Geoffrey Alley, Librarian: His Life & Work
Chapter 8 — Anni Mirabiles: National Library Service
Anni Mirabiles: National Library Service
On Monday 18 February 1946, 30 students selected for the first graduate course of the New Zealand Library School assembled in Wellington. There were 11 men and 19 women, who included 24 arts and three science graduates. Three others, without degrees, had been accepted for their records in relevant practical work. Six ex-servicemen and one ex-servicewoman added an independent air to the gathering, as did another who had spent time in one of His Majesty's penal institutions for the vigorous expression of his pacifist views during the war. Alley had got approval for the students to be paid the same living allowances as were paid to graduates studying at teachers' colleges for post-primary teaching, and this, together with the winding back of the armed forces, enabled the average level of maturity to be high.
'This is an important day,' Alley told the students with characteristic lack of hyperbole, 'I am glad to see you.' Mary Parsons, in a quick survey of library history, referred to an earlier phase when libraries were first established, with bookish and scholarly people, possessing the special kind of photographic memory that enabled them to find information without any special order in the arrangement of the books, as librarians. This was followed by a period in which methods of arranging the books were devised which were necessary for the control of growing collections, but which tended to become ends in themselves rather than means to an end. The new school represented a third phase, an era of service, in which a clear distinction was made between professional library work and the routines which could be carried on in libraries by clerical assistants. In the curriculum of the new school the aim would be 'to take the best from each phase of library development — good scholarship from the first, good and useful methods from the second and from the third the idea of active community service through books'.1
Such occasions lend themselves to inadequate reporting and to underestimation of the participants, but Parsons was a hard-headed administrator with a scholarly background, and her brief remarks emphasised the page 162fundamental truths that institutions like libraries should be controlled by people who have a clear idea of the objectives to be achieved, and that systems and managers should be in place to support them in achieving those objectives. In the light of the disasters which occurred in the later part of the 20th century, when the roles of professionals and managers were reversed in many fields, Parsons's emphasis on administrative priorities, which coincided with Alley's own thinking, was important, and the composition of the class of 1946 was such that it could be receptive to her ideas.
Accommodation for the school had been allocated in another wooden building in Sydney Street East, next to the building already occupied by the National Library Service. Since it was not ready by 18 February, the Wellington Public Library's lecture theatre complex was rented for the first three weeks — cramped quarters, but not so cramped as to dampen enthusiasm. Staffing, which had been set at three senior and two junior lecturers, was not complete by opening day, but Alley, as well as Parsons, undertook a considerable teaching load, particularly in dealing with library administration and the social setting of public library service. Alice Minchin, a meticulous cataloguer and recently retired from the position of Librarian at Auckland University College, taught the cataloguing course until Mary S. Fleming, who had been sent by the government to study at the Columbia University School of Library Service, returned later in the year. Part-time lecturers included Kathleen Harvey of the School Library Service and E.H. McCormick, who dealt with New Zealand reference material (a little-known and seldom recorded episode in his distinguished career). In addition, various academics from Victoria University College had been recruited to help with the book course, mainly by talking about major texts, bibliographies, and publishing patterns in their fields; and senior librarians from Wellington and other centres were anxious to give whatever assistance Parsons requested of them – this was, after all, their library school, their achievement.
The selection of students had been made by the director of the NLS and the director of the Library School on the basis of written applications followed by interviews in which they were joined, in each centre, by a representative of the NZLA, and the final list was approved by the minister of education. Part of the written application was a list of books read recently by the candidate, from which the interviewers could bring up sometimes disconcerting questions. Parsons, who interviewed separately from the others, made shrewd assessments based on her long and varied experience, though she had a strange habit of noting, on the interview sheets, which candidates had blue eyes.2 Some applicants found Alley's pregnant pauses unnerving, as Jean Wright had done when she was interviewed for a job, page 163while others either waited calmly for the mountain to move or managed to break the ice by introducing topics which could get him going, such as roses and their cultivation.
One who never got over this initial experience of Alley's silence was a sensitive man, German and Jewish in origin, who had arrived in New Zealand some time after leaving Germany during the Nazi era and whose experiences would explain a good deal of his sensitivity. Years later Dietrich Borchardt still spluttered about 'that heap of brawn that sat there, smoking and not looking at me' while the interview was conducted by the NZLA representative.3 What had happened was that it had been discovered too late that, because of their living allowances, the students were technically appointed temporarily to the public service (and the allowances were included as NLS salaries in the government's estimates of expenditure). They were therefore governed by the Public Service Act, which decreed that no person should be admitted to the public service 'unless he is a natural-born or naturalized subject of His Majesty'.4 Another section of the act provided for 'any officer or class of officers' to be declared exempt from provisions of the act by the governor general 'with advice and consent',5 and Alley had set in motion the machinery to exempt Library School students, but it did not complete its journey until late in February 1946.6 Borchardt, who was still a German national, was told that he could not be admitted to the school in 1946 and was invited to apply again for entry to the 1947 intake (by which time he had in any case been naturalised), but Alley did not explain to him clearly and sympathetically the reasons for the rejection and what was being done about them. No doubt he was acting in the best public service tradition of confidentiality and discretion, but one cannot help thinking that a bit of human indiscretion might have been helpful in this case.
One student, a science graduate, withdrew after a short time to accept an opportunity elsewhere, but the 29 who remained settled down to a hard year's work. Among them were one future national librarian, two city librarians, two university librarians, and one library adviser to the governments of other Commonwealth countries, as well as others who helped to advance the practice of librarianship in other roles; but that was all in the future. At this stage they sat at the feet of those who had made it all possible: Alley, Barr, Norrie, Perry, Scholefield, Collins, Harris, Dunningham – all those who have figured in this story so far. They were not overly conscious of being the first of the waves of the future, but they became very conscious of being 'the class of '46', sometimes causing a little irritation among members of the classes of '47 and later.
The other major addition to the complex which made up the National Library Service was the new National Library Centre, which came into page 164being more quietly than the Library School but was of equal long-term importance in consolidating developments that had occurred in recent years and in opening up paths for the future. The position of Librarian of the National Library Centre was filled by the appointment of Austin Graham Bagnall, a former assistant chief librarian of the Alexander Turnbull Library who had spent four war years in the Navy Office, followed by a brief spell in the War History Branch of the Department of Internal Affairs. As a part-time student (working in the Pensions Department by day) Graham Bagnall had distinguished himself in philosophy (graduating MA with first-class honours) and cross-country running (New Zealand universities champion and provincial representative). He had been a member of the council of the Polynesian Society since 1939, and was enthusiastically and practically involved in book collecting, bibliography, and historical research.
In his blueprint which led to the creation of the NLS, Alley had set out the planned responsibilities of the National Library Centre as follows:
1. Establishing satisfactory liaison between all library units. 2. Organisation of programme of work and coverage projects of the book resources committee. 3. Central Bureau for Library Book Imports and union catalogue. 4. Union list of serials. 5. Centralised reference clearing-house, employing subject specialists. 6. Centralised book ordering available to all government libraries and departments. 7. Centralised cataloguing available as above. 8. Active participation in the staff training programme.7
This list represented, in the main, a continuation and intensification of tasks that had already been begun, but instead of being add-ons to the CLS, added to the CLS 'because it was there', they would now form the nucleus of a group of functions which many would have regarded as being at the heart of a future national library. There are obvious links between the list and the range of interests of the book resources committee of the NZLA, which was an important link with the wider library community and which Alley continued to chair.
Where was Bagnall to start? One can imagine the first few days, when the job would not have seemed to have a coherent form. Alley was not one to inhibit his top staff members by being too prescriptive, but he would have realised that in working his way into his new job – and, in fact, beginning to create it – it would be good for Bagnall to get his teeth into a particular assignment, and for this purpose he chose the question, which page 165had exercised several minds besides his own, of the co-ordination of the work of government departmental libraries.
When Alister McIntosh was mapping out the report which he planned to write on his observations in the United States in 1932, and trying out his ideas on W.W. Bishop of the Michigan library school, he raised the question of the organisation of the scientific and technological library work of the government as something that a national institution (by which he meant the General Assembly Library) might do, 'either by a centralization of the existing Departmental libraries or by a scheme of centralised cataloguing and centralised purchasing'. Bishop's comment on this was: 'This wants some thinking out. Special libraries have a good reason for individual existence. Co-operation with departmental and scientific libraries would be my approach to this question.'8 Although McIntosh opted for 'Cooperation with Government scientific libraries to develop a Dominion Science Library' as his solution to the problem,9 it is interesting that points 6 and 7 of Alley's blueprint were concerned with centralised purchasing and cataloguing. The question of developing a major science library was quite a different matter, which needed to be raised separately, if at all.
Alley first became involved with a government departmental library in 1941, when he acted for the university and research section of the NZLA in passing on to the Public Service Commission a memorandum on the library of the Department of Agriculture which had been written by F.A. Sandall, Librarian of Massey Agricultural College. In doing so he commented that there was 'a pressing need for a greater measure of co-operation between the libraries of Government Departments'. The Public Service Commission agreed that there was such a need, which should be considered 'when the time was more appropriate'10 (i.e. after the war).
So, as far as Alley was concerned the question of government departmental libraries was 'unfinished business', but he was not alone in being concerned about them. In 1944 the planning committee dealing with university and research libraries, which was convened by Clifford Collins and included Mary Brown, Librarian of the DSIR, among its members, said that once a national library was established 'a closer relationship should be required between it and other government departmental libraries'. The committee said that flexibility would be necessary in finding suitable methods for dealing with libraries which ranged from small service depots which might be maintained by the national library itself, to almost independent libraries which could be 'transformed by the help of trained staff seconded from the National Library'. But 'it ought not to be tolerated that state-owned library property should be ill cared for and ineffectively used'.11
As soon as Bagnall had settled in Alley wrote to the Public Service Commission, referring to the 1941 correspondence and recommending that page 166Bagnall should undertake a survey of departmental libraries which should be followed by an interdepartmental conference to help to determine a policy on their management. He suggested, at this point, that the libraries of larger departments might remain independent of the NLS except for being required to use its centralised ordering facility and to provide cards to the union catalogue; that other departments which had library collections might be assisted by seconded staff; and that these, together with departments without collections, might be provided with service from the NLS.12 After the commission had approved the recommendation, Bagnall, in a vigorous way which came to be recognised as his way of doing things, surveyed over 50 libraries, wrote a report, attended meetings, and drew up a set of recommendations which was agreed to by the Public Service Commission and Treasury in June 1947.13 The 14 decisions provided for all purchases for departmental libraries to be made by the NLS, which would supply catalogue cards as part of a range of services which would also include a reference service. Questions arising from inter-departmental co-operation were to be the responsibility of the Librarian of the National Library Centre.
These decisions were not reached without controversy. Indeed, hard words were said at a meeting at the Department of Industries and Commerce, when Alley berated the librarian for a piece of 'grossly irresponsible librarianship' in inquiring overseas for material on a subject on which the NLS, as it happened, had quite good resources. On the evidence of the written record the librarian's action seems to have been rather silly but understandable. At this meeting Alley also said that Bagnall's report had been made 'at the instigation of the Public Service Commission', which was not strictly true.14 As at other times during his career, Alley responded truculently to opposition when a more laid-back attitude would have given less of an impression of changes being bulldozed through, and some departmental librarians, notably E.H. (Ted) Leatham of the DSIR, never accepted that the decisions were reasonable. But Alley was right to raise a matter which needed to be dealt with, and, on the whole, the system which was worked out at this time, and which was administered in a helpful spirit by members of the NLS staff, operated smoothly for 40 years or so.
The third new senior position which was approved as part of the establishment of the National Library Service was that of Librarian, Country Library Service, but it was never filled. For reasons which are quite understandable, Alley did not want to be distanced from that part of the organisation which he had originally been called upon to create, and which he could not bear to think of falling into unsuitable hands. His mind was very effectively in the Library School and in the National Library Centre, with all its growing responsibilities, but his heart was in page 167the Country Library Service. Helen Sullivan (née Cowey), who was an early disciple and later a trusted lieutenant, said that 'as he built up the CLS and then developed other aspects of library assistance in the NLS [he] continued also to be vitally interested in the CLS until he retired. He was virtually Librarian, CLS at the same time as he was Director, NLS.'15
The special position of the CLS within the working organisation of the NLS was clearly the result of a deliberate decision, and it is reflected in the fact that the annual reports of the NLS can best be read as reports of the CLS with appendices devoted to other activities, such as the Library School and the National Library Centre. In the case of the School Library Service, though, the bond must have been somewhat weaker. When the NLS was established the SLS was shown in the organisation charts as part of the CLS, but in 1947 Hector Macaskill was appointed to head it and enjoyed a status approaching that of Parsons and Bagnall, including having a separate section of the annual report. Macaskill, born in 1907, had been a teacher before the war, had served in the army and been seriously wounded, and had been a luminary of the Library School's 'class of '46'. The School Library Service operated from many more offices throughout New Zealand than the Country Library Service did, and in 1945 had absorbed existing services run by education boards in Taranaki and Otago – continuing, in Otago, to use the Dunedin Public Library as a distribution centre.
Other special needs which had been identified by the NZLA for attention by the NLS and the library system as a whole were services to patients in hospitals and to prison inmates, and the development of a co-ordinated science and technology service. Alley accepted hospitals and prisons as coming within the scope of the CLS, and science and technology as an area which might involve the NLS as a whole, in association with other libraries.
The NZLA had been involved in discussions over services to patients in hospitals since at least 1932, and the Red Cross Society was also interested in them. Hospital authorities were not able, and in most cases did not wish, to use their funds for this kind of comfort, contenting themselves with allowing access to branches of the Red Cross or other groups of volunteers, the books being collected from donations and public appeals. The most complete service provided by a public library was in Dunedin.16
In 1945 the Red Cross Society, after discussions with the NZLA, agreed to fund the training in hospital library service in an American library school of a New Zealand librarian who would then take up a position in the NLS. In recommending that the offer be accepted, Alley wrote to the minister of education: 'It would appear that since neither the Red Cross nor the Library Association can be responsible administratively for the work which is needed in New Zealand, this Service should now agree to page 168the appointment of a special hospital assistant'.17 Jean H. Norrie, a librarian in the Dominion Laboratory, was chosen for the hospital library fellowship in consultation with the NZLA and the Red Cross, and attended the University of Minnesota library school; she returned late in 1946, when she also assumed responsibility for prison library service, in which the CLS had been involved in a small way since 1940 and for which a stronger effort had been approved in 1944.18
Science and technology was a different matter altogether. There was a strong feeling in the library world that a better service in these fields needed to be provided, but there was also a great deal of confusion about what the terms meant; this is indicated by the fact that in some documents the key words are 'science and technology', and in others 'technical and commercial'. The bigger public libraries had quite a good record in service to industry and commerce; the main science libraries were concentrated in the university colleges and in various government departments. The confusion was never resolved. At one meeting of an NZLA committee on technical and commercial library service Alley 'asked how far technical and industrial information service was a library problem … if members admitted that the service would take organization and require a library behind it, then they were thrown back on the fundamental axiom that covers all New Zealand library thinking, that no one library was sufficient. If bibliographical services were needed there was an obvious need for a more effective use of them and a more clear cut policy about administering them … Staffing was the key thing of it'.19
Nevertheless, the NZLA put forward a recommendation that one headquarters technical librarian and four regional technical librarians be appointed by the NLS, the one at headquarters to be a person with several years' experience in research. Following agreement by the minister of education and the Public Service Commission, the posts were advertised in February 1946. Appointments were made to two positions, including the headquarters one, but both appointees withdrew and no further appointments were made, although the positions were re-advertised in November 1946.20 It is very likely that failure to clarify the proposal led to a lack of enthusiasm for it both on the part of potential candidates and in Alley's own mind.
In November 1946 Alley appealed against his salary grading. Being in charge of an organisation which had started from very small beginnings and had taken on an ever-increasing range of responsibilities, he was very conscious of his position in the public service hierarchy, though he seldom allowed his colleagues to suspect this. In 1941, after his appointment had been made permanent, his maximum salary was £540, which was 54 per cent of the salary of an assistant director of education. In 1942 it rose to page 169£615 (61.5 per cent), and in 1946, after his appointment as director, NLS, to £740 (68.8 per cent). His appeal, against a maximum of £850 (70.8 per cent) from 1947, was turned down by the public service commissioner. He then, on 20 February 1947, submitted his case to the Public Service Board of Appeal. 'The National Library Service,' he wrote, 'has become the most important unit in library development in New Zealand … If the National Library Service is to succeed in its function of leadership in the library field it is contended that the present disparity between the salaries of certain city librarians and the classified salary of the Director, National Library Service, should be removed.' In support of his argument he cited the salaries of the city librarians in Auckland (£906 plus a free house) and Wellington (£975), and of the university college librarians (£825), and pointed out that he dealt directly with the minister of education on NLS policy.
Alley was perhaps a little premature in his self-assessment. The Public Service Board of Appeal was unmoved.21
At about this time the question of Rewi's sheep came to life again. In 1945 the story of the shipment which had had to be diverted at the start of the Pacific war was written up for the New Zealand Listener.22 Shortly afterwards, C.E. Robertson of Wright Stephenson and Co. wrote to Geoff saying, 'Mr. J.T. Martin, the Managing Director of our firm, was very interested and the matter was brought before our Board yesterday when it was decided at the suggestion of Mr. Martin and myself to support the proposal to present a shipment of New Zealand sheep to China. A grant of £250 was made by the Board towards the project.' Robertson said that the Bushey Park estate was prepared to donate a stud Corriedale ram valued at 100 guineas, and that he intended to approach other breeders as well.23
The war in the Pacific had not finished at this time, of course, but the collection of sheep for Rewi was begun, and when a larger consignment of animals, donated by the New Zealand government to the Chinese government after the war, was despatched in February 1947 the stud sheep especially intended for Rewi's Sandan school travelled with them.24 On 27 March 1947, when Rewi was writing to his mother saying that three days earlier he had received mail with pictures of Pip loading sheep in Lyttelton, a truck arrived with the sheep aboard, 'and soon we were unloading 24 sheep into the farm house'.25
In 1946, also, the Alleys moved to their permanent home, as the older generation had in 1920 when Frederick bought Westcote. Geoff had found a property at 56 Ebdentown Road, Upper Hutt, which offered opportunities for the kind of life he wanted to live, and bought it for some £1300. It was a two-acre block, which offered Geoff a new challenge, and even the long train journeys to and from work (about an hour each way) page 170which the distance from Wellington imposed had their good side, since they provided precious uninterrupted reading time. For Euphan the move was not so welcome. Geoff had become frustrated by suburban life and the constraints of a small section in Hataitai, but she had built up a network of friends and had established routines which she found comfortable. But, as in the case of the purchase of Westcote, the decision had been made. Reaping the benefits of the move lay in the future.26
Alley had found his home, which became so important to him that it deserves a chapter to itself, but the demands of the outside world still had to be dealt with. It was widely rumoured among members of the NLS staff that the minister had rung early one morning before Alley, who had not caught the first train, had arrived at work, and that the importance of punctuality had been made very clear to him. Quite apart from ministerial martinets, there were many other things to claim his attention, including hands-on control of the Country Library Service, supervising the initial stages of the National Library Centre, a fairly heavy teaching load in the Library School, and the honorary secretaryship of the NZLA.
The last of these was, despite its 'honorary' status, particularly onerous. At this time the NZLA was a major powerhouse for the generation of plans for library development, as well as an active participant in such matters as the administration of the certificate course of training and pilot bibliographical projects. Alley was the main link between the NZLA and the government and had to ensure that proposals which would depend on government support were acceptable both to the membership of the association (including his own organisation) and to the minister of education and his colleagues. Dealing with, on the one hand, an association which, though small, had very capable members fired with reforming zeal, and on the other with a government which had a clear set of policies and principles, called for qualities of diplomacy and integrity which Alley was increasingly perceived as possessing. It was demanding work.
The NZLA was still in a reforming mood, and in particular was still gripped by the idea of the regional development of, especially, public library services, which some of its members thought had been sidelined by the establishment of the Country Library Service in 1937 and by the way in which it had been incorporated into the National Library Service in 1945. Differences of opinion within the association were not so much based on a preference for regionalism and local control or for central organisation and central control – in a purely theoretical context regionalism would have won hands down, though not everyone would have been prepared to dismantle all centralised elements of the system. Rather, they were a conflict between those who thought they could create a different system de novo and those who saw no hope of making progress except by working page 171within the existing system of central and local government. The two ways of thinking were personified by Archie Dunningham and Geoff Alley.
In August 1946 the council of the NZLA established a regional planning committee, with Dunningham as convener. Other members included three local authority councillors, a public librarian who had not been prominent in relevant discussions, Stuart Perry, and (ex officio) Alley.27 Dunningham set to work enthusiastically (and on his own), and on 21 February 1947 sent Alley a very long document which he called 'a draft report of the Regional Planning Committee', which he had discussed informally with a couple of people in Dunedin but not with any members of his committee. It seems that he wanted Alley to help him polish it, but Alley took the view that, as honorary secretary, he should make his own comments at a full meeting of the committee. Dunningham wanted a second version of his draft, which was completed in April, circulated to the council of the NZLA, still before it had been approved by members of the committee, but Alley refused to agree to this, and in this he was supported by Perry, who said: 'I am in full agreement with the action of the Hon. Secretary in consulting the Standing Executive Committee and the Council of the Association with regard to the propriety of a general circulation of a draft report which had not been approved by members of the Committee.'28 The draft never got beyond being a draft, but its contents became well known and it gave rise to a fairly sharp dispute which engrossed members of the NZLA for years to come, and which led to what came to be known as 'the Alley/Dunningham rift'.
There were many problems with Dunningham's draft. Quite reasonably (as a member of the committee but not as its convener) he had written it to support his own extreme view that the central government should have nothing to do with public library service, which he saw as a purely local concern (except, of course, that the central government should pay cash grants to district library councils). More than that, he approached the whole question of central government involvement in all matters remotely connected with libraries with a startling degree of paranoia, so that points which needed to be discussed soberly were obscured by inflammatory statements, errors of fact, and a total air of hostility which Dunningham probably did not intend – he just got carried away. It is extraordinarily difficult to find passages in it with a clear enough focus to be quotable, but an example which is typical of the whole document is the following section on ministerial control:
The basic weakness from which most criticism arises is the increasing impotence of the New Zealand Library Association in attempting to control any of the co-operative projects which it has launched and which page 172the National Library Service has now taken over. Library training is being taken over by the Library School but while the Training Committee of the Library Association is consulted and represented on the selection committee for admission of trainees the Association has virtually handed to the Minister of Education the right to decide what the course will be and who will be qualified to conduct it. It would be much better if some properly constituted and responsible body such as a university council could later be given the function of administering the school. Similarly with the book service and other assistance which libraries (almost all libraries) are now receiving from the National Library Service – it can be received but cannot be criticised except through the tolerance and forbearance of the Director. Most problems would be solved if the Council of the Association or the local body members could in fact be the governing body of the National Library.
In an historical introduction to the draft Dunningham referred to the Carnegie Library Group's recommendation that a demonstration of a library district should be conducted, and to Alley's Taranaki survey. 'In the meantime,' he wrote, 'the Otago Branch of the Library Association … had suggested a number of projects to the Association and a further report submitted by Mr. Dunningham recommended that the Government should be asked for funds to be administered through the Association to provide a service to country libraries. As a result of the Otago representations the Government was asked to assist and did so by establishing the Country Library Service as a government sub-department with responsibilities to both the legislative and Education Depts. Control of the service from this point no longer remained with the Library Association. District development therefore gave place to centralised national service.' The thought that the idea that the government would be prepared to hand over money for a national service to a tiny association, which in 1937 was not even incorporated, was somewhat ludicrous does not seem to have occurred to him.
In another section, picking up the intention of the NLS to employ advisory staff to be sent to libraries on secondment to help with special problems, Dunningham said: 'A further threat to the future of the New Zealand Library Association lies in the "secondment" plan recommended at Wanganui. If the output of the library school is to be absorbed into an ever growing National Library Service staff for secondment as subjectspecialists, school-librarians, hospital librarians, cataloguers to assist in university and learned libraries, part-time workers with adult-education, and as reference librarians in city libraries then the numerical strength and quality of this staff is obviously going to dominate the Association very shortly.'page 173
Elsewhere, under the heading 'Government departments', he said that 'The existence of the National Library Service means that the enforcement of all departmental regulations can be either influenced or controlled by recommendations of the Director of the National Library Service. Potentially the National Library Service can control local libraries whenever they are involved in seeking government departmental approvals.' Taking as an example appointments made by education boards with funds drawn from the Education Department, Dunningham concluded that 'The appointment of Training College Librarians can therefore at least theoretically be subject to approval of the Director of the National Library Service.' On this point Alley, as part of a detailed commentary on the whole draft, said: 'There would seem to be no objection, to me at least, in the responsible officer of the Education Department seeking an opinion from any responsible person in order that the Department's recommendation to the Minister may be properly informed … Any member of the Association would be entitled to give such an opinion, and frequently through the use of testimonials views are so given and appointments influenced, although in a less direct and possibly less defensible way.'
There was no way that a rational discussion could proceed on the basis of a document which served mainly to polarise opinions on anything that had the remotest connection with the national library system. There was a session on regional and metropolitan planning at the conference of the NZLA which was held in May 1947, at which Dunningham gave a more urbane and measured presentation of his views on regional library service,29 and the council of the NZLA then appointed a committee, convened by Perry, which reported that 'The question … appears to be whether it is desirable to continue with the present gradual policy, whether authorities should be required to maintain services and to erect joint regional headquarters for the purpose of administering State aid, or whether the present gradual policy should be proceeded with, supplemented by agreement among local authorities where this is found possible.' It favoured the adoption by the association of the last of these options, which might be described as 'the slightly accelerated gradual approach'.30
On the face of it, then, troubled waters had been satisfactorily oiled, but in fact there was a lot of tension at the 1947 conference and the opposing points of view were irreconcilable. Dunningham said, many years later, that when the CLS was established 'We were proceeding along an almost irreversibly wrong path',31 while Alley, also looking back years later, said that 'Many things seem now to have made [a national lending system] the only logical and possible decision. There was a climate of "centralism", a background of Government assistance (of a sort) to libraries, a lack of enthusiasm among territorial local authorities for changes in their structure page 174or functions, there was the basic weakness of the Munn–Barr proposals for rural library development, and there were universal shortages or absences of critical elements like books, trained people, and library buildings.'32 But Alley, in 1947, was not purely a centralist. His reservations about a regional solution to the public library problem were based on a conviction that it was not possible. True, the Local Government Committee of 1945 had suggested that library work on a regional basis, with some form of national co-ordination, was 'work on which we think local bodies could well be asked to co-operate and to act in their own districts',33 but that was hardly a stirring call to arms. No harm asking, but Alley's brief was to get something done. He did tell the Library School class of '46 that one job the Country Library Service had to do was to organise itself out of existence,34 but that was long before any kind of local body reorganisation became possible, and it was also before the CLS developed a mystique of its own which became another barrier to change.35
The 'rift' between Alley and Dunningham was very real in one sense, and it certainly coloured discussions on the organisation of the public library system for a long time. The way it was told around the library camp fires, in one corner would be the Dunedin team, in blue and gold, defying Wellington and all its works with some support from other provincials, including those Aucklanders who were vaguely aware that there was a world somewhere south of the Bombay hills; in the other the Wellington contingent, conscious of their divine right to rule and their imperial destiny. There was some element of this kind of thing, but Helen Sullivan (Cowey at that time), who was a disciple of Alley's and would have felt deeply involved when it all happened, has said on later reflection that 'probably the "rift" was mainly in the minds of members of the library profession who had their own reasons for wanting to belittle the work of Alley',36 and it is doubtful whether a majority of the profession continued for long to allow the matter to worry them. But in the two main centres of dispute it did rumble on, and Malvina Jones (née Overy), who did not join the staff of the NLS until later, has given this rather bemused impression:
When I started with the CLS in 1960 this controversy was deeply established. Relationships between National Library and DP were adversely affected long after GT retired as National Librarian. Plenty of older librarians attempted to explain to me why the Alley/Dunningham rift occurred, also why it spread to DP/WN with followers on both sides. The controversy invaded many NZLA conferences. I could never really understand it and became increasingly frustrated by it. It was fanned by people on both sides for years. For an example see NZ Libraries August 1963 p.201. I remember the day when Jim Traue as editor had handed page 175Ada Fache's letter to GT inviting comment. GT was sitting there at his desk considering what comment to make. He was furious. (He never liked being put in the wrong anyway). But I think GT was also guilty of fanning the controversy. I also found that some older CLS staff accepted the controversy as a continuing fact without doing much to dissipate it.37
Alley was clearly very upset by this episode and its continuing effects, but it is significant that, although he tended to rubbish people who opposed or contradicted him, he never lost his respect for Dunningham or his friendship for him. Dunningham, also, never said an unkind word about Alley personally.38 In proposing a vote of thanks to Dunningham for his 1947 conference paper, Alley said: 'Mr Dunningham's contribution to New Zealand library thinking is unequalled. He has given us in the past some of our most brilliant ideas. Sometimes they come so fast that we cannot digest them. And I am sure that in the future, as I know we shall stand, fairly united, with some diversities of opinion, we have nothing to fear.'39 That was in 1947. In 1983 he wrote: 'In the years up to 1945, A.G.W. Dunningham was a tower of strength. His imaginative, energetic and fertile mind produced impressive, ingenious hypotheses, which he could defend with much skill. We owe him a great deal.'40 Alley always remembered, in the midst of strife, that the submission which led Peter Fraser to approve the establishment of the CLS was 'a Dunningham/Alley draft'.
In Alley's taped reminiscences from which that comment is taken, one of the longest sections, and one of the most affectionate, is on Dunningham, of whom he said: 'Few people, I think, would make such a bold statement that they have any real understanding of Mr Dunningham's make-up … Archie didn't quite act fanatically, he tended to go all out for one solution and that's what it would be.' On the more personal level, he remembered, 'He would in walking along come out with vigorous, pronounced, strong sentiments. I would sometimes murmur, "Well, is all this, really, all this we're going through, is it worthwhile?" "Oh, irresistible, my dear chap, irresistible."'41 It is significant that Pat, Alley's younger son, who would have been quite young at the time, remembers Dunningham's visits to Ebdentown Road, which was fairly sparing in its hospitality, for their light entertainment value.42 Relations were not always strained.
Early in 1947, when the regional library controversy was brewing up, Lionel R. McColvin, whose 1942 report on the public library system of Great Britain had influenced thinking in the New Zealand profession, visited New Zealand. He had been invited by the Australian Council for Educational Research to spend three months in Australia, and, urged by John Barr,43 the NZLA arranged, with the help of government finance, for page 176him to spend two weeks in New Zealand. He arrived on 3 February and departed on the 17th, having visited libraries and library groups from one end of the country to the other and spoken publicly and on radio. He was one who knew how to mix judicious praise with helpful criticism, and New Zealanders found him compatible. He was inspiring without setting out to be inspirational.
'As you have been told,' McColvin said to the students of the Library School, 'I am the Librarian of the Public Libraries of the City of Westminster in London. All my life I have spent in public libraries, and not only do I know more about them, but I must admit I have always been more interested in the development of public library services than in any other aspect of librarianship, because I think I have realised right from the beginning that the public library is one of the most valuable institutions of the modern world.' He then gave a comprehensive account of the background and current state of the British public library system, highlighting points which he knew were matters of concern in New Zealand, and saying, 'Libraries are very old institutions. They are as old as civilisation – or to put it the other way, civilisation is as old as libraries. Until there were readers and books civilisation was not possible.'44
In his public broadcast45 McColvin repeated that 'No one can deny that our civilisation is based on the written and printed record. Without books and related materials, science, scholarship, medicine, technology – to mention those matters alone – could have achieved but little.' Speaking at a civic reception in Wellington, in the presence of the mayor and the minister of education, he said that in New Zealand 'I find a library service that is remarkably well developed and which has made progress in recent years just as the British library services have done.' After congratulating the Wellington City Council on its new building and the quality of its stock, and expressing the hope that it would soon abandon the subscription barrier to membership, he said: 'I congratulate the Government upon the very enlightened attitude that has been taken by the Government in library development. There are many factors of all kinds which prompt me to say that – especially the library school. The way in which the Government has made it possible for the right kind of student to go to the School shows that the Government has gone into the problem of library development seriously and is tackling it in a wise manner.'46
McColvin's visit, brief though it was, was a morale booster at a difficult but exciting time for New Zealand libraries, and in him Alley had come across the kind of foreign librarian for whom he always felt an affinity: impressive without being flamboyant or élitist, in control of himself and his work, down to earth, and aware of the importance of public libraries.
The first graduate course of the Library School concluded on 29 page 177November 1946. Allowing for a break between two semesters, it had lasted for 39 weeks, which was considerably longer than a university teaching year. The programme had been planned on the assumption that students should work for 45 hours a week, of which two-thirds would be given to assignments and individual projects which became increasingly demanding and took a higher proportion of the time as the year progressed. A great deal of what was produced was marked and graded; much of it was presented and discussed in classes or tutorials. This process of continuous assessment, similar to what was adopted by the universities many years later, obviated the need for students to concentrate on the goal of end-ofyear examinations; it also, as university students found later, required them to work hard right from the beginning, and complaints of overloading were heard from time to time, but in summing up the year's work Parsons wrote: 'The co-operation of … the students themselves has been so intelligent and so enthusiastic that lecturers without exception have expressed their enjoyment in working with them.'47 Alley contributed lectures to the book course and was a major contributor to the course in library administration, for which he drew on his wide knowledge of the New Zealand library system and of New Zealand society. 'The aim of the school,' Parsons wrote, 'has been to have the students know books and understand the best administrative policies and technical procedures so far as the profession has developed them. Above all the aim is to have the students go out from the School as intelligent workers who will do nothing without knowing why they do it and will be capable, according to the needs of the positions they take, of doing good team work or good independent work.'
When John Harris was asked to lecture he asked Ngarita Gordon, a member of his staff who was spending 1946 as librarian and bibliographer at the school, a number of questions to help him prepare for the task. In her reply she stressed the time constraints and the pressures that the students had to contend with, but she also described the great care that was taken in planning each week's timetable. 'There is … a good deal of "straight" lecturing,' she said, 'But though there is little in the nature of group or "round table" discussion the students, thanks be, are far from inarticulate! … Some students, of course, are more vocal than others, but most of them make some material contribution in this way, and are encouraged to do so both in and out of class. You'll find them an interesting and interested group.' In reply to the question, 'Is it true that Mary Parsons still sits on the platform?', Gordon replied, 'There is no platform. But she sits. With the class. Usually at the back. But for visiting lecturers, in the front row! I do not know anyone capable of persuading her to any other course of action.'48
The students of the class of '46 became a very cohesive group. They page 178formed themselves into an association, partly because one student was refused leave to go to Christchurch to be capped and was considered to need group advocacy and protection (she got her leave on appeal); partly also because R.N. (Ron) O'Reilly had been active in Labour Party affairs and loved drawing up constitutions and chairing meetings. They published two issues of Colophon, edited by W.J. (Jock) McEldowney and Basil Dowling, which the editor of New Zealand Libraries said had 'an unexpected if refreshing absence of professional subject matter'.49 Some members made a trip to Feilding to observe the work of the community centre which had been established there by Crawford and Gwen Somerset. Some of the students' work reached a wider audience: for instance, an examination by J.P. (John) Sage of out-of-print New Zealand books which should be considered for reprinting,50 and an article, which was published in the American periodical Library Quarterly,51 in which O'Reilly offered a provocative comment on the evangelistic librarian ('Let the librarian stay a librarian,' he concluded, 'and give people a chance to think'). And on one occasion a keg was set up in a study room for a celebration to which Parsons was invited. Her comment was, 'My, you have some delightful stoodent customs which we don't have back home.' Alley pointed out to the students' association that the study room was in a government building and that such events were out of order.
The pattern that was established in 1946 remained throughout the life of the school, though each class had its own distinct personality. The tone was usually set by a few strong characters, and the result was that, from the point of view of the staff, some classes were harder to handle than others, though this did not mean that they were worse. The class of '47, for instance, perceived itself to be, and probably was, less accepting of established views than those who had gone before; and it must be noted that one or two of its members, who challenged some of Alley's cherished principles, fell into disfavour, with disproportionately adverse effects on their later careers.52 Alley's files show that he was usually meticulously objective in his assessment of his juniors – for instance, when they were candidates for positions – but there was a limit to his tolerance of lèsemajesté.
When Mary Fleming returned from the United States she brought news of an Englishwoman working in North America whose experience in both regional library service and library education could be useful and who might be interested in working in New Zealand. Born in 1896, Nora Bateson had been a lecturer in the library school at McGill University, and had subsequently directed a Carnegie library demonstration in Prince Edward Island and a regional library in Nova Scotia, with a spell as head of department in the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore in between. After page 179acting as adviser to the Jamaican government in 1944–45, she had moved to the Detroit Public Library, where Fleming met her.53
Alley, who was concerned that when Mary Parsons left it would be very difficult to find a suitable replacement from the small profession which existed in New Zealand at that time, asked Lionel McColvin to speak to Bateson in Detroit on his way back to Britain from his Australian and New Zealand excursion. McColvin agreed to do this, and in writing to Alley said:
I've been at Detroit today and talked with Miss Bateson here. I would find it a little difficult to say what I think were it not that it was my obvious duty to be helpful to you. I liked Miss Bateson and there can be no doubt whatever about her ability and intelligence. She holds a responsible position at Detroit and is thought well of by her present chief – but I don't think she'd be a good choice for you. She's a woman well on in her fifties, I should imagine, and, though she's had very varied experience – in Nova Scotia and Jamaica, etc. – I imagine she's 'found' various 'difficulties' in the course of her career and unless I'm mistaken has her share of 'complexes'. She wants to get out of America (for which I do not blame her) and I'm very very sorry I can't recommend her wholeheartedly but I don't think she'd fit; she might indeed create more problems than she helped to solve and I'm sure you don't want that. I was very careful to be extremely non-committal when talking with her – and I think it quite probable that she may write to you expressing her willingness to go to N.Z. although it means halving her salary – but – well, you must act as you think best. My advice, for what it is worth, is don't.54
Despite McColvin's warning, Alley decided to offer Bateson the position of senior lecturer in the book course at the Library School, which she took up in September 1947. By this time the question of Mary Parsons's tenure of the directorship of the Library School had come up unexpectedly early, since the US State Department had decided, in a fit of post-war retrenchment, to close American libraries in the British Commonwealth, and the library in Wellington put up its shutters on 31 July 1947.55 Its stock and some of its functions were taken over by the National Library Service, but the agreement between the two governments over Parsons's directorship of the school lapsed. The New Zealand government continued paying her salary until the end of the year, but a decision now had to be made on a permanent appointment.
Parsons's demonstration of a high-quality reference service in the three years of the existence of her library in Woodward Street had been not only inspirational but also politically influential. Alley recalled an incident in page 180which Walter Nash, the minister of finance, said to him after visiting the library, 'You know, Alley, you can get anything you want for developments like this.'56 In her approach to library administration her thinking appealed to Alley, and it also had a very strong effect on the early students of the Library School. 'Administration to Mary Parsons,' said Alley, 'was leadership of a group in a common effort, and she tended also to stress the non-charismatic aspect of leadership'57 (though it must be added that the non-charismatic glove concealed a hand of steel). But she was already more than 60 years old, so that even a permanent appointment would be very temporary, and there were those who did not view her as favourably as Alley did. John Harris, whose training was British and bibliographical, not American and public service, wrote to Alley in October 1947: 'I hear that Bateson has turned up and is a good downright sort of person. Sounds the right kind. Archie [Dunningham] is very pro-Mary P. God knows why. But he's exceedingly peculiar these days.'58
One person whom Alley approached over the directorship was Clifford Collins, who said that he would not be applying for it even if it were advertised at the salary range of £785–£875 (for comparison, Alley's own range at that time was £850–£925, while the university college librarians were on £825). Alley then wrote to Collins saying: 'The letter arrived in perfect time & I was able to show it to a very understanding & helpful Chairman of the P.S.C. at a full meeting of that august body – i.e. all three members. It is now agreed that the appointment be offered Miss B. – on the basis of her becoming Acting Director for 1948. Salary – negotiated with difficulty – 635 + 150 allowance = £785. This is very confidential but I give you this information because you have helped me once again and because I know you will be the perfect clam. The job will therefore not be advertised'.59
So Mary Parsons left New Zealand in February 1948 and Nora Bateson succeeded her at the Library School, being confirmed in her position after her first year. Parsons had had hopes of a greatly expanded role for the US Information Service in New Zealand,60 but, she confessed to Collins, 'I was very interested in the Library but even more interested in the School – as I can say now off the record because I shall be out of the diplomatic corps at the end of this month.'61
Six of the students of the 1946 class, working as a committee and with advice from staff, drew up a code for listing New Zealand publications between the period covered by T.M. Hocken's Bibliography of the Literature relating to New Zealand (1909) and the beginning of the list of copyright publications issued by the General Assembly Library (1933–34), and each of them then made a preliminary bibliography of one year's publications.62 This exercise was one of many productive ways in which the school was page 181able, over the years, to contribute to the work of the National Library Centre and in which the centre was able to provide high-level, practical experience for students.
Graham Bagnall's brief, set out in Alley's blueprint which has been quoted above, was a daunting one. As the valedictory which was published after he retired said, 'The National Library Centre was created as part of the National Library Service after a period in which there had been a real ferment of ideas and of new activities, and Graham Bagnall, in taking on a job which was expected to solve a host of problems overnight, inherited some pretty heady stuff. He had to bring the more extravagant ideas down to earth and at the same time produce results.'63
The first specific job Bagnall tackled was the co-ordination of government departmental libraries. At the same time he became responsible for the whole range of interests of the NZLA's book resources committee, including the encouragement and, where necessary, the execution of bibliographical projects, maintenance of the union catalogue, the Central Bureau for Library Book Imports, the operation of a clearing-house for inter-library loans, and the stimulation of discussion of all matters relating to the nation's book resources.64 The blueprint for the National Library Centre had been drawn up by Alley in his roles as director of the NLS, honorary secretary of the NZLA and convener of the book resources committee, and he continued to be its forceful and innovative promoter, but in choosing Bagnall he had looked for someone who would assume much of the responsibility for fully developing the arm of the National Library Service which had grown as an offshoot of the Country Library Service, and which related to academic, research, and larger public libraries as well as to the library system and library users generally.
In March 1946 the National Library Centre took over the compilation of the Index to New Zealand Periodicals, which had languished since 1943 when the Otago branch of the NZLA had had to suspend work on it.65 A cumulation covering the intervening period was prepared, and an annual series was begun from 1947. The Union List of Serials in New Zealand Libraries, which had been one of John Harris's particular interests from 1939, remained in his hands, but he was provided with an assistant from NLS funds from the beginning of 1946.66 Later in the same year Bagnall put forward a proposal for the preparation and sale of catalogue cards for New Zealand publications, which was approved by the book resources committee in August 1946, and the first cards were issued in January 1948.
The system which had been established, before the National Library Centre came into being, for handling inter-library loan requests for material whose location was not known to the requesting libraries was this:page 182
1. Interloan cards were sent to the National Library Centre. 2. Material held by the NLS would be supplied. 3. Remaining cards would be checked against the union catalogue, and those for items found in it would be sent on. 4. Cards still remaining would be checked in the catalogues of other major Wellington libraries by NLS staff, and cards for located items would be passed to those libraries. 5. Remaining items (except a few which were considered not to be within scope) would then be listed in the weekly Book Resources circular which was sent to major libraries; they would report holdings which would be recorded in the union catalogue, and the cards would be sent on. 6. Items not located would then be considered for purchase by the NLS and, if ordered, lent on arrival.
This system was designed to cope with a situation in which central records were rudimentary; and, of course, it pre-dated by several decades the possibility of on-line access to computer databases. Alley was good at devising simple systems which worked more or less automatically, requiring high-level attention only when policy was being changed or there was an emergency.
In reporting on interloan traffic handled by the National Library Centre in the March 1947 year, Bagnall said that 5684 request cards had been received. Of the items requested, 2794 were supplied from NLS stock and 794 from other Wellington libraries; 358 were located in the union catalogue, and 73 in the interim checklist of serials which Harris had recently produced. Of the remainder (plus some requests placed by the CLS on behalf of smaller public libraries which did not qualify to belong to the interloan scheme), 1824 were listed in the Book Resources circular, which flushed out 619 holdings.67 The small number of items located in the union catalogue emphasised the need for a major effort to be made to complete it when the easing of wartime and post-war constraints on manufacturing and shipping made it possible for the equipment which had been offered by the Carnegie Corporation to be supplied and the original plan to proceed.
A responsibility of the National Library Centre which placed it in the middle of controversy was the Central Bureau for Library Book Imports, in relation to which the NLS acted as an agent for the Customs Department in implementing most-favoured status for libraries in an era of severe import restrictions. When Dunningham was promoting the cause of regional library development in 1947 he used the example of the bureau to illustrate the dangers of central government control. Referring to a possibly garbled report that local offices of the Customs Department had been instructed by page 183their head office 'not to issue basic licenses to public libraries at Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, and Dunedin nor to the University Colleges of Canterbury and Otago, because licenses to these libraries would in future be controlled through the National Library Service', he wrote in his report that 'no recommendation of the New Zealand Library Assn. can prevent inter-departmental co-operation between the Customs Dept. and the National Library so that virtually the Director of the National Library Service can at any time by inter-departmental decision control all the licenses which libraries may at any time receive. As a weapon which might in future be used to impose conformity to National Library Service policy this power is alarming'.68
In his comments on Dunningham's draft Alley said: 'In view of the record of the past seven years, with its painstaking attention to hundreds of points of detail by the Book Resources Committee [of which Dunningham had been a member], the good relations which have been so carefully built up and maintained between local libraries, National Library Service and Customs Department are not, I hope, to be endangered by this piece of irresponsibility.'69 Further lengthy amplifications of his points were shot off by Dunningham before the meeting of the book resources committee which was held in May 1947, when it was reported that 'Mr Alley stated that as long as the positions of Convener of the Book Resources Committee and Director National Library Service were held by him, the Committee would be notified if policy decisions were made by the Government which differed from Association policy.'70 This statement seems to have satisfied the committee, whose members71 could not be described as ciphers, but it is perhaps a pity that Dunningham's stridency when he was sitting in front of his battered old typewriter rather than talking to people face to face tended to prevent sober consideration of what might have been legitimate concerns.
Back in the hallowed if somewhat decrepit halls of the wooden buildings in Sydney Street East, the three main headquarters sections of the NLS – orders, cataloguing and reference – were placed under the control of the Librarian, National Library Centre, to whom their heads became responsible. Increasingly, their work had become concerned with libraries outside the network of the Country Library Service, though, in the absence of CLS offices in the North Island to match the Christchurch office in the south, they had at first more direct dealings with northern CLS libraries in such matters as holding records of loans and dealing with requests for books and information. The operations of the CLS vans in the North Island and the organisation of help and advice to northern libraries were, however, handled by Alley's secretary, who reported directly to him until the opening of an office of the CLS in Palmerston page 184North in 1949 enabled most of the day-to-day CLS work to be moved out of Wellington.
By the end of the decade the regular operations of the CLS had settled into a tried and true pattern. In the March 1950 year 88 boroughs and town districts received the full range of CLS services (the 'A' service), compared with 65 in 1946; there were 691 rural groups (the 'B' service), up from 504; groups receiving hampers (the 'C' service) had dropped from 69 to 43; and there were 1047 postal ('D' service) borrowers (674 in 1946). An additional service was one to 39 Works Department, Forest Service, and State Hydro camps, which had begun on 1 April 1949, and, as well as the regular bulk loans of books, 25,822 books were supplied in answer to requests from CLS libraries and 396 subject loan collections (20,319 books) were sent to libraries which asked for them. A nice point in the annual report from which these figures are taken72 is that among the four local authorities which are noted as having adopted free library service and qualified to receive CLS aid during the year is Opunake, whose town board had not responded to Alley's blandishments when he did his Taranaki survey in 1936.
These figures are fine, as far as they go, and one could probably derive some kind of bottom line from them to show that all was well in the CLS organisation. But the bottom line, in accounting terms, never is the real bottom line, and this is why Alley kept the control of the CLS in his own hands. To him the object of librarianship was to make it possible for anyone, anywhere, to see and decide for themselves whether to read a very wide range of intellectually stimulating and informative books. Numbers did not enter into the equation, except in so far as increases in quantity were not diluted by decreases in quality. It is necessary, of course, to remember that books at various levels of sophistication can stir a response in different individuals, so that this principle is not confined to academic material, but the principle of the 'worthwhile book' was one of Alley's driving forces. In effect, Alley had faith in the innate ability of New Zealanders to respond to opportunities to use books no matter where they lived or how isolated they were, and he knew that the health of the whole community depended on the opportunities for intellectual stimulus which were afforded to its individual members. There are obvious parallels with Peter Fraser's policy statement, already quoted, that 'every person, whether he be rich or poor, whether he live in town or country, has a right, as a citizen, to a free education of the kind for which he is best fitted and to the fullest extent of his powers', and with T.D.H. Hall's belief that the strength of a nation lay not in great developments but in the hundreds of smaller units and groupings. That is how people, including many in positions of influence, thought in those days, and page 185their principles have not been invalidated by more recent intellectual aberrations.
In the case of municipal corporations, the direct services of the CLS were extended gradually to all but the larger cities. Basic to the partnership between government and borough was the abolition of the subscription system of membership, which the Munn–Barr report had identified as a major impediment to effective library service and which the NZLA and the CLS, with Jessie Carnell's vigorous help at a crucial time, had promoted. But when an important change is implemented it is necessary to be clear about why it should be supported, and to ensure that the end result is good enough to be quickly acknowledged to be worthwhile. The reason for the library world's dislike of the subscription system was that it restricted the potential membership of libraries and encouraged an emphasis on a narrow range of popular books, to the exclusion of the wider range of books which many people would never suspect existed. Abolition of subscriptions always resulted in an increase in membership, which, in itself, justified a wider acquisitions programme, but this did not necessarily happen automatically; other elements in a programme of enhancement were the cultivation of local authority councillors and officials, the encouragement and support of good librarians in public libraries, the provision of services from the Country Library Service, and the establishment of good and helpful relations between the CLS and library authorities. In all of these matters Alley considered that he should play an active role.
In one respect some overseas librarians have felt that the New Zealand library profession compromised the purity of library principles. This was in its support of the free-and-rental system, under which heavy demand for popular, lightweight books was controlled by placing them in a separate category for which a rental fee was charged. The justification for the policy was that such books, which could also be got on similar terms from commercial enterprises, would, if they were supplied in sufficient numbers to meet demand, absorb a large part of the funds which should be used to build up an exciting, vibrant collection with a much wider scope. But for the benefits of the system to be realised there needed to be good librarians, with knowledge of both books and people, supported by sympathetic local authorities. It was important that local authorities should not simply rely on receiving books from the CLS, but that a well-selected local collection should be reinforced by a flow of CLS books. The rationale for this creative approach to the supply of books in smaller public libraries which would have struggled on their own was set out in 1946 in a paper by Priscilla Taylor entitled 'Books, bought or borrowed?',73 which was influential at the time, despite some naïvetés which reflected current hopes and aspirations. Taylor, who had been an innovative librarian in Tauranga since 1943, was page 186a member of the Library School class in 1946, after which she joined the staff of the CLS.
Alley was very effective in discussing these matters with councillors and officials. He also watched for librarians who understood what was needed, and encouraged them to take jobs where they could develop a good service. In his administration of the CLS he established policies and practices which were tailored to the needs of local libraries. Staff of the CLS, whether in the offices or in the field, were chosen for their ability to establish rapport with users. And 'organising librarian' positions were established in the CLS, to which he appointed people, like Priscilla Taylor, who could go to libraries to advise and help in planning and effecting improvements. He saw the whole operation as a partnership between the CLS and local authorities, and its objective, as far as possible, to provide citizens in smaller communities with access to the range of material which was available in larger centres.
Oamaru offers an example of how Alley and the CLS operated at that time. With a population of about 8000, Oamaru had no public library. As in many other towns, an Athenaeum and Mechanics' Institute had been established in the 1860s, and this was still in existence and trying to provide a library service to its subscribers when the Country Library Service came on the scene. It was not until the mid-1940s, however, when the CLS had extended its operations to boroughs the size of Oamaru, that the Athenaeum committee was able to begin serious negotiations with a reluctant borough council for the transfer to the council of responsibility for a library service, with CLS help, which would be available to all citizens. It was at this time that Alley wrote to Dr E.S. Stubbs the letter quoted in the previous chapter in which he countered criticisms of the CLS as having 'leftish' leanings, after which Stubbs became a valuable point of contact for him.
With the help of the Athenaeum committee, things then moved fairly quickly. In July 1947 Owen Simmance, a CLS field librarian, reported: 'While waiting for Cr. Stubbs I talked with the Town Clerk and Mr White, Chief Clerk to the Council. The TC wanted to know just what the Council would have to do after the change was made. I sensed that he was antagonistic to the change – this was confirmed later by Mr. Richman, Secy. of the Athenaeum Committee, although it is agreed that all opposition is now broken down'.74 Legislation was then passed to allow the change to occur, and in January 1948 Alley wrote to the town clerk that he was pleased to hear that the council was now competent to assume control of the library; 700 books and loan collections would be sent before the end of the month, provided the following conditions of service were agreed to:page 187
That the Oamaru Borough Council –
1. Assume responsibility for the Library. This need not prevent the co-option to the Library Committee of people who are not councillors. 2. Agree to abolish subscriptions for the use of the Library by all residents of the Borough area; and to issue free all non-fiction and fiction of a good literary standard or of some subject value, as well as the books lent by this Service. 3. Maintain the Library at a reasonable standard of efficiency. The Council would be expected to make a grant to the Library which will cover costs of administration and the purchase of new books for the free collection each year.75
The necessary assurances were given and the Oamaru Public Library came into being, but there were enormous difficulties in converting an institution that was over-laden with detritus from the past into a modern public library, even with help from CLS staff. When the librarian, who was at retiring age, resigned in 1949, the chairman of the library committee therefore asked Jean Wright to find a suitable replacement, and she, together with Nora Bateson, probably after consulting Alley, encouraged Helen Cowey to accept the position. Cowey, who had been an assistant in the Canterbury Public Library from 1941 to 1947, had studied at the Library School in 1948 and had then spent some time in the Lower Hutt Public Library, whose librarian, Judith Williams, also encouraged her to take the opportunity.76 In Cowey they picked a winner – she ended her career 30 years later as director of the extension division of the National Library.
'It must have been a heart-breaking task for the librarian and the Athenaeum Committee members,' Cowey wrote in 1954, 'to try to satisfy the demands of the subscribers for light fiction, travel and biography while at the same time trying to buy books of more permanent value which they knew should be available in a public library, even if the book fund was only £250 a year. Before 1938 there had been no machinery for borrowing books from other libraries, therefore the librarian would not wish to withdraw any books for which the subscribers might ask. Thus the shelves were loaded with many books past their usefulness which were detracting from the general appearance of the stock. In fact this library was an excellent example of McColvin's twin tragedies, Books without readers, readers without books.'77
'My first concern,' said Cowey later
was to try to widen the range of subjects available and to make Oamaru people aware that there were books to interest everyone … Work began immediately on weeding stock. Hundreds of books were discarded … page 188When room had been made on the shelves we borrowed some of the CLS Indefinite Loan stock which helped quickly to establish collections of books on gardening, child care, cooking, art, music, fishing, philosophy, astronomy, etc. Oamaru was the centre for the North Otago Adult Education tutor employed by Otago University. He set up his headquarters in the library and there were many ways that this co-operation between the library and the Adult Education centre were developed … Loan collections of books were borrowed to support local activities: the Agricultural and Pastoral Shows, the Embroidery Group, the Drama Club, etc…. Some of the enormous art books [in special loan collections from the CLS] were especially spectacular and I would enjoy the thought that borrowers in the Canterbury Public Library would not be able to make their choice from as many lovely new books on a single subject as the people of Oamaru were able to from these loan collections.78
The problem of the New Zealand county system, with its inability to provide rural libraries, remained, of course, but in setting up its network of 'B' libraries in country areas the CLS acted in loco parentis, as it were, until the promise of local body reform, constantly made but never fulfilled, should have become a reality. In the cold light of logic the 'B' library could not be justified except as a temporary expedient, and yet the book van travelling around country districts, field librarian at the wheel, was for many people the symbol of the CLS, even of the NLS, and, in the absence of anything more logical, acquired a mystique of its own.79 It did, after all, exist, and counties able to deliver library service did not.
In 1947, in addition to exercising direct control of the Country Library Service and supervising the early stages of the Library School (in which he was doing a good deal of teaching) and the National Library Centre, Alley continued to hold the office of honorary secretary of the NZLA. He was ex officio a member of all the association's committees; this would not have been too onerous in the case of several of them, but he was convener of the library training committee and the New Zealand book resources committee, both of which involved a great deal of detailed work. At a time when important developments were occurring, he was also the main link between the library profession and the government, besides being the official responsible for carrying out government policy in library matters. For an active person of 43, such an accumulation of responsibilities is not altogether unusual, but it carries with it the danger of burn-out. Questions were also being raised about the propriety, or wisdom, of potentially conflicting interests being held in one pair of hands.
Early in 1947 Alley decided to relinquish the honorary secretaryship from the date of the annual meeting of the NZLA on 23 May. In giving page 189notice of his intention at a meeting of the standing executive committee on 20 March, he said that the decision had been very carefully arrived at: 'Misunderstanding had arisen through the fact that the position of Director, National Library Service, and Hon. Secretary, N.Z.L.A., were held by the same person, and it was necessary to relinquish the latter position.'80 However, he must have mentioned the matter to a number of people beforehand, for at the same meeting a letter was received from the Otago branch saying that it had 'asked Mr Dunningham to accept nomination for the position as Honorary Secretary and has asked Miss Fache [Ada Fache of the staff of the Dunedin Public Library] to accept nomination for the position as Honorary Assistant Secretary'. The branch also looked forward to having the central executive of the association transferred to Dunedin during 1947.81 One can imagine the consternation with which Alley would have contemplated, as the regional library controversy developed, the transfer to such erratic hands of the relationships which he had so carefully built up in Wellington. He had probably arranged for a safe and suitable successor, as he did on a later occasion, but would have been taken by surprise by this Otago initiative. Available records do not show what happened next, but at the annual meeting Alley was re-elected honorary secretary. He had also intended to give up the convenership of the library training committee, but this idea was dropped too. His convenership of the book resources committee was not in question, because of its semi-official status.
The Carnegie Corporation, in November 1947, offered Alley a travel grant to enable him to visit the United States, after his name had been put forward by John Barr, Arnold Campbell (Director of the New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER)), Alister McIntosh, Mary Parsons, and Guy Scholefield. In sending his nomination Scholefield said: 'He is, as you must have perceived, a key man in the position. He took up the work at the invitation of our Carnegie committee, more than ten years ago, and has been working very hard ever since. We had hoped that he would have a study trip abroad before starting on his great task, but events moved so fast, in the bright sunshine of Government help, that this was not practicable … Politics are unpredictable. I think myself that the library service is now so firmly established that no party could sabotage it or make it wilt by faint finance, but it is wise to consider possible contingencies. There may be a change of government in 1949 – one cannot see at the moment why – and in any case it is important that Geoff should be on hand and in good fettle to meet any challenge that might come'.82
Since the 1949 election was due at the end of that year, Alley could have made a trip some time in the next 18 months, but after some delay he declined the invitation. 'I have postponed writing to you,' he wrote in page 190March 1948, 'in the hope that I would be able to avoid what I must now do, namely to decline for the present with much regret … It is quite out of the question for me to leave my post here for long enough to enable me to visit America and, I would hope, England. The Library School is still unable to find sufficient suitable teaching staff and I have a heavy commitment in that field. We are also facing other difficulties of an organizational kind which can be resolved only when times are more normal.'83 He hoped that there might be an opportunity in 1949, but this did not turn out to be so.
There is no reason to doubt Alley's regret at having to make this decision, though another person, with a less highly developed sense of responsibility, might have seized the opportunity. Like many people of independent mind (and particularly those with Irish attitudes towards authority) who matured in the 1920s and 1930s, Alley had a curious respect for all things American, to the extent that, with Alley thoroughness, he was able to recite the names of all the 48 states (and probably the territories as well), their capitals, and their state flowers,84 but in fact he did not really enjoy going to meet strange people in strange places. To get him away would take a major effort.
From his base in Wellington, though, Alley maintained very fruitful relations with New York. Problems over the supply of microfilm equipment for work on the completion of the union catalogue were overcome in 1948, and the equipment, valued at $US5000, was shipped in February 1949; it was consigned to the NZLA, which had decided that it 'be operated and controlled by the National Centre during the completion of the project and thereafter … be used by the Centre to assist most effectively in the work of the Book Resources Committee'.85 Arrangements were also made, during a visit to New Zealand by Whitney H. Shepardson, director of the corporation's British dominions and colonies fund, for Kathleen McCaul to receive a fellowship in order to study post-primary school librarianship at the Western Reserve Library School.86 This post-war phase of activity culminated in a request for an additional grant for general support of the NZLA, which was sent to the corporation in August 1949. A grant of $US10,000 was received, but Shepardson made it clear that it was a final grant of this kind and that the association would be expected to find full local support for its activities in the future.87 He said that the corporation's objectives were changing, and in fact what New Zealand received for the next 20 years or so was a succession of travelling fellowships for librarians who had achieved or seemed likely to achieve some degree of eminence.
In May 1948 Alley got the NZLA council to appoint Bagnall to the book resources committee as its secretary. He had made the grade. His appointment to the position of Librarian, National Library Centre, was in fact one of the most important moves that Alley ever made, and it was the page 191more remarkable because Bagnall's interests seemed in many ways different from Alley's. Nevertheless, a point that is often overlooked is that Alley was deeply concerned about the need to strengthen New Zealand's total library resources and to make them easily available to those who needed them. It was he, after all, who had seen to the creation of the book resources committee as a powerful advisory body which had government support. In Bagnall he had found someone whom he could rely upon to steer the course of the NLS in these waters in the same way as he, personally, was doing with the CLS. The writer of Bagnall's valedictory in 1973 summed up the relationship between the two in saying that 'he and G.T. Alley formed an ideal combination: Alley with his vision of what should be done, based on and informed by his background in adult education, and a sense of how to get things done politically, and Bagnall, with similar ideals created from a different mix of ingredients, a sense of what was possible, and energy to tackle tasks which might have seemed impossible to others, especially after they had discovered how much hard work was involved in them.'88
In carrying out his wider responsibilities, Bagnall depended on the heads of the three headquarters sections, both to shield him from too heavy an involvement in the detailed work of the sections and to provide support and help in conducting the National Library Centre's relations with the wider library community and carrying out work which the centre was asked to do. All three of the sections required new heads within the first two years or so of the centre's existence, and Alley chose to appoint to these positions two graduates from the 1946 class of the Library School and one from the class of 1947. John Sage was appointed to the orders section in 1947, H.O. (Bert) Roth to cataloguing in 1948, and Jock McEldowney to reference in 1948 after working for a year as librarian and bibliographer at the Library School. When Sage went to the Wellington Public Library in 1952, McEldowney took over the orders seat and Roth moved to reference, to be replaced by Arthur L. Olsson (class of '47) in cataloguing. For all of these people the times were exciting and stimulating. The National Library Service was creating its policies and practices in an evolving situation, and both Alley and Bagnall were quick to encourage and support initiative and innovation on the part of their senior staff. To take a few examples: work for government department libraries involved all three sections in acquiring and cataloguing materials and in providing a reference service; the operation of an interloan clearing-house was a primary responsibility of reference but also involved collection policies which were the responsibility of orders; and in the development of bibliographical records Bagnall relied on cataloguing for help. In all these cases the section heads had to devise procedures to handle previously unknown jobs and take part in developing policies.page 192
The inter-library loan scheme presents, in microcosm, an instructive example of the way the library profession of the day operated. Clifford Collins, who was one of those who got the scheme going, described its beginnings, which have been referred to briefly in a earlier chapter, in this way:
The first serious step in co-operation in the use of books and the building up of stocks (because co-operation is of many kinds: use, building up, and discarding) was taken by the four university librarians when, in 1936, we met and worked out a scheme of lending among ourselves. We drew up rules and gradually we got them adopted and approved, after some trepidation, by our governing bodies. They were doubtful whether it would be practicable to lend books, and it took some encouragement to make them realize that though we might each run a risk of finding that we urgently wanted something that had been lent, we gained the certainty of improving our service. From the beginning we tried to avoid what we thought were mistakes in other countries and to make our plan as simple as possible, with no fuss and bother about fees and postage accounts, which still mar interloan in countries which in some respects are ahead of us. The rules we approved were simple in their working and liberal in their effect. There was ample provision for refusal to lend, without explanation, for making specific conditions governing use, and in fact governing everything. But, as a result of having those provisions in the rules, we found we needed to use them very little.89
That was the scheme which led in 1937 to the adoption by the NZLA of a wider one developed by a committee of which Alley was a member, which led in turn to the agreement in 1943 that the Country Library Service, which had accepted responsibility for creating a national union catalogue, should also accept the role of acting as a clearing-house for interlibrary loans. One consequence of this series of events was that the scheme was recognised as a joint NZLA/CLS (later NLS) venture, so that the handbook which set out its rules and procedures, when it was published in 1944, was issued jointly by the two organisations.90 Another was that progress towards the completion of central records of libraries' holdings, including the union catalogue, was an increasingly urgent responsibility of the National Library Centre. A third consequence was the effect the centre's role had on the collection policy of the National Library Service.
From the very early days of the Country Library Service some books had been held at headquarters to meet requests from libraries for specific titles or to answer reference enquiries. The scope of the headquarters collection was extended as the CLS request service, and then the general interloan traffic, page 193increased in volume, until, by the late 1940s, it was a distinct collection in its own right, a general collection, mainly in the humanities, with some developing sections of material which was not strongly held elsewhere. In the March 1950 year the National Library Centre received 6597 requests from interloan libraries, of which 3428 (52 per cent) were satisfied from the NLS collection.91 In addition, of course, there would have been a large number of requests from CLS libraries and from government departments, as well as enquiries from visitors who might have battled their way into the overcrowded and unsuitable premises.
These figures are not high in relation to the number of loans of all kinds recorded by other libraries, but they are remarkable enough, considering that the headquarters accommodation had not been planned to cope with people coming in from outside. What had been happening was that a very small beginning had been made in creating a national collection. There was at this stage no clear plan, but certain trends were emerging. In the first place, it was desirable for the central collection to acquire general material of a high standard which one could expect to find in any substantial general collection. Secondly, it needed to have certain classes of material which might be wanted by readers who did not have ready access to large libraries and which many libraries were reluctant to lend, a case in point being outof-print New Zealand books, for which there was a steady demand. And there were subjects which were not well covered elsewhere because libraries which might have been expected to provide material in them were tied to prescriptions such as academic curricula and could not afford to branch out too far. It was pointed out once by Keyes D. Metcalf of Harvard University that the New York Public Library contributed disproportionately to interloan traffic among eastern United States academic and research libraries precisely because its collection policies were not tied in this way.
All of this pointed the way to the building up of a national collection which might in due course include specialised collections which other libraries would come to recognise as important in their own right. It was reasonable to assume, also, that it would be provided with accommodation which would enable it to be used as a reference library, alongside its role as clearing-house and national enquiry centre. That was, of course, looking to the future, but the future would not come if nothing had been done in the past. Immediately, though, there was another very important benefit that the existence of the central collection conferred, and this was that it acted as a back-up to the interloan system. The fact that over half the requests received by the clearing-house were satisfied by the National Library Centre's own collection meant that the perceived 'burden' of even a very simple interloan system was reduced, while the pressure for financial barriers which served only to put money into the pockets of managers and page 194accountants was minimised. This was a very practical way in which the National Library Service, acting on behalf of and in co-operation with other libraries, contributed to the health of the total library system.
Another factor which called for the creation of a substantial and wideranging library collection in the National Library Service was simply that no organisation can reasonably call itself a library if it is not a library. This is not a question of acquiring the trappings of librarianship for show. There is a very important role for a central organisation to play in a national library system, but to be effective it needs to have a staff that is made up of good librarians who understand the functions and needs of other libraries and are able to work with them co-operatively and imaginatively, with the object of making the best and most economical use of the nation's total library resources; and it is hard to see how it can attract staff of this calibre if its work does not have the background of a sound collection of its own and the stimulus of interaction with users, whether on the spot or at a distance, together with regular contact with librarians in other libraries at a high level in the planning and implementation of national policies. Without this level of activity, the organisation is likely to fall into the hands of administrators who do not know what they are doing and, as a result, become irrelevant. Bagnall was too much of a book man not to be very conscious of these problems, and in this, again, he reinforced Alley's approach, which had always been book-based. Both of them tended, in fact, to be a little too dismissive of technical advances and innovations, but there are always strong arguments for a cautious approach to innovation, especially if its devotees tend to be dismissive of the real reasons for an institution's existence.
By this time it had become accepted by most librarians that bibliographical projects pioneered by members of the NZLA would be taken over by the NLS, which would then seek the advice of the book resources committee in continuing and developing them. But in the case of a union list of serials holdings of New Zealand libraries a different approach had been adopted. This was a particular interest of John Harris of the University of Otago, who had started compiling a list in 1939, under the auspices of the NZLA. He had issued checklists, which were designed to be checked by libraries against their own records but also acted as interim union lists, in 1942 and 1945. The provision of staffing assistance by the National Library Service had enabled Harris to accelerate his work, and by 1948 he was well on the way to completing the record to that date. But in 1948 Harris accepted an invitation from Dr K. Mellanby, the first principal of the University College of Ibadan in Nigeria, to become the college's inaugural Librarian, and he departed in December of that year.92 After some negotiation within the book resources committee, the NZLA asked the National Library page 195Service to take over the union list of serials and to accept responsibility for its publication. Cabinet agreed to this proposal, including the expenditure of £2000 for publication of the basic volume, on 12 October 1949.93
The Otago branch of the NZLA was always inclined to regard itself as a principality within a kingdom, so that anything that happened to any of its leaders was treated with utmost seriousness, but in Harris's case there were grounds for celebration and concern. When the branch farewelled him he was honoured by a reading of a 103-line ode which had been written by his deputy, Basil Dowling. Warming to his theme, Dowling declaimed:
He goes, our honoured friend, John Harris,
Not to New York, Moscow, or Paris,
Not to some library of luster
More celebrated and auguster
Ever than that which in Dunedin
So many come to see and read in;
A library his work and vision
Raised from an object of derision
To one of dignity and worth,
No – but to the ends of earth
He goes to give his skill and knowledge
To an unknown remote new College …94
Clifford Collins, in a valedictory note, said: 'He leaves a very big gap – one that can never be completely filled … The only consolation is that, while his actual achievement has permanently advanced the standard of our librarianship and bibliography, his example will surely inspire others similarly to undertake ambitious projects and to bring them to a safe conclusion.'95 Alley, in a strangely low-key section of his memoirs, said, 'Now I think it is a curious twist of history, a curious bibliographical twist that Harris's contribution to New Zealand library development lay mainly through his approach to bibliography. It stemmed, I suppose, from his doing the course at the London School which was bibliographically oriented.'96 Bert Roth's summing up, in 1979, was that in Harris's departure 'New Zealand lost not merely a good but one of its best librarians';97 he might have added 'one of its very few professional librarians'. Harris's later career was one that was full of achievement and honour. Among other things he became known as 'the father of West African librarianship',98 and New Zealand librarianship was able, to some extent, to bask in his reflected glory. But, although his departure removed what had been a special orientation towards bibliographical enterprise, when he went the gap was more than adequately filled by Bagnall and the National Library Centre.page 196
At about this time Bagnall started seriously on the work that, in time, came to be especially associated with his name, the compilation of a retrospective New Zealand national bibliography, building on the work of earlier bibliographers like Hocken, Johnstone, and Chapple, and making the record as complete as possible up to a date which was first set at 1950 and later extended to 1960. 'When I first discussed the project with Geoff Alley,' he wrote once, 'his perceptive query was: "Do you want to do this yourself, or do you merely want to see it done?".'99 He did indeed want to do it himself, and described it in 1977 as 'not merely a faithful interest to which I longed to return when elsewhere involved but also an anchor of absorbing preoccupation, even an assurance of sanity'.100 But doing it himself included enrolling helpers from libraries throughout the country, in what Alley called 'the capacity in his administration to see administration as leadership of a group'.101 This was the kind of administration that Alley liked to encourage.
In its early years the Library School was kept afloat by the ability of the National Library Service to absorb a high proportion of its graduates. Seventy-three emerged from the school in its first three years, 1946–48, of whom 44 accepted positions in the NLS, five in other government departments, 14 in public libraries, and 10 in university libraries. Dietrich Borchardt, who had it in for Alley and the NLS, interpreted these figures as meaning that '49 went into the civil service while 24 only engaged in work of the kind held up to the students as the true purpose of their training. In other words, only one-third of the students took up the profession of librarianship, while two-thirds went to work as highly trained civil servants.'102 But it could equally well be argued that there would have been a lot of unemployed librarians for several years until the system was able to provide jobs for them if it had not been for the fact that the National Library Service was expanding at that time and wanting people to work with public libraries, in a School Library Service which was becoming accepted by the teaching profession as a major new resource, and in developing the new resources and services of the National Library Centre.
Alley was determined to create a situation in which it was regarded as normal practice to look for graduates with postgraduate library qualifications to appoint to professional positions. He made it clear to those of his existing staff who did not have professional qualifications that, if they wanted to proceed up the ladder, it would be necessary for them to go through the Library School first, and, as we have seen, he made some appointments which consolidated the position of Library School graduates in his staffing structure. In the case of the university libraries, which were the other main group which was ready to welcome the products of the Library School, the problem was that they were so small – it is, in fact, page 197a tribute to the goodwill of their librarians that they were able to take 10 from the school in the first three years. The University of Otago library, for instance, with about 150,000 volumes and serving a student population of about 1000 and academic staff to match, had only eight positions in 1951 to which the appointment of professionals would have been justified.103 In some, particularly medium-sized, public libraries there were grave doubts about the ability of academic theorists who had not started at the bottom to understand the library public.
Much of the reason why so many of the first Library School graduates went into the National Library Service was therefore simply that suitable jobs were not offered elsewhere, but another factor which should not be overlooked is that, at that time, many of the new recruits considered that the National Library Service was where the action was. They wanted to work there and be a part of it. Later, when many other libraries took their rightful places in the library system, the excitement of working in the NLS was largely forgotten, but it was very real in the late 1940s.
When the Library School was established its annual intake was capped at 30. Thirty candidates were accepted for the first course in 1946 (though one withdrew soon after the course began), but after that year the numbers of suitable candidates began to decline. There were 25 in 1947, 25 in 1948, 21 in 1949 and 15 in 1950. We shall look at the continuing decline in numbers in the next chapter, but we should note at this point how fortunate it was that the school started just at the time when so many young people, who had been otherwise occupied during the war, were looking for new career options. Like Gabriel Read, the library profession had 'shovelled away about two and a half feet of ground, arriving at a beautiful soft slate, and saw the gold shining like the stars in Orion on a dark frosty night'.104 After the easy alluvial deposits had been worked over, winning more gold by mining and sluicing was a slower business, but the initial capital gain remained in the library community. The pay-off for most libraries came later, when they were able to draw on a reservoir of well-trained and, by then, experienced librarians when they needed them.
The problems arising from the initial potential glut of Library School graduates sorted themselves out within a few years. More serious concerns were caused by the fact that those who had embarked on the NZLA's courses from 1942, and especially those who had contemplated going on to the diploma course which the association abandoned in 1945, felt that they were being superseded in the profession's hierarchy by the new graduate professionals. Among them were university graduates who, a few years later, would almost certainly have applied for entry to the Library School, but others, who had entered library work when the apprenticeship path to advancement was taken for granted, also felt sidelined and aggrieved and page 198spoke out strongly at association meetings and conferences. So while the first 47 NZLA certificates were being awarded, from 1945 to 1948,105 there was a great deal of confusion about what they were worth.
The NZLA had in fact changed course from a channel which was full of shoals and hazards into one which seemed to lead to a safe haven after the fortuitous arrival of Mary Parsons. As John Harris wrote just before leaving for Nigeria, in discussing the pre-Library School period, 'The main problem was the scarcity of librarians able and free enough to give instruction…. The launching of the General Training Course strained the resources of New Zealand librarianship almost to breaking point. Those few in the profession who were both able and willing to act as tutors, to prepare courses, and to examine were already without exception overworked in their respective jobs…. But the main fault of the General Training Course was nothing to do with the course itself. The trouble was that after several years of operation we seemed to have fewer trained librarians than ever. The course was for those already in library work.'106 Harris's remarks were directed at the first – the certificate – part of the planned course, but it was already clear, when the idea of a graduate library school was first raised, that there was no way the NZLA could launch the diploma course which was to have followed on from the certificate. All the same, those students who had planned to carry on to the diploma felt especially frustrated by the advent of a new, higher-level qualification.
In the early stages of discussions over the proposal for a Library School, one idea that was floated was that the school might take over the work of tutoring for the NZLA course. At a meeting of the library training committee of the NZLA in February 1945, Alley said that 'The School could begin to take over the N.Z.L.A. training course as soon as staff was appointed',107 and in his report which provided the basis for the establishment of the National Library Service he wrote that 'Tutoring of the general training course and the writing of the parts for the diploma should be undertaken by the school.' This report was included in full in his March 1945 annual report,108 which was perhaps a mistake, though this was the time when the NZLA tended to think that it was making government policy on library matters. It was preceded by a note which said that it had been 'approved as a basis of discussion by the Minister of Education and later approved by the New Zealand Library Association', but many people forgot about the words 'as a basis of discussion'. When the minister announced the establishment of the school he did not mention the possibility of its becoming involved in the NZLA's course, and its staffing establishment was not sufficient for it to do so. The anger expressed by some of its disappointed members at the NZLA's conference in May 1948 led to a request to the minister (now T.H. McCombs) that the supposed page 199undertaking be honoured, 109 but he turned it down in a letter which was no doubt drafted by Alley, saying, 'It is questionable whether the two different types of training could satisfactorily be carried out by the same staff, and at present the School staff could not undertake the administration of the New Zealand Library Association course.' He did, however, add: 'I suggest that this matter be discussed further by the Training Committee of your Association, and I shall be glad to consider any further representations you may care to make.'110
In its first years the Library School had accepted some NZLA certificateholders, including a few who were required to attend for only the second and third terms, but now, armed with the invitation to make further representations to the minister, Alley and Bateson worked out a proposal for dividing the NZLA's certificate course into two parts, the first to be conducted by correspondence as before and the second to be a six-week full-time course in Wellington, held at the Library School. This proposal, which was discussed by the library training committee and the council of the NZLA in May 1949,111 was referred to its branches and sections for comment, with a warning that ministerial authority would be needed before it could be implemented. The seriousness with which the matter was regarded within the association is indicated by this report of a meeting of the Wellington branch:
Although there was relatively little debate upon the merits of these changes, members were grateful to Miss Bateson and Mr Alley for their ready explanations of various points raised during the evening.
Mr MacGregor asked to what standard the GTC is supposed to take a trainee. Mr Alley quoted the approximate words of the syllabus, 'to fit the holder for positions of £250–£300 – at 1940 rates,' adding that the course was invaluable for sole charge positions in smaller libraries also. Miss Stewart asked if the residential course would share lectures with Library School students. Miss Bateson replied that it would be a separate course. In reply to Mr MacGregor, Miss Fleming said that the standard of Cataloguing and Classification would be part-way between the first and second terms at Columbia, a little lower than at Library School.
Miss Bateson emphasized that the starting date, if the changes were accepted and approved, depended in part on the problem of space. At the earliest it would be quite a time until it could be put into effect, by which time she hoped this problem would be solved. Mr Alley did not dissent. Mr McEldowney asked what provision would be made for those who were taking some time over the correspondence course, and might not have finished when the changes came into effect. Mr Alley answered that 150 to 200 of them could apply for readmission, so there would probably page 200need to be a time limit to which this could apply. There would also need to be some arrangement for people who couldn't come to the school. Mr Roth asked how many students were expected, and Miss Fleming replied that the average intake so far had been 25 to 30 a year, and that this average would probably persist. To Mr Roth's suggestion that there might be a considerable strain upon the teaching staff and his query as to whether the residential course might be held in the holidays, Miss Bateson answered that this was not possible – it was done in the U.S.A., but holidays were longer there. When Mr MacGregor asked if local authorities had been sounded for their reactions to the need for releasing people for six weeks, Miss Bateson said that they had already released librarians for three weeks or a month in the past, so it was presumed that they would be agreeable.
Was there any provision made for children's courses, enquired Miss Cowey. Mr Alley suggested that a short training course for people who had completed might be better. Miss Bateson remarked that it was difficult to add more to the new course, which was already packed full. To Mr Roth, who suggested that six weeks seemed a very short period, Miss Bateson replied that, compared with a year of spare-time work, the course would really give a longer period of concentrated work.
When Mr McEldowney asked whether the proposals were satisfactory to those who had suggested at the Napier Conference that the GTC should be taken over by the Library School, Miss Gilmer [one of the angry students] replied that she thought the new arrangement admirable. Mr Roth suggested that Council should make it clear that training was being provided at two separate levels, but Mr Alley thought that clear-cut stratification was wrong. There was no reason why the GTC person should be unacceptable to the Library School.
Dr Eichbaum asked if there would be an examination at the end of the six weeks' course. Miss Bateson replied that there would be a screening at the end of Part I, but that it was unlikely that there would be an examination at the School, except perhaps in cataloguing. Dr Eichbaum asked if six weeks was long enough to get to know the students. Mr Alley pointed out that considerable knowledge would be gained of them during the correspondence course beforehand.112
Alley's objection to 'clear-cut stratification' was indicative of a degree of ambivalence which was at odds with his insistence, at other times, that graduate entry to the library profession should be the norm. When it came to the point he could not bring himself to brand the librarians, often unqualified, of small public libraries, whom he regarded, in his heart of hearts, as the salt of the earth, as 'non-professionals'. It was a sentimental page 201reaction to a situation in which clear and firm statements were needed in order to avoid confusion in the future.
After ministerial approval for the Library School's involvement with the NZLA's general training course had been received, the first admissions to the revised course were made in March 1950. In January and February 1952, 11 of these students attended part II, the residential section, in Wellington.113
Alley's introduction to librarianship was by way of adult education and, as we have seen, he had been convinced by the work that Archie Dunningham had been doing in Dunedin in the 1930s 'that adult education could best be served by the development of library services on the generous and imaginative scale on which it had been launched in Dunedin'.114 Through all that he had done since then that insight had remained a powerful driving force and kept him focused on the end users of library service, at all levels. This applied as much to the work of the book resources committee as it did to the promotion of rural libraries. It was in keeping with this view of librarianship that he should have taken his seat, as director of the National Library Service, at the first meeting of the reconstituted National Council of Adult Education on 15 and 16 April 1948, but it had needed some active lobbying by library interests to get him there.
In 1943 the minister of education (Mason) decided to call together a conference on 'problems that lie at the borders of the school system proper' in the following year and to place adult education on its order paper. Alerted by Mervyn Nixon, a school teacher who was a member of the public library committee in Gisborne, the NZLA wrote to ask whether the minister would like to have library interests discussed or represented at the conference115 and, on 27 June 1944, after receiving an invitation to attend,116 sent the minister a dossier of material with a request that library matters be considered in relation to two of the questions which the minister had suggested were urgent: (1) how can the government and other interested organisations assist in developing increased facilities for the cultural and leisure-time activities of adolescent youth and young people beyond the school leaving age?; and (2) how can the community develop better facilities for adult education, and what part should the state play in this development?117
The NZLA was too late to get library development on to the agenda as a separate topic, but, while the director of education, C.E. Beeby, quite properly pointed out that the deadline for agenda suggestions had been 15 June, he also emphasised 'that the conference is an Education conference: library facilities, in a conference of this nature can be discussed only in relation to broad educational problems, and this is provided for in the page 202Agenda, which while not minutely itemized will give opportunity for the library question to be discussed in relation to the leisure-time educational problems of youth, adult education, and rural education'. Beeby added an assurance that the government was anxious that library facilities should be discussed in relation to educational problems and had decided not only to invite the NZLA to send a delegate but to ask Alley, as director of the CLS at that time, to attend as well.118 Reading between the lines, one could conclude that the minister had received rather different pieces of advice from the director of education and from the director of the CLS, which were reconciled in Beeby's letter.
When the ministerial conference met in October 1944, after a delay which had been caused by travel restrictions resulting from a shortage of coal, it resolved 'That this Conference stress the importance at all stages of education of an adequately stocked and staffed free library service.'119 In a joint submission to the consultative committee on adult education which followed this conference, Alley and the NZLA (represented by John Barr), acting together with the approval of the minister of education,120 pointed out that 'Efficient distribution [of materials for adult education] involves distribution to small as well as to large centres through the country. The only agency of Adult Education already established widely as well as nationally is library service, and the Association recommends that existing library buildings and staffing should be used and developed now as the present basis on which initial distribution at least should be made.'121 It is not surprising that the consultative committee, despite the faint whiff of fanaticism in this submission, commented that 'a library service includes more than the distribution of books; already libraries act as clearing houses for information in all manner of topics';122 or that it recommended the inclusion of the Director of the National Library Service in the reconstituted National Council of Adult Education which was in due course established by the Adult Education Act 1947.123 Alley remained a member of the council until 1963, when it was reconstituted again, but it never became a very important part of his professional life.
This episode illustrates some of the ambiguities which existed between the National Library Service and the Department of Education and between their directors, Alley and Beeby. The Country Library Service, and the National Library Service which succeeded it, were part of the Department of Education, but they could just as easily have been attached to the General Assembly Library, in the Legislative Department, if Scholefield had been interested, or in the Department of Internal Affairs, which had the Alexander Turnbull Library. It was Peter Fraser's personal interest, when he was minister of education, that led to the CLS being placed in his department, and it was also his personal interest that established, from page 203the start, the principle that the officer in charge of the CLS should have direct access to the minister over policy matters. The CLS/NLS was in fact attached to the Department of Education mainly for rations and quarters and operated virtually as a mini-department, and since both Mason and McCombs, as Labour ministers of education, did not see fit to make a change, the principle of direct access to the minister became one which Alley regarded as essential and which he would have defended with all his power. It is understandable, therefore, that Beeby should have set forth on this series of examinations of adult education without thinking to involve Alley, and also that Alley, in his CLS/NLS and NZLA roles, should have dealt directly with the minister in getting library interests involved. If they had been in the habit of working more closely together, what seems to have been a slight contretemps, which Beeby resolved, might not have happened.
The relationship between Alley and Beeby was conditioned by their histories and their personalities, especially Alley's. They both entered Christchurch Boys' High School in 1915, and they both, at different times, went on to achieve academic success. Before doing so Alley had his farming and All Black careers, which one might have expected to give him a great deal of self-confidence. Instead, the sense of insecurity which he had developed in his earlier days made him feel, whenever he got close to academia, that he was looked down upon as a twice-muddied oaf, from the farm paddock and the football paddock. Beeby certainly sensed a prickly defensiveness in him, which he put down to his feeling that people would regard him as inferior because of his unorthodox history, a feeling that had probably been exacerbated by the loneliness of his farm life,124 and he wisely did not seek to impose his own authority on Alley.
Associates of Alley have said that he thought that Beeby had very little idea of what Alley was doing in his library activities, or that it had anything to do with education. There might be something in this. The only reference to Alley in Beeby's autobiography is to his creation, with Fraser, of the School Library Service,125 and in Noeline Alcorn's biography of Beeby there are only three references to Alley: to his being considered briefly for the NZCER job in 1934, an inaccurate reference to his work in 1937, and a note of his death in 1986.126 But, although Alley was generally correct and courteous in his public relations, he was very critical of even the most harmless foibles of others in more private situations; he was quite 'naughty' in his scornful attitude towards too many people, said Jean Wright,127 and such a comment about Beeby would have been par for the course. Beeby would not have been unduly worried about any of Alley's comments that might have reached him, but he did adapt his own actions to suit the situation. In his autobiography Beeby said that, as director, he page 204made it his regular practice to drop into every division periodically to keep up human contacts, but that such visits were rare in the cases of the School Publications Branch and the National Library Service. 'Alley had a direct line of contact with the prime minister; he knew his business and the needs of the schools [Beeby's own particular library interest] and, if I went to his office, I was content to go as an honoured guest.'128 In less formal situations, according to Pat Alley, Geoff and Beeb got on very well, in a way that reminded him of mutual support given in rucks: 'They climbed different mountains and each reached the top. Beeb had quickness and humour and the common touch, for which Geoff was too shy.'129
Sir Jack Hunn, who had official dealings with Alley as a public service commissioner and in other capacities, described him as 'more introspective than extroverted. He was inclined to be withdrawn or "buttoned up" (not unusual in senior people coming into the Public Service from outside; they sometimes tend to be wary and "play their cards close to their chests").'130Lindsay Graham, recalling his days as a senior inspector in the Public Service Commission, said that in their negotiations over staff gradings and establishment Alley 'was always very firm in his views and a great advocate for his staff, but we always discussed issues in a fair and friendly atmosphere, without any venom'. 131 But Graham also said, remembering his time as assistant director-general of education, that 'Geoff liked to run his own ship.' Alley was not 'one of the boys' in the senior public service community, but he gained the respect of those members of that community with whom he dealt, as he also gained the respect of government ministers and some outstanding local body politicians who had an interest in libraries, like Ellen Melville (president of the NZLA in 1943), Elizabeth Gilmer (president, 1947), and John Kealy (president, 1948).
As a member of the small group of leaders in the library profession who, in a remarkably short time, had transformed the library scene in New Zealand and laid the foundations for the future, Alley was accepted by most of his colleagues by the end of the 1940s – even by those who disapproved of centralism based on Wellington – as primus inter pares, and in his turn he supported them whenever he could. In his relations with his own staff he welcomed and supported initiatives which enhanced the work of the service and was generous in giving credit for them. He was also protective in his attitude towards those who had any kind of disability or who were suffering misfortune, personal or professional.132 An example of this concern is provided by his intervention on behalf of D.H. Monro, a former reference librarian at the Auckland Public Library who had been imprisoned as a defaulter and then directed to work at the Petone gasworks, and whom John Harris wished to appoint to the University of Otago library staff. Writing to Harris in December 1945, Alley reported: 'I page 205have just finished an exhausting telephone conversation with Mr Parsonage (Nat. Service Dept.) who told me that H. Monro would not be released at present. They are scared of public opinion. Two points emerge: 1. General release from direction after March 1946 is possible, Can you wait until then? 2. The O.U. Council could write to the Minister of Nat. Service raising the matter. This might produce results but might be delayed (Xmas, Council meetings, departmental procedures). Anyhow this is the story to date.'133
Alley was also ahead of his time in his recognition of the equal contribution which women and men could make in the workplace – 'pivotal,' John Roberts has said, 'at a time when women were beginning to move into the professions'.134
Among those with whom Alley had difficult relationships were some of the newcomers whom he himself had, ironically, helped to bring into the profession through the establishment of a graduate library school. On the whole Alley accepted an inquiring, even a questioning, attitude, but he reacted strongly against some whom he clearly regarded as 'uppity' and could be unfair to them in a way which others did not experience. His treatment of David Wylie, of the Library School class of 1947, who became one of the stalwarts and one of the clearest thinkers of the library profession, was a notorious early example of this flaw in Alley's character. 'It was as early as that  that David fell foul of Geoffrey Alley, and that shadow reaches a very long way,' wrote Ruth, his wife, after David's death in 1985.135
Apart from its policy-making, lobbying, training, library co-operative and conferencing activities, the NZLA in the second half of the 1940s had a small but significant record of publishing. Dorothy White's About Books for Children was published jointly with the NZCER in 1946, and in the same year the NZLA published John Harris's Guide to New Zealand Reference Material and other sources of information, which went to a second edition in 1950. Regular publication of the Index to New Zealand Periodicals began during this period, and New Zealand Libraries was well established as a lively monthly bulletin. Jessie Carnell's Library Administration was published in 1947 in London by Grafton & Co, but was based on the notes which Carnell had written for the NZLA's general training course. The Esther Glen Award, which the association had established in 1944 to recognise distinguished contributions to New Zealand literature for children, was awarded in 1945, 1947 and 1950,136 and the NZLA, in association with the Associated Booksellers of New Zealand, introduced Children's Book Week in 1947 as a means of drawing attention to good children's books. Presiding over all these activities, Alley kept his focus on the end user, the reader of books, and, while he was about it, became page 206more and more magisterial. At this time he was the personification of the library movement.
When New Zealand sent an All Black team to South Africa in 1949, for the first time since 1928 and for the first encounter between All Blacks and Springboks since 1937, Alley predicted that the New Zealand team would lose all four tests, and they did, even though it scored more tries than South Africa, the difference being made up by goal-kicking.137 He reckoned that the All Blacks had only five or six players of test standard, according to his son Rod, who also said that he had an uncanny ability to pick form in athletics, sporting teams, and horses.138 It is not clear whether he disapproved, at this stage, of the sending of a racially-selected team, in the way that Major-General Sir Howard Kippenberger did, bravely and openly, because of his experience of South African attitudes towards the Maori Battalion.139 Possibly not – his own stand was made a decade later; in 1949 his public contribution was a series of rather neutral radio talks on the 1928 tour.
The form of political parties was more to the point than the form of the All Blacks in 1949. Alley had been a member of the Labour Party,140 but in his objective way he would have picked that the National Party, with its slogan 'Time for a Change', was likely soon to take office. Unlike the majority of the electors, he was incensed by Fraser's decision to put a proposal for compulsory military training to a referendum. The proposal was carried by a majority of four to one on 3 August 1949, and it is probable that Alley let his membership of the Labour Party lapse then.141 In any case, Labour was on its way out: in the election which followed on 30 November 1949 a National government was voted into office with a comfortable majority, and those enterprises which had enjoyed Labour's favours had reason to wonder how they would fare under the new régime.