Wellington Scoop

Ten writers at public protest against National Library plans to get rid of books

Ten Wellington writers will be participating in a reading on November 11th at 7pm at St Peter’s Church in Willis Street which will be the first live public protest against plans by the National Library to give away up to 600,000 books from its collection.

The readers will be: Asst. Professor Dolores Janiewski, Dame Fiona Kidman, Simon Sweetman, Lindsay Rabbitt, Denis Welch (compere), Chris Bourke, Mark Pirie, Michael O’Leary, Mary Anne Bourke and Harry Ricketts.

Organiser William Direen writes:

November 11th is the date the First World War ended and 84,000 New Zealand survivors learned they would be going home from war-ravaged Europe. They returned to build a better world. It’s not an exaggeration to say the devastating experiences of soldiers in both wars kindled the enlightened acquisition of some of the collections of the National Library.

These writers are gathering on November 11 because 600,000 volumes of research, art, crafts, poetry, history, philosophy, history, gender studies, ecology, ethnic studies … might be given away. Replacement value is $60 million plus. Market value “used” is approximately $10 million. Our government has allowed the asset value to be designated $ZERO.

As a result, some books will go to National Libraries in Scotland, the Philippines and Greece, but most are likely to be sold on (or even destroyed), enriching the Internet Archive (with 428,000 books) and impoverishing future New Zealand generations.

Some libraries overseas have scanned some of their own public domain books, and sent the scans to the Internet Archive to provide global access. These libraries still have their books, old and new, in their own collections. But unlike other national libraries, ours passed up all opportunities to save our books. It only wants to get rid of them. Crazy as it sounds.

The various strategies and arguments of the National Library directors have shifted with the winds. Their intention has never been the preservation and accessibility of knowledge, but ridding themselves of our books by any means. Part of that is to say they are a rotten old asset of no financial value. But the books are clearly worth at least $8 million on the open market (at an average of $20, used, each) and their replacement cost is well above $60 million.

All the hard work of thoughtful librarians, their acquisitions and curation over the past century (and more), will be undone. The National Library is descended from the General Assembly Library, founded in 1862. Some of our books threatened with disposal, and many in the Alexander Turnbull Library have drawn from that heritage. The books are part of our tradition. They are special items, not worthless, ageing assets – and their value is increasing with time.

All attempts to persuade our politicians that responsible curation of these collections is crucial for a fully resourced 21st-century national library have failed until now. These politicians, through the library’s directors, are effectively ‘legislating’ (in the philosophical sense) against our books.

Public outcry is now our recourse.

Entry is free to the gathering on November 11th. We might pass the hat. It’s in the church itself, 350 seats, so there is plenty of room for correct social distancing.


William Direen
Writers Against National Library Disposals

Groups Opposed:


  1. Jeffrey Paparoa Holman, 31. October 2021, 10:44

    Thanks William. If I was in Wellington I would come. Will share on social media and send to my MP & Jacinda.
    Kia kaha kia ū kia manawanui.
    heoi te mihi

  2. Harry Goldberg, 31. October 2021, 13:37

    Decades of enlightened acquisitions chucked out valued at $zero? Something is not right here. These books are our NZ heritage — the greatest writers and thinkers from our allies and neighbours and trading partners. Culture is about exchange and understanding, not trashing, deceit and contempt.

  3. Sandra, 31. October 2021, 19:07

    It seems that the event mentioned in the article does not show on Facebook. [Check again – it’s working now.] And please have a look at a petition on the subject on Book Guardians Aotearoa page.

  4. Fay, 1. November 2021, 10:13

    Cancel Culture is a Marxist tool to control the Masses into submission. NZ is being reconstructed with new Ideologies that Language, Books and Religion interfere with.

  5. Mary Kisler, 9. November 2021, 23:02

    The very best research comes about through the serendipitous discovery of books on a library search. Those who see the removal of books from the National Library as merely a matter of housekeeping are entirely missing the point. To remove, destroy, or idly overlook the necessity of preserving texts ultimately deprives opportunities to learn in the future. Saying that no one has looked at a book for 20 years, and therefore it is expendable, suggests a lack of understanding of how researchers work. I’ve researched in Florentine collections that were established in the 16th century. You enter those libraries with a topic in mind, but it is the serendipitous discoveries that move the research forward. Some of those texts may not have been accessed for 10, 20 even 50 years. But on that day, at that moment, that discovery can change the focus of an entire research project. The internet, allowing access to one text at a time, doesn’t allow that possibility. Nor is it egalitarian, as often paywalls or selective access denies the general researcher’s ability to progress with a project. I do hope the National Library keeps that in mind.

  6. Sandra, 11. November 2021, 18:48