National Library of New Zealand

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National Library of New Zealand
Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa
NLNZ ext 5.jpg
Headquarters in Wellington
LocationMolesworth Street, Thorndon, Wellington, New Zealand
Coordinates41°16′36″S 174°46′42″E / 41.276614°S 174.778372°E / -41.276614; 174.778372
Branch ofDepartment of Internal Affairs
Size1,515,172 in General Collections
5,333,500 in Alexander Turnbull Library
Other information
BudgetNZ$31,850,000 (2006)
DirectorRachel Esson (Te Pouhuaki National Librarian)

The National Library of New Zealand (Māori: Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa) is New Zealand's legal deposit library charged with the obligation to "enrich the cultural and economic life of New Zealand and its interchanges with other nations" (National Library of New Zealand (Te Puna Mātauranga) Act 2003).[1] Under the Act, the library's duties include:

  • "[providing] for the preservation, protection, development, and accessibility, as appropriate, for all the people of New Zealand, of the collections of the National Library";[2]
  • "collecting, preserving, and protecting documents, particularly those relating to New Zealand, and making them accessible for all the people of New Zealand, in a manner consistent with their status as documentary heritage and taonga; and
  • "supplementing and furthering the work of other libraries in New Zealand; and
  • "working collaboratively with other institutions having similar purposes, including those forming part of the international library community."

The library supports schools through its Services to Schools business unit, which has curriculum and advisory branches around New Zealand. The Legal Deposit Office is New Zealand's agency for ISBN and ISSN.

The library headquarters is close to the Parliament of New Zealand and the Court of Appeal on the corner of Aitken and Molesworth Streets, Wellington.


The lobby of National Library Wellington


The National Library of New Zealand was formed in 1965 when the General Assembly Library, the Alexander Turnbull Library, and the National Library Service were brought together by the National Library Act 1965.

The General Assembly Library was founded from money voted by Parliament in 1856 and soon became "a magnificent national treasure house in a splendid building".[3] From its beginnings until it became the National Library, it always comprised a parliamentary information service of documents and newspapers plus an extensive library of international research and literature.[4] The Alexander Turnbull Library was founded in 1920 and grew to hold a "comprehensive collection" of primarily New Zealand culture and history, Maori and non-Maori.[5] The National Library Service, established in 1945, was made up of four divisions: the Country Library Service, the School Library Service, a National Library centre and Library School in Wellington.[6]

In 1980, the Archive of New Zealand Music was established at the suggestion of New Zealand composer Douglas Lilburn.

In 1985, the General Assembly Library returned to become part of the parliamentary Service, changing its name in 1987 to the Parliamentary Library.[7] When it separated from the National Library, the National Library then took guardianship of hundreds of thousands of international volumes previously acquired by the General Assembly Library, and the National Library continued to curate the traditional international library. In 1987, staff and collections from 14 different sites around Wellington were centralised in a new National Library building, officially opened in August. The architecture of the building is said to have been heavily influenced by the design of the Boston City Hall,[8] but direct reference to the Birmingham Central Library should not be ruled out.

In 1988, the National Library became an autonomous government department where previously it had been administered by the Department of Education. The same year, the Library took on the Maori name Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa, which translated means: the wellspring of knowledge, of New Zealand.[9]

In early 1998 an ambitious $8.5 million computer project was scrapped.[10]

The National Library building was to be expanded and upgraded in 2009–2011,[11] but the incoming government greatly scaled down the scope of the work, reducing the budget for it and delaying the commencement, arguing concerns about the cost of the project and the reduction in the accessibility of collections and facilities during the construction work.[12] The building closed for two years, reopening in June 2012, while refurbishment continued.[13]

On 25 March 2010 the Minister of State Services announced that Archives New Zealand and the National Library of New Zealand would be subsumed under the Department of Internal Affairs.[14]

In June 2018 a National Archival and Library Institutions Ministerial Group (NALI) was announced.[15] The purpose of NALI was to examine the structure and role of the National Library, Archives New Zealand and Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision, the position of the Chief Archivist and National Librarian, and the future of collecting, preserving and providing access to New Zealand's documentary heritage, particularly digital preservation and access. Before and since NALI was set up concern has been expressed about the National Library being part of the Department of Internal Affairs.[16] Under the aegis of Department of Internal Affairs, operations began in 2018 to dispense with 625,000 "overseas published" books, out of a total of overseas published collections amounting to 710,000 items.[17]

Overseas published collections review[edit]

In 2015, the National Library signalled the beginning of a review process of their international collections, comprising the General Assembly international library in its guardianship and substantial post-1965 acquisitions. The National LIbrary now called these collections "overseas published collections".[18] This was done in consultation with New Zealand’s library sector.[19] The review process was publicly announced in December 2019.[19]

In September 2020, the review and weeding of overseas published book collections began to be discussed in the New Zealand media. The review attracted both positive and negative international and local media coverage.[20][21] In October 2019, the library announced its intention to offer the books to local libraries, prison libraries, and community groups.[22][23] The library stated the weeding was done to create "room to continue to grow our Māori, Pacific and New Zealand collections and to build well-managed coherent collections that support the National Library’s functions, in line with our legislated mandate and collections policy."[19]

The review revealed that some of the books may be of pertinence to New Zealand/Aotearoan history and on-going narratives.[24][25] Concerned that researchers would lose access, the weeding of over 600,000 books was challenged by the advocacy group Book Guardians Aotearoa.[26] The books in question are housed in Wellington and Whanganui.[27] In July 2021 the Library announced it had made a donation agreement with the Internet Archive to take the books and digitise them, making them available to researchers on their Open Library platform.[28][29]

In September 2021, the Publishers Association of New Zealand and the New Zealand Society of Authors lodged an appeal against the legality of the National Library's donation to Internet Archive with the attorney-general, arguing that the donation breached copyright law and expressing concern about the future of the books should the archive be ordered to close.[30] In October 2021, British novelist Philip Pullman, the President of the British Society of Authors, criticised the donation for allegedly breaching copyright laws. Wellington QC Hugh Rennie also alleged that the National Library was receiving advice from a lawyer unauthorised to practise in New Zealand, in response to Tohatoha copyright adviser Michael Wolfe's statement in support of the donation agreement.[31] The lawyers Andrew Brown QC and Jack Oliver-Hood also opined that the deal made the library liable for copyright infringement in New Zealand courts.[32]

The Library states that the Internet Archive uses controlled digital lending to "prevent illicit copying and ensure that copies are loaned to one person at a time" and that "controlled digital lending provides a way to ensure protection for content creators as well as the ability for people to be able to access and use the work that's been created."[33] The International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) issued a statement in support of controlled digital lending and highlighted the degree to which the COVID-19 pandemic made clear the need for legislation to enable libraries to provide temporary digital access to library holdings.[34]

The Library's donation agreement with the Internet Archive received wide support from library groups[35] and New Zealand civil society organisations.[36]

Creative Sector opposition to reduction of National Library General Collections, November, 2021

The overseas published collections project is supported by the library sector including the Council of New Zealand University Librarians (CONZUL), Library and Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa (LIANZA) and the Library Information Advisory Committee (LIAC), which advises the Minister of Internal Affairs.[33]

Several groups (PANZ (Publishers' Association of New Zealand), New Zealand Society of Authors, Book Guardians Aotearoa and a group best defined as the Creative Sector[37]) have been opposing moves to donate the 600,000 books to an overseas company, for various reasons and by various means.[38] Organisations that protect writer and publisher copyright (PANZ, NZSA (PEN NZ)) are most concerned with illegal copying of some of those books,[39] whereas Book Guardians Aotearoa and the creative sector argue for augmented government funding for correct storage, cataloguing, publicity and accessibility of the international, general collections, while also opposing donation for digitisation or future sale. The Creative Sector is most concerned with the preservation and conservation of all of the library's extensive, high-quality international collections.[40]

The He Tohu Document Room housing New Zealand's three most iconic constitutional documents

National Library of New Zealand/He Tohu[edit]

The He Tohu exhibition is housed in the Library and displays three nationally significant documents from Archives New Zealand's holdings:

The documents were moved from Archives New Zealand on 22 April 2017 under tight security.[41]


Reading room at National Library [pre-2009], Wellington

The National Library's collections are stored in the main building in Wellington and several other locations in New Zealand such as the former National Computer Centre in Whanganui. The library has three main groups: the General Collections which includes New Zealand published and overseas published volumes, the Schools Collection, and the collections of the Alexander Turnbull Library. Physical access to some of the collections may be requested through digital portals, and digital acquisitions are possible through products and online resources.

The General Collections focus on supporting the information needs of New Zealanders through services to individuals, schools and researchers, with notable collections such as the Dorothy Neal White Collection. The Schools Collection contains books and other material to support teaching and learning in New Zealand schools.

Alexander Turnbull Library[edit]

The Alexander Turnbull Library was founded in 1919 by Alexander Turnbull (1868–1918), whose bequest to the nation included the 55,000 volume nucleus of the current collection. In later years, the library made its own acquisitions and his bequest was augmented with books from the General Assembly Library collections. The Alexander Turnbull Library is now part of National Library but its books are fully protected by law and may not be sold or otherwise disposed of by the Direction of the National library. Unlike the general collections of the National Library, the collections of the Alexander Turnbull Library, are normally held in its Wellington building, the National Library building constructed in 1987.[42] Turnbull House, the library's former location in Bowen Street in downtown Wellington, is now managed by Heritage New Zealand.[43] It is named after It is charged under the Act to:

  • 'Preserve, protect, develop, and make accessible for all the people of New Zealand the collections of that library in perpetuity and in a manner consistent with their status as documentary heritage and taonga'; and
  • 'Develop the research collections and the services of the Alexander Turnbull Library, particularly in the fields of New Zealand and Pacific studies and rare books'; and
  • 'Develop and maintain a comprehensive collection of documents relating to New Zealand and the people of New Zealand.'[44]

Turnbull collected the works of John Milton extensively, and the library now has holdings of Milton's works which are "ranked among the finest in the world" and "good collections of seventeenth-century poetical miscellanies and of Dryden material, ... along with fine sets of literary periodicals."[45]

Chief librarians of the Alexander Turnbull Library have been:

  • Johannes Andersen, 1919–1937
  • Clyde Taylor, 1937–1963
  • John Reece Cole, 1963–1965
  • Austin Graham Bagnall, 1966–1973
  • Jim Traue, 1973–1990
  • Margaret Calder, 1990–2007
  • Chris Szekely, 2007–present

The Friends of the Turnbull Library (FoTL) is an incorporated society that supports the work of the Alexander Turnbull Library by organising events, activities and offering an annual research grant to a scholars using the library’s resources. FoTL also funds the publication of the Turnbull Library Record which publishes information about the activities of the library and showcases the Library’s collections. First published in 1940,[46] digital issues of The Turnbull Library Record are available through Papers Past.

Turnbull Library Collections[edit]

The library houses a number of specialty collections:

  • Archive of New Zealand Music
  • Cartographic Collection
  • Drawings, Paintings and Prints
  • Ephemera Collection
  • Manuscripts and Archives
  • National Newspaper Collection
  • New Zealand and Pacific Book Collection
  • New Zealand Cartoon Archive
  • Music, Sounds and Audio-visual Collection
  • Serials Collection
  • New Zealand Web Archive
  • Oral History and Sound
  • Photographic Archive
  • Rare Books and Fine Printing
  • General Collection of Books relating to New Zealand and the Pacific
  • Turnbull Named Collections.

The unpublished material held by the Turnbull Library can be searched in Tiaki.

Services to Schools[edit]

Books in the Schools Collection

The National Library has been providing support to schools since 1942 and the current service operates from centres in Auckland and Christchurch.[47] Services to Schools has three priorities:

  • reading engagement
  • school libraries
  • digital literacy[48]

School libraries can keep up-to-date with research on school libraries, and gain advice on management, finance and staffing, collection management, library systems, and teaching and learning. Reading engagement encompasses advice on supporting children's reading and children's and young adults literature. Digital literacy supports the school library's role in developing digital literacy and inquiry learning.[49]

Other services include:

  • The Lending Service loans fiction and non-fiction books to schools and home educators
  • Teaching and Learning Resources makes available a range of databases and curated resources to teachers and students. AnyQuestions is an online reference service for all New Zealand school students
  • Professional and Learning Support for school librarians and educators via courses, events and online methods.[49]

National Digital Heritage Archive[edit]

Established in 2004, the National Digital Heritage Archive is a partnership between the National Library, Ex Libris and Sun Microsystems to develop a digital archive and preservation management system.[50] A digital storehouse, the system ensures that websites, digital images, CDs, DVDs and other 'digitally born' and digitised items that make up the Library's growing digital heritage collections will, despite technical obsolescence, be preserved and remain accessible to researchers, students and library users now and in the future.

Papers Past[edit]

The Papers Past website, run by the National Library of New Zealand, provides free access to digitised newspapers, magazines, journals, letters, diaries, and parliamentary papers from the 19th and 20th centuries. It was launched in 2001.[51]

Index New Zealand[edit]

Index New Zealand (INNZ) is a freely accessible online index of articles from journals, magazines and newspapers covering New Zealand and the South Pacific, with some links to the full text of articles.[52]

National librarians[edit]


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External links[edit]