Our National Treasure

Our National Library is in the media this week – due to something it didn’t do, but censure is an issue that relates to all libraries.

I worked at the National Library five years ago, for three years. It’s an incredible place, and it’s recently become even more amazing.

I remember doing a speech about the Library for one of my classes at Massey University. I can’t remember what the paper was, but the point of the exercise was to be persuasive. My role at the Library was communications and media, and so I spent much of my time trying to get the word out about what a phenomenal resource and asset it is, and getting frustrated that so many people didn’t know about it. I guess this frustration came through in my speech, because the class was all like “Whoa, who is this girl, and where did shy Sarah go??” (There’s a  video of me doing it – I’m pretty much vibrating off the screen like a small angry ant). I still retain that passion.

When I left the Library, they were getting ready to move everyone out so they could do massive renovations. I hadn’t been back since this was completed. I decided to visit when I was in Wellington a couple weeks ago.

Most people don’t realise that the National Library is more like a museum in many ways. It’s definitely NOT just books. There’s a massive range of collections, from incunabula to art to historic newspapers, to things like Captain Cook’s knife and fork and Katherine Mansfield’s Hair. It’s an amazing, amazing repository of New Zealand history.

The problem has always been – how do we share all this stuff, while still protecting it? Digitisation is going a long way to addressing this issue. So is their exhibitions.

When I walked into the new NLNZ foyer, mouth agape, I couldn’t believe I was in the same place. It went from being dark, hushed, and kind of intimidating, to being an open community area that feels vibrant and relaxed. There’s wifi, performances, a bustling cafe, and many many reading rooms. There’s loads of touch screens and interactive displays where you can delve into the collections.

The current exhibition – Tirohia Mai / Women in Aotearoa is so relevant I almost cried. Using a broad range of items from the collections, it explores the history of women in New Zealand – the battles we have won, and the many we have yet to face.

20131008_125448They had a wall with a question – I think it was “My dream for Aotearoa New Zealand” – People could pop up post-its with their responses.

20131008_125333I liked this one:

20131008_125353There were cartoons and posters describing some of the history (click for bigger image):

As I understand it, the National Library was mis-reported as having pulled an erotic fairy tale from it’s shelves this week. In fact, it was Auckland Library who did so. To be honest, I can’t see why this book would be censured when they have 50 Shades of Grey in their catalogue. The comic is described as being objectionable and violent. I find 50 Shades of Grey objectionable and violent. I’m not saying it shouldn’t be available. But I don’t think these are criteria for censoring, and I don’t think it’s up to libraries to be censors.

Anyway, if you’re in Wellington, I strongly suggest you include a visit to the National Library. It’s a wonderful, fairy tale place with such an important role, and I promise you’ll be blown away by the collections.

And if you can’t get there in person – there’s always the website. http://natlib.govt.nz/