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National Library Restructuring Proposals Worry


National Library Restructuring Proposals Worry LIANZA

All New Zealanders will feel the impact of proposed changes at the National Library, for all time according to the Library and Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa (LIANZA).

Representing 1500 library and information professionals in 500 libraries around the country, LIANZA outlined its concerns in its submission on the proposed restructuring of the National Library.

"The proposals to reduce a range of services at National Library come at a critical time for New Zealand's information and knowledge industry. We are at a period of our history when we should be focused on the expansion of New Zealand's knowledge base, rather than reducing it," said president Barbara McKerrow.

"The recently announced plans seem to be against the spirit of the 1965 Act which outlines our National Library's unique role. No other organisation has a national role in the provision of information. No other library provides national support for research for other libraries, and for our schools. We understand the need for reforms and cost efficiencies but they must result from careful and considered analysis.

"The National Library's role, as protector of our heritage and keeper of our evolving national identity, is critical to our retaining a competitive edge in the global knowledge economy. National Library's role should be expanding to provide national leadership on information and knowledge issues affecting every one of us, in all walks of life. Instead, we are facing the prospect of a reduced operation driven by a short-sighted view of the future," she said.

LIANZA believes that the proposed shifts in policy and services appear to contradict what they understand to be the government's goals for the National Library, which are to celebrate, foster and protect our cultural, historical and environmental heritage, expand our knowledge base and technological capability and strengthen New Zealand's external links. For example, it said the National Library's proposed revision of the collections policy represents a narrowing focus upon New Zealand and Pacific materials.

"New Zealand's cultural heritage has been shaped by access to the records of ideas and knowledge from all over the world and if our national collections are to focus only on New Zealand and the Pacific this denies a major part of our history," Barbara McKerrow said.

Other specialist collections are also under review. The proposed withdrawal of funding for the Auckland business collection directly disadvantages those businesses that do not have physical access to the National Library collection in Wellington.

"This is another contradiction. The National Library is obliged to support the economic life of the nation according to the Act 1965," said Barbara McKerrow.

Another role of the National Library is to supplement and further the work of other libraries and the education system. LIANZA is concerned that these services will become very limited if the collection focus narrows. For example, in reality the proposed changes to the delivery of service to schools will limit the assistance to teachers, increase dependence on technology prematurely and also increase demands on other libraries to support the school curriculum.

"At the end of the day, it's the children in New Zealand's classrooms who will suffer a reduced service at times of great demand. And contrary to belief in some circles, books are in high demand in our schools.

"While LIANZA endorses the National Library's intentions to increase access to electronic & digital resources, as a profession, we are concerned about equity of access to information. We are aware that the cost may be too high for the majority of users, further widening the gap between the information rich and the information poor. We question whether the National Library changes address this problem," she said.

The lack of adequate consultation with its key users is also an issue from LIANZA's point of view, on a number of fronts.

"It has been difficult for external clients and stakeholders to assess the implications of the restructuring on their operations, as the proposed changes are not easy to translate in terms of impact on services.

"Culling collections must be based on sound research. Once material is lost from the National Library, there is no going back. It is lost forever.

"We are appalled by the Minister Nick Smith's recent comments about National Library staff being `stuck in a time warp' (see Capital Times 23-29 June 1999). His comments reveal a lack of awareness about the work of librarians today. As specialists in information retrieval and management, our profession has continued to forge the frontiers of new technology. We are in a unique position to comment on these matters. They are very much at the heart of our vision.

"While we see a place for our expertise in the changing role for the National Library we believe independent advice is essential and we would encourage the Government to look closely at establishing an independent policy advisor along the lines of the successful Library and Information Commission in the UK," said Barbara McKerrow.

LIANZA is the professional body in New Zealand Aotearoa for those engaged in librarianship and information management. LIANZA asserts that `the basic right of citizens in a democratic society is access to information on matters which affect their lives. The right to be informed, to be consulted, and to intervene is essential and fundamental to the democratic process.' LIANZA can be found at



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