The National Library of New Zealand collects the real stuff of history

Embedded content:

Diane Woods talks about some of the ways the library acquires new items for the collections from people here and overseas.


Diane Woods: I'm Diane Woods and I work as field librarian at the Alexander Turnbull Library, so my job is to help gather the materials that we collect for the library.

I'm free to travel around the country to do this and I help the managers of their different collections, the curators, to build up their collections.

A lot of things are offered to us by people writing to us either by email or by letter and one day I received a letter from a woman in Canada offering us a photograph album and some photographs that had belonged to her mother.

Her grandparents had lived in New Zealand 100 years ago and these were about their life in New Zealand she had friends come into New Zealand on a holiday so I arranged to meet them at their Wellington hotel.

There were three or four photo albums and some loose photographs I looked through them with thin and very interesting to see photographs of the family coming to New Zealand back from London after they'd moved there.

I found this album really delightful for the way that it showed informal pictures of what shipboard life was like a hundred years ago. I wrote to thank the woman in Canada who'd given them to us, because fill in the collections by no donation was really important to us and then I handed them onto the photographic archive curator for him to then take care of them.

Of course I do go out and about to collect things but very often things just arrived on our mail desk totally unannounced so we do get wonderful surprises sometimes.

One day as I was walking past the mail desk somebody said to me look at these postcards that have just arrived.

And there were about 20 of them lots of photographs lots of cartoons some of them were silk embroidered ones and she said to me I'm not sure which section of the library to get them to, do they go to the photograph section or because they've written on the back to manuscripts.

So she held them up to me I chopped one out of her hand. I turned it over and it was from my grandfather and World War one. Well, I have recognized the handwriting first and then I saw the signature and Spillman's an unusual name.

I just shrieked that's from my grandfather but absolutely amazing that shows the Anzacs in France New Zealanders loading ammunition and it's got the New Zealand soldiers behind a bank there with shells.

'We realized the value of steel helmets when in the danger zone but few care to wear them longer than absolutely necessary the speed of the ends X is often commented on. Kind regards F.S Spillman.'

A real privilege of my job is that I go out and I see these collections in the context in which they were created and I'm meeting the people that they're important to and that's really special.