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National Library’s Plan To Digitise And Preserve Books Draws Wide Support From New Zealand Civil Society Organisations

AUCKLAND, 21 July 2021 – Claims that the National Library’s recently announced plan to send 600,000 books overseas to be digitised is equivalent to ‘internet piracy’ are unfounded, says a group of New Zealand civil society organisations supportive of the initiative.

In a statement from the Department of Internal Affairs last week, Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa National Library announced it had reached an historic agreement where all books left at the end of the Overseas Published Collections (OPC) review process will be donated to the Internet Archive so they can digitise and preserve them.

Several New Zealand associations and organisations, including Internet New Zealand, Museums Aotearoa, the New Zealand Open Source Society and Tohatoha Aotearoa Commons, are backing the National Library’s plan, saying that the initiative will help ensure future access for New Zealanders to a greater range of publications.

Mandy Henk, CEO of Tohatoha and a librarian herself, said that claims that the Internet Archive’s digitisation service is illegal – made this week by several New Zealand publishing organisations – are not true.

“The Internet Archive is an internationally respected, not-for-profit institution that has partnered with many governments and organisations around the world in building a digital library that can be used by communities, students, and scholars to supplement local collections.” says Henk.

She notes that partners of Internet Archive have included the US Library of Congress, the Library and Archives of Canada, and the Smithsonian Institution.

“This is a reasonable and cost-effective plan for this volume of texts unwanted by the National Library, as it means that public access to these works will be maintained and even enhanced — particularly with regard to public domain titles.”

The Internet Archive, a United States based library, digitally lends some of the physical books it keeps in its collections on a one-to-one basis, meaning that there are not more copies circulating digitally than could be circulated physically. When a borrower’s lending period expires, access to the digital copy is shut off. The model is intended to replicate traditional library lending in an online environment.

Michael Wolfe, an expert on international copyright law and advisor to Tohatoha on copyright issues, says that the legality of digitisation and one-to-one digital lending has support both in New Zealand law and internationally.

“New Zealand law already allows certain important use cases for digitise-and-lend models, but authorised institutions, such as National Library, lack the capacity to actually provide these services – hence the need for a partnership with Internet Archive,” says Wolfe.

“Copyright law often forces hard questions about where we draw the line between copyright owners’ right to control and the public’s right to access, use, and build,” he continues.

“It’s no surprise that the Internet Archive — a charitable organisation committed to the importance of public access to knowledge — draws those lines differently than publishers and licensing organisations committed to growing their bottom lines. But those differences in approach and worldview do not make the Internet Archive a ‘pirate’ organisation. Turning serious policy discussions into personal attacks is an approach that serves no-one. ”

Wolfe says one-to-one digital lending is endorsed by many libraries and library organisations worldwide, including the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions.

“How the lending model works with copyright law varies from country to country, but local laws will often have the flexibility to permit it in appropriate circumstances. Proponents of one-to-one lending note that library lending has always coexisted with and supported book sales, and now supports e-book sales as well.”

Mandy Henk also says that digitising the books will benefit New Zealand taxpayers by having an external, private institution take on the cost of maintaining National Library’s rarely used or out-of-scope titles.

“As the National Library has said, after the books have been digitised, they will be sent to a storage centre in the United States, which will be paying for all transport and digitisation costs. These titles will then become available online for New Zealanders within two years of receipt,” says Henk.

She adds: “This agreement is about overseas works—those written and published overseas. The authors of the works in this collection are not New Zealanders and so long-term access and storage costs don’t need to fall on New Zealand. What’s important is that our researchers and others have access to the works, which this agreement ensures will happen.”

“Libraries are constantly working within a resource-constrained environment, so to have this cost taken on by an external service provider will mean more resources to buy books from New Zealand authors and publishers, meaning more money from libraries for the New Zealand creative economy—which is an outcome we can all celebrate.”

For the full details about the National Library’s plan to digitise the books, visit:

For more information on Tohatoha’s work in New Zealand, visit

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