Steve Braunias reports on the National Library’s plans to dump priceless books at a Lions sale next weekend

A political lobby group has launched a last-minute bid to stop the National Library dumping 70,000 books at a Lions Club book sale to be held – ironically – on election day, October 17.

The new pressure group, Ngā Kaitiaki o ngā Pukapuka/Book Guardians Aotearoa [BGA], was established at the weekend with the specific intent of putting a stop to the National Library’s controversial decision to get rid of over 625,000 books in its Overseas Published Collection.

Former Attorney General Chris Finlayson has pledged his support.

BGA executive member Christine Dann said, “Chris Finlayson is horrified at this further attack on the national collection, and is seeking an urgent meeting with the National Librarian and the Chief Executive of the Department of Internal Affairs to discuss the inadvisability and possible illegality of the current cull, and to advise a halt to any further disposal until the new government and incoming ministers have been properly briefed on the matter.”

The library has already dumped an estimated 60,000 titles. According to Dann, it’s about to get rid of another 70,000 books next Monday, October 12, destined for the Kapiti Pakeke Lions Club book sale in Waikane.

Dann said, “They are planning to let another 70,000 go on October 12. We suspect a lot of them are intended for the Kapiti Lions giant book sale on October 17, and we have written to the Lions Club organiser advising him of the steps that are being taken to establish the legality of the cull, and that we will keep the Lions posted on what happens.”

The BGA also sent a letter on Friday, October 2, to Paul James (chief executive of the Department of Internal Affairs) and the National Library’s Bill Macnaught to request a meeting. Dann: “No reply as yet.”


The Minister of Internal Affairs, New Zealand First’s Tracey Martin, was asked by ReadingRoom for comment.

She did not respond.

National’s arts spokesman Jonathan Young was also asked for comment. He responded, “We’re not impressed with the National Library wanting to get rid of books, despite the rise of digitisation, and would request they hold back from culling any further volumes from the National collection as the National Party haven’t received a briefing on this and considering we’re looking at significant legacy issues here.

“I think an immediate halt until after the election and then a thorough briefing is called for. Possibly the National Librarian may have misread the mood on this, as much as Radio New Zealand misread the mood around cancelling the Concert Programme.”

He was asked if he was aware that 70,000 books – including Shakespeare, Cervantes, Marx, Mao Tse Tung, Primo Levi, Graham Greene, Virginia Woolf, etc etc etc – were about to be biffed at the Lions Club sale in Otaki. He responded, “No I’m not aware of this at all.”

Now that he had been made aware of it, he was asked what he was going to do about it.

He did not respond.

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark is appalled at the National Library’s cull. She wrote on Facebook, “The break up of the international collection of the National Library of NZ is deplorable. The minister has caused the destruction of a public collection. This is shocking. The National Library had a world class international collection. The NZ First minister in charge of it is allowing that collection to be systematically dismantled. All election candidates should be challenged on their positions on this.”

The National Library website lists the 70,000 books to be thrown out – or, in the amazing language of its spin, “rehomed”- on October 12. The books are:

  • History and geography (includes many books on the Holocaust such as the 1991 study Memory Offended: the Auschwitz convent controversy, and 36 books on apartheid, such as a 1965 edition of Nelson Mandela’s No Easy Walk to Freedom and the 1999 Report of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission)
  • Arts and recreation (its sports section includes extremely rare and significant football books, such as Hugh McIlvanney’s World Cup ’66, the classic 40 Years in Football by Ivan Sharpe, and a book by the great Manchester United player Duncan Edwards, published in 1958, the year he died in the Munich air crash)
  • Unclassified non-fiction (titles include the 1834 book The Anatomy of Drunkenness by Robert Macnish, who examines the phenomenon of spontaneous combustion, widely thought back then to strike drunkards, the 1906 book My Dog by Maurice Maeterlinck, who provides a philosophical musing on the nature of dogs and dog ownership occasioned by the death of his bulldog, and Speech by the Fuehrer in the Sportpalast in Berlin on January 30, 1940 by Adolf Hitler)

  • Literature (includes a 1962 first edition of The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing, a 1959 first edition of Goodbye Columbus by Philip Roth, 26 books by Iris Murdoch, 16 books by George Orwell, and 37 books by Jane Austen)

The National Library website advises, “If you see any titles you believe should be retained by the National Library that meet our Collections Policy let us know. We welcome feedback and input into this large project.”

And in the next breath, it slings the books out the door: “We are seeking expressions of interest for the next phase of rehoming the overseas published collections from libraries, government agencies and third-party organisations.” Lions Club book fairs, which flog books for $2, would seem to be classified as “third-party organisations”.

The Lions Club book sale on October 17 will be held at the Waikanae Memorial Hall. “Book prices start at $2 each”, advises publicity for the event. “Many books have never been offered before by the Lions.”

Steve Braunias is the literary editor of Newsroom's books section ReadingRoom, a noted writer at the NZ Herald, and the author of 10 books.

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