1 July, with over 200 collection items selected for display in the National Library Gallery. Clearly, the opening date now needs to be shifted. We’ll let you know the new date as soon as possible. Until then, the exhibition curators Peter Ireland and Dr Fiona Oliver will be tantalising you with blog post previews of some of the items that will feature in the show.
We still do music and love Lilburn
New Zealand Music Month is nearly upon us, and we’ve got a few surprise announcements in store. Our annual Turnbull mixtape of contemporary New Zealand music preserved in the Turnbull collections and available through Creative Commons licensing is due out shortly. This year DJ Sholto Duncan has curated a compilation based on picks from music buffs across the National Library. It promises to be an eclectic mix. Have a look and listen to some of the mixtapes we’ve prepared in previous years.
One of the annual highlights in the Turnbull calendar is the Lilburn Lecture. The Music Advisory Committee of the Lilburn Trust is meeting next week via Zoom to select who will be approached to deliver this year’s lecture. The lecture usually takes place in the first week of November. It’s too soon to say whether the lecture will be delivered in the National Library auditorium or through a webinar format. Recordings of previous lectures can be found here. The MAC will meet again in a couple of weeks to consider applications for the 2021 Lilburn Fellowship. Applications for that close on 17th May, 2020.
The Lilburn Lecture and the Lilburn Fellowship are funded through the Alexander Turnbull Library Endowment Trust.
We’re still offering preservation advice and training
Our Field Conservator, Vicki-Anne Heikell in Turnbull’s National Preservation Office is also still available to offer advice. While nothing beats kānohi-ki-te-kānohi, the NPO has been trialling work-arounds including Zui preservation advisory mahi.
The way communities are adapting to new workaround environments is inspiring and while some things have had to change, others remain reassuringly the same – Zui opening with karakia, space and time for each to acknowledge and mihi; tamariki and kaumatua present – sometimes contributing but more importantly a grounding presence that cultural and heritage preservation is about people and place.
While the NPO continues to advise on ‘typical’ collections there has been an increase in queries on communities and small museums preserving their own social media; ways to collect their community’s responses to lock-down and isolation – rich social history for now and the future.
We miss the collections and we miss you
It has been an often-challenging but always-interesting experience exploring ways in which we can continue serving researchers during lockdown and the closure of our building. While there are still many things we can do, the cornerstones of what we are about, along with the joy of what we do is centred around handling the collections and the face-to-face contact we have with researchers, donors and each other.
We are keen to fully reopen just as soon as we safely can. However, until then, we appreciate your patience and the support we are receiving every day from our colleagues across the National Library as well as Friends, Guardians, donors and supporters. Thank-you.
Ka kite anō. We will see you again.