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Cultural desecration at Nat Library must ceasse

2000 web siteLabour Leader Helen Clark said today that new reports of the disposal of priceless collections of books and other material from the National Library is a public scandal.

"In recent weeks public concern has been mounting at the demolition of major collections held in the National Library because of the determination of the library's management to narrow its mandate.

"The latest stories emanating from the library suggest that it has sold, or is selling, a major Shakespeare collection, a Gauguin collection and a number of European collections including work by Camus.

"Shelves filmed at the National Library [see attachments] show the kind of material which has been earmarked for thoughtless disposal by the library's philistine management. Books marked down for sale include impressive volumes on the art and culture of Asia and Europe.

"What is happening at the National Library amounts to the dumbing down of New Zealand's national literary collection. Scholars across the board are stunned at what is happening.

"The so-called National Librarian, who has no library qualifications and who failed to mention the word 'book' in a submission to a select committee last week, appears to believe that only material relating to New Zealand's colonial period and Maori heritage is strictly relevant to the collection.

"While those two areas are clearly relevant, and should be maintained and built upon, New Zealanders also have a right to expect that their National Library will retain and build on the international collections representing the many cultures which have contributed to our country. The international intellectual and cultural heritage is something in which all New Zealanders have a stake in.

"Last week in Parliament the Minister responsible for the National Library excused this wave of destruction through the national collections by claiming that only material seldom consulted was being disposed of. One MP quipped: 'on that basis you would sell the Dead Sea Scrolls'.

"But this is sadly no laughing matter. Some years ago Treasury wanted to cash in on early editions of Milton's work in the National Library. Now it is not only Milton's work which is at risk, but work covering an astonishing range of international art, literature and music.

"With a general election less than four months away, the continuing destruction of the national collections is utterly inexcusable. I serve notice to the National Librarian now that Labour not only condemns out of hand what he is sanctioning, but on the day after the election of a Labour government, will demand a halt to this sabotage of New Zealand's National Library collection.

"The National Library's purpose and mission has been to serve as a custodian of knowledge about New Zealand and the world. It is fast becoming a laughing stock because of this extraordinary attack on collections built up since the library began.

"Who would ever have thought that the future of something as fundamental to New Zealand's intellectual and cultural life as the National Library would become an election issue? The National Party should be ashamed of the destruction it has sanctioned at the National Library," Helen Clark said.

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