This story gives a snapshot history of the Country Library Service and its bookvan and loans services, sprinkled with some anecdotal memories about the National Library Hamilton Regional Centre.
Do you remember the days when the bookvans from the Country Library Service / National Library would visit your local community? Maybe you were one of the Field Librarians that drove vanloads of books, bringing joy to regional outskirts. Or one of the 'behind the scenes' team at the regional offices in Hamilton, Palmerston North and Christchurch or head office at Wellington. This story gives a snapshot history, sprinkled with some anecdotal memories about the National Library's former Hamilton Regional Centre.
This story commemorates the fifty year journey of the Country Library Service and its bookvans which began in 1938 and evolved into becoming part of the National Library of New Zealand's Extension Division in 1945. Following the amalgamation of local body government, the bookvans ceased operation in 1988. Field Librarians would load up their bookvans from the 'Adult' collection at the regional centres in Hamilton, Palmerston North and Christchurch, which also housed the 'Schools' collection (School Library Service - SLS). Then they'd set off for days on end visiting small rural libraries, prisons, mental health hospitals, forestry camps and military bases to exchange loans.
The Munn-Barr report (1934) on New Zealand libraries identified the need for a planned and integrated national library system. It also noted the following about the Workers' Education Association: "The Canterbury branch operates a bookmobile, or travelling library, which carries book supplies throughout its territory. This is an interesting experiment in rural library service which may provide valuable data in connection with a more general library service to country residents." (p.47)
The first travelling library tutor was Geoffrey Alley (1930-1933) who reported on the first two years of his work in his MA thesis, 'An Experiment in Rural Adult Education'.
In October 1935, the Government issued 'The Government's National Library Service' (Memorandum no. 34). The four-page statement began by saying: "It is the Government's intention to organise a National Library Service with a view to assisting small country libraries and to provide facilities for districts which have no libraries." Initially a national central lending library was to be set up. At a later stage, a number of regional depository libraries would be established which would operate travelling libraries as part of their service. "Details of this ultimate stage are being worked out," the Memorandum said.
The outcome was that the Country Library Service began in 1938 with Geoffrey Alley appointed as its Head Librarian / Director. Bookvans were sent from Wellington to small-town libraries and isolated rural areas where people had set up a lending library in their home for the locals to access.
The service began with two book vans which were built in the Government Railway Workshops. (NZL, v.1, June 1938, p.81.) "By the end of 1938 the book vans were visiting 16 public libraries controlled by borough councils or town boards which had agreed to provide free service to residents (the 'A' service), and 179 small independent subscription libraries in county areas which paid a small fee and agreed to open their doors to all residents (the 'B' service). In addition, provision was made for the supply of books by hamper to small isolated groups ('C' service) and by post to isolated individuals ('D' service)." (AJHR, 1939, H-32A, pp.1-2. cited by W.J. McEldowney, Geoffrey Alley, Librarian, p. 102)
In Lighthouses of Foveaux Strait - a History (May 2010), Angela Bain writes " Kevin Pennell recalls that the Country Library Service would send three butter boxes filled with 75 books to each station every three months, and remove the previous boxes. Pennell said that ‘ The books were something we looked forward to ’." (p.85)
The Country Library Service set up a schools section in 1942 to provide specifically for children in rural areas. In 1951 this became the School Library Service (later the National Library’s Services to Schools). Book collections were loaned to schools and small public libraries By 1958, over one million items were loaned to schools through the 15 distribution centres which had a combined collection of 1,743,487 items. (See Report of the National library Service for the year ended 31 March 1958, p. 3)
Training support was also provided to assist schools to develop and manage their own school library. Organising Librarians (later called Advisers and then Capability Facilitators) provided schools and public libraries with advice on cataloguing their collections, setting up card catalogues, and processing and mending books. A historical paper has been written by Lois Luke (1988) 'National Library of New Zealand School Library Service, 1942-1988'. For information about current services to schools, see Services to Schools website.
During the World War II, the Country Library Service was also responsible for the War Library Service, the Central Bureau for Library Book Imports, the formation of a Union Catalogue, and the operation of part of the inter-library loan scheme.
CLS responsible for Central Bureau for Library Book ImportsHouses in Sydney Street East, Wellington, home of the headquarters of the National Library Service. Alexander Turnbull Library, F-30004-1/2
New Zealand Electronic Text Collection
Three Country Library Service district offices were set up: Christchurch (CCL) in 1944, Palmerston North (PCL) in 1948 and Hamilton (HCL) in 1953. By March 1958, the total stock at the Headquarters (Wellington) and Country Library Service tallied 652,308 items - 176,600 fiction and 475,708 non-fiction. (See Report of the National library Service for the year ended 31 March 1958, p. 3) For archival records held by the National Library, see Country Library Service (Hamilton) Records.
In 1945, the decision was made to establish the National Library Service with four divisions: the Country Library Service, School Library Service, and a new National Library Centre and a graduate Library School in Wellington. Geoffrey Alley was appointed as the Director.
Since 1942, professional development for librarians who held a school higher leaving certificate was provided the New Zealand Library Association through its library certificate course. In 1946 a diploma course was introduced for university graduates through the New Zealand Library School. (See New Zealand Library School : [Prospectus], 1945- ) This one-year, paid, full-time diploma course was administered by the National Library Service and financed by the Education Department. Mary Parsons was appointed as the first Director (1945-47). In 1980, the diploma course was taken over by Victoria University of Wellington. The Library School took over the delivery of the NZLA Certificate training in 1952; which was later taken over by the Wellington College of Education in 1980. and then by the Open Polytechnic in 1998. (See Te Ara)
Working with the Country Library Service was seen as an attractive career option. "Many graduate librarians wanted to work for the Country Library Service (CLS) because it offered travel, independence and good pay." Alan Smith, who graduated in 1967, said: ‘On the CLS you were on the road for six weeks and back at base for two: while away you got a daily allowance (on top of salary) of about $6.50 – at a time when you could still get dinner-bed-and-breakfast at a country pub for around $4. But as well I was keen to see more of New Zealand before heading off on the inevitable o.e.’" (See Te Ara)
The Prow: "The South Island bus would leave Christchurch for three months at a time with the driver living in the bus for the duration. It carried 1300 books and would visit Golden Bay four times a year, touring each of the small community libraries and journeying out to remote homesteads, cottage hospitals and lighthouses, amongst other places. Books were housed around the outside of the bus with lift-up awnings to shelter under if the weather was inclement. The driver had all he or she needed to cook and sleep inside the van." (Story: The Beginnings of Library Services in Golden Bay / Mohua)
The Field Librarians would stay in motels, be invited to stay overnight in people's homes and, at times, camp out in the bookvan. Jim Sutherland would use his spare time writing novels and short stories (see listing). The Hamilton Centre staff would be treated with a special morning tea with the announcement that the latest book by J. H. (James Hector) Sutherland had been published! Another Field Librarian, Alec Reid, wrote "Paddlewheels on the Wanganui" (1967). Some of the Field Librarians gave their bookvan a nickname!
Field Librarians would return to their regional centre with tales about driving in the more isolated rural areas with unsealed roads. On one occasion, the Hamilton Centre staff heard how the back wheels of the bookvan had slid into a ditch on a winding, wet road. As the wheels spun around in the mud, some form of traction was needed. The Field Librarian had the inspiration to throw underneath the wheels a handful of the older books that were to be lent on indefinite loan - success!
During the year prior to March 1958, one of the South Island bookvans was replaced with one similar to the new vans being used in North Island. The van was constructed of aluminium alloy on a four-ton, long-wheel-based chassis, and carried approximately 2,000 books. "'Particular care was taken in providing good sealing against dust and water, adequate natural lighting, and the best possible insulation." (See Report of the National library Service for the year ended 31 March 1958, p. 7)
Loans of books and periodicals were given to the following types of libraries: (A) Local authority library which had a free subscription: Free loans on a population basis were given. (B) Independent subscription libraries: A small annual charge per fifty books loaned. (C) Hamper loans were sent to isolated groups of readers for a small charge. (D) Postal service of free loans sent to lighthouse keepers and similar very remote readers, such as coastal islands. (E) Free loans on a population basis to Ministry of Works, and Hydro-electric and New Zealand Forest Service camps.
All libraries under (A) and (B) and the majority under (C) received regular bookvan visits up to three times a year. The bookvans also visited Department of Justice prisons; and general and mental health hospitals in urban and rural areas. From the special TB collection, books were exchanged three times a year at 15 sanatoria and tuberculocis wards of public hospitals. Cartons of books were also sent to Scott Base, the Chatham Islands, Pitcairn Island, Niue and Rarotonga. See "Report of the National library Service for the year ended 31 March 1958", p. 8 and "Minimum standards for public libraries participating in the Country Library Service" (Wellington N.Z. : National Library Service, 1958)
The intent was for CLS to assist local authority efforts to provide a reasonable standard of library service, not to supplant it. Expectations were that the local authority "houses it in a fair building, grafts it onto a reasonable local book collection, and has the whole serviced by an active and informed librarian." (See Report of the National library Service for the year ended 31 March 1958, p. 8) "Minimum standards for public libraries participating in the Country Library Service" were approved by the Minister of Education on 22 April 1958.
In 1963 the Government announced its intention to form a National Library and appointed the first National Librarian, Geoffrey Alley in March 1964. The enabling National Act was passed in 1965 which saw the merging of the following institutions to form the National Library of New Zealand: National Library Service, the Alexander Turnbull Library, the New Zealand Newspaper Collection and copyright services of the General Assembly Library. The General Assembly Library, which was formed in 1858, remained separate as the Parliamentary Library. The Country Library Service and the School Library Service formed the Extension Division of the National Library of New Zealand, and were joined in 1989 by the National Film Library. See The Country Library Service regulations 1967. Alley retired on 31 December 1967. (See Te Ara.)
Construction began on the new National Library building, but was suspended between 1976 and 1981. Library staff and collections were relocated from 14 sites around Wellington to the new National Library building on Molesworth Street, which was officially opened in August 1987.
"The Country Library Service Regulations 1968" set out the terms of service for helping public libraries. Books were loaned according the size of the population with up to 1,000 books loaned. Three exchanges were ideally made each year by the bookvans except in the case of the larger public libraries who could visit their nearest centre and choose their bulk loan of books. Similar loans of Children's and Young People's books of up to 450 titles, were also available from the School Library Service.
Subject loan collections consisting up to 20 to 80 books on a specific topic were made available. In addition, journals were subscribed to and circulated to the public libraries to supplement their collection. Indefinite loans were made available to libraries and schools, which were identified by an orange/yellow date slip at the inside rear and were stamped 'Indefinite Loan'. Establishment loans were also made available to libraries requiring larger quantities, especially the newer libraries. The Indefinite and Establishment loan books tended to have been older publications in still good condition.
In addition to the bookvan and bulk loans service, a Request and Information Service was provided to meet individual borrower needs not held by their public library or government institution library. Requests for specific author/titles or material on any subject would be posted or faxed to the Regional Centre - Hamilton, Palmerston North, or Christchurch. A team of reference librarians would check the Centre's card catalogue. If not held by the centre, the reference staff would look up the microfiched Union Catalogue for items held by Wellington and other libraries and forward the request on in the afternoon post. Government departments could also request specific titles from the headquarters stock at Wellington. The Wellington stock was also used to supply inter-library loans for all types of libraries.
Advice and practical assistance was given to libraries and local authorities by the regional offices and Wellington - "Plans for new buildings, relief staff in times of emergency, book orders for new libraries, visits to and reports on libraries with recommendations for improvements, help with the basic training of local staff, lists of books recommended for buying, including the weekly Books to Buy, guidance and assistance in many ways...." (Source: The Country Library Service: What it is - what it does. National Library of New Zealand, Wellington, 1971). Advice given to public libraries by the Organising Librarians on aspects of library management, included how to type catalogue cards for their own card catalogue. The CLS also coordinated a book-buying scheme amongst local authority libraries with 22 libraries taking part by March 1958. The "Manual for libraries in small rural communities and institutions" (1981) was written by J. H. (Jim) Sutherland (National Library of New Zealand. Extension Service)
In the year ending 31 March 1970: (Source: The Country Library Service: What it is - what it does. National Library of New Zealand, Wellington, 1971, p.8)
The CLS collection had approximately 756,340 volumes and the Central Division had 274,000 titles. Number of new items added to CLS collection was 37,619 (25,335 non-fiction and 12,284 fiction).
Following the amalgamation of local body government, the bookvans ceased operation in 1988. The other services offered from the 'Adult' collection at the regional centres ceased in the early 1990s - specific author/title requests service, subject loans, indefinite loans and establishment loans. Titles were selected by the National Library offices in Wellington (mainly non-fiction) and Christchurch (mainly fiction) and the remainder distributed to libraries.
The National Library commissioned the New Zealand Oral History Archive (NZOHA) to record life history interviews with 12 former staff members and users of the Country Library Service. (NZOHA was housed in the Turnbull Library as an independent organisation since 1987). The interviews were held during 15 March 1989 - 3 May 1989 by Hugo Manson and Judith Fyfe. See list of interviewees which included: "Field Librarians who drove book vans, with librarians who ran the `A' and `B' libraries which were supplied by the Country Library Service and with librarians who worked at the Country Library Service, during the period 1930-1970." In 1991, the Oral History Centre was created within the Alexander Turnbull Library when NZOHA was disestablished.
For key milestones, see National Library - Our history. The National Film Library became part of the National Library in 1990. In 2003, the National Library of New Zealand (Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa) Act was passed. In 2011, the National Library was integrated into the Department of Internal Affairs, alongside Archives New Zealand. Services from SLS continue today as Services to Schools with collections at Auckland and Christchurch, and staff operating from seven locations, including the National Library building in Wellington.