Future of 600,000 books being culled by National Library saved by digital library

The future of 600,000 books being culled from the National Library’s collection has been saved by a not-for-profit digital library based in the United States.

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Destruction was on the cards for most of the rarely accessed overseas books to make room for more New Zealand, Māori and Pasifika items. Source: 1 NEWS

“I think it's a really exciting opportunity because it means that we're maintaining access to these books and it hasn't cost the New Zealand taxpayer money, that it's actually improved access not just for us but globally,” Te Pouhuaki national librarian Rachel Esson told 1 NEWS.

The books are overseas publications with an average publication date of 1965-1969 and are rarely accessed, a press release stated.

The Internet Archive has agreed to have the collection available for people around the world to borrow digitally within two years and is paying for packaging, transport and digitisation costs.

“We hope that it will be within a year that we will have sent those off,” Esson said.

The collection will be transported to the Philippines to be digitised before the books are stored for the long-term in the Internet Archive’s physical facility in the United States.

“Given the age of these books, the Internet Archive is unlikely to receive them from other sources, so this is a real opportunity to preserve the books and make them available,” Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle said in the press release.

“In this way, the National Library of New Zealand is contributing to the world’s digital future at a time it is most needed,” he stated.

In 2019, the National Library put the call out to rehome the publications to make room for more New Zealand, Māori and Pasifika content, a decision that caused controversy among some authors and researchers.

“We acquire through legal deposit between 80 and 90,000 new items a year and that’s not just books, it’s newspapers and magazines so as you can imagine that takes up a lot of space and we need to keep collecting New Zealand’s output,” Esson said.

“We knew that these weren’t being used as much – this collection’s what we call the ‘long tail,’ it means that they don’t get used very often but to one or two researchers they’ll be really valuable, so we were working and looking for options for how we can help our researchers get access to this material without us having to keep them in that they take up a lot of space,” she said.

The National Library is keeping books that meet requirements for collection set in 2015.

“One of the things we’re doing is giving authors an opportunity that if they don’t want their books digitised, that they can contact us before we send them off,” Esson said.

New Zealand and Pacific libraries were offered the books first, and since then 10,267 items have been requested by libraries around the world.

A one-off book fair was held for around 50,000 books by Rotary and Lions with leftover books from the event passed on to a private shop.

But hundreds of thousands of books still faced the potential of destruction before an agreement was reached with Internet Archive after months of negotiations.

"It feels amazing to be able to make the books available in this way,” Esson said.

Permission to export the collection was granted by the Ministry for Culture and Heritage under the Protected Objects Act.

The Internet Archive’s global library can be found here.