Authors rally to protest National Library internet archiving deal

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The poet Michael O'Leary once said that the books were

Jericho Rock-Archer / Tricks

Poet Michael O’Leary said the books were “beautiful objects of taonga”.

Poets, novelists and writers gathered Thursday evening in central Wellington to try to prevent the shipment of 600,000 books from the National Library abroad.

About 50 people have come to St Peter’s Anglican Church to protest the library’s decision to donate books from its overseas collection to a US-based internet archive.

The library called the deal “historic” and said rarely published books will be read more widely once digitized and available for free online.

But other groups, including some New Zealand and international authors, argue that public property should not be given away for free and copyright should not be infringed.

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Dame Fiona Kidman, Denis Welch, Harry Ricketts, Michael O’Leary, Associate Professor Dolores Janiewski and Simon Sweetman were among those who spoke at the protest.

Many have recited poetry and prose on the importance of books and the literary imagination.

Protest organizer Bill Direen said he wanted to protect all the books in the National Library because they were of enormous value.

He did not want 40 works on Herman Melville, in the library’s international collection, to be lost to the public.

The books could be cared for and stored in New Zealand, he said.

Protest organizer Bill Direen said he wanted all books in the National Library's collection to be protected.

Jericho Rock-Archer / Tricks

Protest organizer Bill Direen said he wanted all books in the National Library’s collection to be protected.

Holding an antique copy of Samuel Johnson Rasselus, O’Leary said the books were “beautiful objects of taonga” that were in themselves works of art.

Janiewski said keeping international books in the National Library gives people crucial access to history and culture.

“Why does the National Library of New Zealand think it serves a withdrawn nation that needs to be protected from outside knowledge?

“Knowledge is not a virus but a source of information and imagination that improves life.”

Award-winning author Dame Fiona Kidman said she was not convinced by the library’s arguments for shipping the books to remote locations.

Dame Fiona Kidman spoke out at St. Peter's Church against shipping 600,000 pounds offshore.

Jericho Rock-Archer / Tricks

Dame Fiona Kidman spoke out at St. Peter’s Church against shipping 600,000 pounds offshore.

“I support this movement and I would like to think that we could change the library’s mind.

The National Library has already said it is running out of space for books. As part of the deal, the books will be physically shipped to America for long-term storage, via a scanning facility in the Philippines.

National Library Content Services Director Rachel Esson says getting rid of the collection published abroad is good management.

Provided

National Library Content Services Director Rachel Esson says getting rid of the collection published abroad is good management.

The Authors’ Society, the Publishers Association and the Copyright Licensing organization recently wrote to the Attorney General and the Ministry of Culture and Heritage, asking them to investigate the National Library’s agreement with the international archives.

In a statement, the director of content services at the National Library, Rachel Esson, said libraries and authors want protection for content creators, as well as the ability for people to access work that has been created.

“We share the same passion for books as these writers. It’s also our life – we all really want the same.

Some of the books from the National Library's collection published abroad - 600,000 will be sent abroad to the Internet archive.

Provided

Some of the books from the National Library’s collection published abroad – 600,000 will be sent abroad to the Internet archive.

She said the National Library continued to hold a large collection of books published abroad and that the donation was a way to ensure that many of those out-of-print books would be more accessible.

“Previously, only about 0.5% of these books were published each year and digitizing them secures their future and means they will be read by more people.

“Authors have the option of opting out if they do not want their books to be donated. No books by New Zealand authors are included in the donation.


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