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LIANZA Breakfast - Marian Hobbs Speech

Hon Marian Hobbs
31 May 2000 Speech Notes

Library and Information Assn of NZ Aotearoa (LIANZA) breakfast, Paris Café, May 31, 7am


Three themes to touch on:

- LIANZA’s National Information Strategy

- Adult Literacy

- Amendments to the National Library Act

Like to begin by congratulating Spencer Lilley on his election to the presidency of LIANZA, and John Redmayne for his leadership during his time as President.

Pleasing to see the progress that LIANZA has made since the launch of the first LIPS (Library and Information Policy Summit) in 1999.

The ideas LIANZA has been putting forward have been well received in many quarters.

The information strategy touches on several of the government's strategies, and LIANZA has helped to draw the connections between them.

The challenge continues to be confirming the vital role that libraries have to play in these different strategies

There have been successes, especially in the work taking place around e-government, and in addressing the various barriers to people using information technologies easily and productively.

Libraries have been identified as essential partners in the government’s response to these digital opportunities – with roles to play in enabling access, assisting with education and training, helping to shape positive attitudes and motivation, and in delivering content that is relevant and timely.

One of the linkages I am interested in exploring is that between libraries and adult literacy. The government has recently launched its strategy for raising the levels of adult literacy, and I see considerable opportunities in extending the work that has been done around information literacy for younger people into this area.

Building on the essential platforms of literacy and numeracy, adult literacy encompasses the whole range of information skills that are needed to get by in the world today.

Without the critical skills needed to differentiate between the many different types of information that surround us, many adults – including new migrants, and those who may have missed essential stages of their schooling – are missing the opportunities that others of us take for granted.

The same roles that I see for libraries in the digital opportunities work also apply to adult literacy – providing a welcoming place for people to access information, assisting with education and training, shaping and motivating positive attitudes to literacy, and providing content that is pitched to the particular needs of this community. I understand that public libraries are developing standards for information literacy, and I hope that consideration can be given to including adult literacy needs within this.

The government is aware that libraries cannot fill these roles without a wider network of support, and with adult literacy there is a strong infrastructure that the government will be investing in.

We are also aware that public libraries in particular face continuing pressures on their services and facilities, and we cannot assume that these pressures can be sustained indefinitely, or be added to without cost. The place of libraries within local government is being considered as part of the reforms in that area.

One of the intentions of these reforms is to give communities themselves greater responsibility and authority to determine what services their councils provide. This is a sound principle. But good decision making depends on good information, and there are legitimate concerns that some communities may not have access to all the information they may need to assume these responsibilities.

The challenge for libraries, therefore, will be two-fold: firstly, to continue to demonstrate to their community the value they provide, and secondly, to ensure that citizens have the information resources that they need to participate in their communities.

By extension, this last point encapsulates what a national information strategy is all about, and why it is so important. The success of our social institutions, and the success of a government’s attempts to improve people’s quality of life, all depend on people’s capacity to take advantage of what is being offered.

That takes information. It takes an ability to get information, and to use information. Consideration of this idea needs to become automatically embedded in our thinking. Progress is being made. In conversations with other Ministers, there is recognition of the way in which information links different portfolios together. There is excitement about the opportunities that may arise from the e-government initiatives.

Too often, the issues are still being seen in terms of technology, rather than people. Until that changes, we may need some help to get the point across. LIANZA’s efforts in this regard are essential.

The National Library is another important ingredient. My priority for the National Library is to ensure the passage of amendments to the National Library Act. There has been enormous progress on this, and I expect work to begin very shortly on drafting of the bill.

The main intention of the revision exercise was to ensure the enduring security and status of the Alexander Turnbull Library. The provisions for legal deposit have also been examined, and too the way in which the National Library responds to the Treaty of Waitangi.

The fundamental question of why New Zealand needs a National Library, and for what purpose, was deliberately excluded from the terms of reference. In my view, the answers to these questions are self-evident. The core business of the National Library as it was described in 1965 is still to me a good description:

to collect, preserve, and make available recorded knowledge, particularly that relating to New Zealand, to supplement and further the work of other libraries in New Zealand, and to enrich the cultural and economic life of New Zealand and its cultural interchanges with other nations.

A small but significant change has however been recommended to this statement. The change suggested is to add wording that encourages the National Library to work alongside other organisations with related aims, as well as with other libraries.

The significance of this change is not so much that it impels the Library to look beyond the library community for how it achieves its purpose, as that it provides it with the mandate to do so. It confirms the Library as having a broader role, and places it in a larger community of interests.

Although the revision of the National Library Act has been the main item on the National Library’s policy work programme, it has maintained a close involvement in the developments in e-government and in the Department of Labour’s digital opportunities project. As the revision of the Act moves towards a conclusion, I expect the National Library to take a more active role in information policy, working with other departments and agencies, and with non-governmental organisations.

At the same time, the Library will continue to build and develop its collection-based services, and its services to the library community. There are exciting developments underway in digitisation, and in the use being made in school libraries of information technologies.

Following last week’s budget, the National Library is also being given the opportunity to take a longer term and more strategic approach to purchasing items for the Alexander Turnbull Library.

Previously the Library had received annual funding for purchasing materials for the Alexander Turnbull Library. The overall amount for the next three years - $4.8 million - remains the same, but instead of a maximum of $1.6 million being available for each of the next three years, there is flexibility to spend more or less than that sum in any given year.

The arrangement means the Library can plan purchases over a three-year period instead of annually. It can buy suitable items at short notice, where previously they may have come up for sale at a time when insufficient annual funds were available.

The Library can also delay purchases if there are few suitable items available in any one year. This may result in more significant items being collected.

These measures confirm the government’s commitment to the long-term support of the Alexander Turnbull Library, and of the National Library. Other initiatives recently announced, including the Heartland Services centres and the adult literacy strategy, will have implications for the library community either directly or indirectly.

I am sure that you will make the most of these opportunities. I look forward to continuing a close association with the library community, and with LIANZA.


ENDS

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