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Why rehoming 600,000 books from the National Library is so important

April 30th, 2020 By Rachel Esson
In October last year the National Library announced we would be looking to rehome 600,000 of our overseas published books. We realise this announcement raised questions, so we wanted to take this opportunity to clarify a few things.

Overseas published collections not one single collection

The overseas published collections is not one single collection but is made up of an assortment of books acquired from a range of sources, some were purchased and some donated to us having been weeded from other libraries. These books were collected to support the library system, to provide access to information that other libraries might not hold. However, around 80% of them have not been issued for 20-30 years which means most of these books are not being used and that means that the library system is telling us that it doesn’t need these books anymore.

Making room for New Zealand and Pacific material

The National Library are looking to rehome the overseas published collections to make room for New Zealand and Pacific material so that we can continue to build and expand our own stories and memories. We are focussing more on growing our New Zealand and Pacific material in line with our Collections Policy consulted on and developed in 2015.

The National Library acquires between 80,000 - 90,000 electronic and print publications a year that consist of New Zealand, Pacific and overseas material. We are still retaining overseas published books and will continue to purchase overseas published material for our collections in focussed areas.

Principles for retention and deselection of items

This is project was not undertaken lightly and at the outset we developed principles that have guided the process to ensure its integrity.

These principles for retention or deselection document enables due diligence has been applied to the distribution of the overseas published collections and, to provide visibility to National Library stakeholders, interested parties and to provide direction for staff directly involved on the distribution work. The principles have been updated as we have received feedback from both staff and stakeholders.

Wellington-based librarian Rebecca Hastie articulated the role of libraries in her Spinoff article, saying that ‘A well-managed collection will both bring new materials in and remove materials that no longer benefit the collection. No library has the unlimited space, staffing, and budget that would enable the storage of everything forever. Even if circumstances allowed, a library that never removed anything would just bloat into an off-putting, unmanageable mess.’

Tracking down books for readers

Part of a librarian’s skillset is to be able to track down books for their readers. Sometimes these books are unusual, and hard to find but we have the training, expertise and a global network open to us. A professional historian or researcher has a different skillset to a librarian but when we work together we can access more. We are not restricted by the four walls surrounding the shelves of books around us.

Librarians can’t predict the future, if one of these 600,000 books suddenly become relevant tomorrow or in ten years’ time our best option for providing access to that book is through our global library network and our interloan system. Dr Helen Heath writes about our interloan system, and access in her blog ‘Libraries: your doorway to the world’.

Te Puna interloan scheme

All of our public and tertiary libraries belong to the New Zealand interloan scheme. Te Puna search is your window to a huge catalogue of books available via interloan. The New Zealand interloan service isn’t free, but it allows you to borrow books from libraries throughout New Zealand and around the world for around half the average price of a new book.

Our role

The National Library’s role is to develop, grow and evolve collections that are relevant to Aotearoa New Zealand’s documentary heritage. Those collections include New Zealand, Pacific and overseas material. The National Library are kaipupuri or stewards of our nation’s stories and memories, and it is our job to keep the right collections for New Zealanders.

To view the principles for retention or deselection document and for the latest up-to-date information on this Project please visit our overseas published collections page.

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