A glimpse of libraries past

As we move ever closer to the opening of Tūranga, it can be interesting to reflect and look back on how far libraries have come in the last few decades. Looking at our fabulous digital collections I hit a fascinating and poignant vein of images of Christchurch libraries past.

Particularly poignant is this image of staff in 1982 outside the new – now old – central library on the corner of Gloucester Street and Oxford Terrace. It feels very symbolic of change, and hope, and the unexpected – and was recreated in 2013.

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Canterbury Public Library staff outside the new library building on the corner of Gloucester Street and Oxford Terrace [1982] File Reference CCL PhotoCD 11, IMG0091
Another image shows behind the scenes views of Canterbury Public Library from the 1950s. Lots of stamping and binding and indexing going on! I’m glad to say that our wonderful Bindery is still going strong, but I think we look a little different behind the scenes these days – still heaps of books, but much more technology.

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A behind the scenes look at the day to day activities of the Canterbury Public Library 
[1954]
File Reference CCL PhotoCD 11, IMG0090
Two more views show cataloguing and processing in the 1960s and 1950s. We still do a considerable amount of cataloguing and getting items shelf ready, but we certainly don’t have tables like that any more, nor do we wear the legendary smocks!

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The cataloguing and processing department of the Canterbury Public Library moved to the area that was formerly the bindery, who had moved to the ground floor of the library house next door in Cambridge Terrace 
[1967]
File Reference CCL PhotoCD 11, IMG0092

Cataloguing and processing staff of the Canterbury Public Library in their workroom in Cambridge Terrace, 1953
Cataloguing and processing staff of the Canterbury Public Library in their workroom in Cambridge Terrace 
[1953]
File Reference CCL PhotoCD 11, IMG0093
I love looking at photos like this. It’s great to look at where we have come from as we plan our move ahead into the future. However, as much as we have changed, some things do stay the same – piles of books and librarians working hard to connect you with wonderful content.

 

A bit of a stink

image_proxySometimes in libraries we think about poo. Not necessarily because we want to but because our public toilets sometimes get blocked, sometimes books get Suspicious Stains on them, and sometimes we wonder how many royal toddler toilet training picture books there are…

And if you really think about it poo is quite important, and you certainly can’t escape it. So, I’ve been poking around a few of our resources to see what I can find about poo and sewage and other stinky things like that.

Searching on our catalogue the keyword ‘poo’ and the Official Subject Heading (we librarians do enjoy a good subject heading) ‘feces‘ finds a lot of children’s books – not unsuprisingly, but it also brings up entries from Access Video – an eResource featuring lots of fascinating documentaries – about sanitation in the developing world.

Sanitation has an interesting history in Christchurch. We’re all familiar with more recent issues in this area, which has been carefully documented by CEISMIC, however there’s a long history to explore.

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The Christchurch Drainage Board has a well documented history – so vital for a city built on a swamp – and according to John Wilson‘s Christchurch – Swamp to City Ōtautahi has ‘been the best drained and and most efficiently sewered city in the country’ (p11). The importance of pumping stations in the city has been recognised as part of the Architectural Heritage of Christchurch Series – reminding us that the functional doesn’t have to be ugly. Underground Overground Archaeology (I don’t think they employ any Wombles) has written a great overview of sanitation in Christchurch.

If you’ve ever wondered what the poo of our native wildlife looks like, then DigitalNZ is the website you need! Searching for ‘poo’ brings up a lot of helpful visuals to assist you in identifying that mystery turd, plus a positive plethora of poo-related media articles, research papers and videos.

I also had a look on Papers Past for poo related content. However the 19th century and first half of the 20th century were more conservative eras so ‘poo’ and ‘excrement’ don’t bring up a huge amounts of hits – although there is definitely content for those with an interest in public health. I’ve also found out about pakapoo – a Chinese lottery game brought to New Zealand by gold miners – and The Mikado.

Do you have any #codebrown stories you’d like to share? [Ed: we welcome the use of euphemisms for the benefit of those with delicate sensibilities]

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The future is just around the corner…

Yesterday I happened to be in Cathedral Square, walking past An Origin Story‘s lovely hoardings around the convention centre site. As you can see in the image, from one angle the panel which states that ‘the future is just around the corner’ points right to Tūranga – the future of Ōtautahi is appearing right in front of our eyes. We cannot wait to share our new facility with you!

And yet, I’ve been thinking, the future is so terribly fragile, quickly becoming the present – for a flash – and then the past. The present of Tūranga still feels a long way off, but how long before it becomes a familiar, comforting and challenging place that we know and love and feel as if it has always been there?

9781847921888Everything becomes superseded. This point has been brought home to me recently, when reading Ben Shephard‘s Headhunters: the search for a science of the mind. It looks at the lives and careers of four men (quelle surprise) who worked across the fields of medicine, psychology, psychiatry, anthropology and neurology in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. At that time, many of these scientific disciplines were new and emerging with exciting ideas being developed, tested and sometimes lauded. Looking back, we can see that some of those ideas were offensively racist.

They championed field work in anthropology and lead the way in defining and treating shell shocked and mentally wounded service personnel in the First World War. And yet and generation or two – or even less – of their deaths many of their theories and work was disproved or supplanted. What was once cutting edge is now old hat.

But that’s what happens, doesn’t it? We are all part of a continuing development and dialogue, and improved theories and ideas grow out of older ones. That’s one of the many exciting things about Tūranga – how many ideas and thoughts etc etc will be developed and created there using exciting collections, programmes and other resources, before it too is superseded?

Talking about race – Reni Eddo-Lodge and Victor Rodger: WORD Christchurch Shifting Points of View

In an engrossing event at Christchurch Art Gallery, Reni Eddo-Lodge was in conversation with playwright Victor Rodger. She talked us through her thought-provoking debut book Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race. This collection of essays seeks to unpick and challenge white dominant ideology.

Reni Eddo-Lodge and Victor Rodger
Reni Eddo-Lodge and Victor Rodger

The idea for the book grew out of a 2014 blog post in which Reni, a young British journalist of Nigerian heritage, wrote of her “frustration that discussions of race and racism were being led by those not affected by it,” and that when she tried to talk about these issues was told that there wasn’t actually a problem or accused her of being angry. The irony of marking this line in the sand was that suddenly lots of people wanted to listen to Reni’s point of view – including a full (mostly white) art gallery auditorium.

There are a number of themes in the book. One is history, and Reni is keen for black Britons to write themselves back into history. The British connection to slavery and to Africa is deep. I studied economic and social history 1750-1875 at A-level and slavery and colonialism was barely mentioned. I find this appalling because:

  • a) hello – where was the cotton for the cotton mills coming from?
  • and b) it has taken me until the last week or two to realise this.

It is this kind of oversight that Reni is trying to point out.

Reni Eddo-Lodge
Reni Eddo-Lodge

Whiteness isn’t the default. Whiteness isn’t neutral. There are other ways of doing things; there are other points of view. Which is actually quite liberating if you think about.

Reni was assured and matter of fact, and very easy to listen to. Another topic she highlights is feminism. What is the point of feminism that is only for white women and doesn’t have a space for black women and others? Issues don’t happen in isolation, and overlap and intersect all the time.

This truly was a session to make you think about and observe how you experience the world, to make you want to explore further by reading her book, and to shift your point of view.

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Not such a strange meeting – Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon

Cover100 years ago last week at Craiglockhart Hospital for Neurasthenic Officers in Edinburgh, Wilfred Owen introduced himself to Siegfried Sassoon and one of the great literary friendships was born. Wilfred was recovering from shellshock, deeply traumatised by his time on the Western Front in 1917. Siegfried, grieving and angry at the deaths of his friends and men in his unit, had protested against the continued conduct of the First World War. After intervention from Robert Graves, he was sent to Craiglockhart rather than face a court martial. As the aspiring poet Wilfred was well aware, Siegfried was already a moderately famous poet. In the few weeks together they had in Scotland, Siegfried encouraged and mentored Wilfred.

Wilfred was killed on 4 November 1918, exactly a year after he left Craiglockhart and a week before the Armistice, however in the time between meeting Siegfried and his death he produced some of the most famous war poems, including Anthem for Doomed Youth and Strange Meeting. Their shared influence can still be felt today – their works are still taught in school, and Siegfried’s quote “I died in hell; they called it Passchendaele” has been widely quoted in the ongoing commemorations of the Third Battle of Ypres.

CoverWe know so much about their friendship as they both wrote about it – Wilfred in excited letters to his mother and Siegfried a couple of decades later in his volume of autobiography Siegfried’s Journey. This documentation has provided excellent source material for modern authors looking to portray the two poets. They are the subject of a two-hander play Not About Heroes which covers Craiglockhart in Act One and their different paths in Act Two. Intimate and moving, this is a powerful play (but having directed it a few years ago I am quite biased).

CoverPerhaps the most well-known depiction of their friendship is in Pat Barker‘s award winning Regeneration Trilogy. However, in Barker’s interpretation of Siegfried’s time at Craiglockhart, his friendship with Wilfred is overshadowed by his connection with his doctor, W. H. R. Rivers. There’s a lot going on in the trilogy – the cultural construct of masculinity cracking under pressure, mental health, sex, pacifism – and Siegfried and Wilfred are only one strand to this. Rivers is perhaps the main character and the marvelous fictional creation that is Billy Prior dominates the last two books.

I’ve mentioned before how Billy is possibly my favourite literary character. He’s the working class kid who becomes an officer; he’s bisexual; he’s somewhere on the continuum of sanity and insanity; he’s a split personality. He’s so many things that in some ways he shouldn’t work but – to me at least – he does. Billy and Rivers tie the trilogy together.

And so a chance meeting 100 years ago is still being interpreted and played out today; the voices of those caught up in conflict still resonating.

Do you have a favourite war poem?

Listening to Reni Eddo-Lodge

This is a slightly odd blog. I don’t know a huge amount about Reni Eddo-Lodge, and because of the way her session at the upcoming WORD Christchurch Shifting Points of View series at the Christchurch Arts Festival is titled, I want to go into it with as open a mind as possible and without too many preconceptions. Additionally, I’m a few places down the holds list for her book so won’t get to see it before I see her.

Reni Eddo-Lodge

However, I can tell you about why I want to listen to her. I vaguely saw the title of her book and WORD session, Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race, on Twitter and then came across a book review in The Guardian and the concept piqued my interest. I’ve been reading quite a lot about diversity, racism and colonialism and also getting my head around intersectionality, so when I saw that Reni was coming to Christchurch I jumped at the opportunity to listen to her. I want to leave my white privilege at the door and make the most of a chance to gain insight into someone else’s perspective.

In this day and age, listening may be one of our most valuable tools.

 

Resolution and revolutionaries: A. N. Wilson, eminent biographer

There was an understandably big crowd at The Piano last night for A. N. Wilson in conversation with Christopher Moore. Part of the WORD Christchurch Autumn Season, we were treated to insights about the eminent novelist and biographer’s new and upcoming works, as well as his distinguished career.

As you can see, I was quite a long way back!
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Wilson – or Andrew as I think we’re allowed to call him – was inspired to write biography after reading Lytton Strachey‘s Eminent Victorians and wanting to write as well as him. While he is generally commissioned to write biographies, he chose to write about the lives of Leo Tolstoy and Walter Scott. Scott was pretty much the father of historical fiction, with his tales of the Scottish Highlands allowing people to imagine what it was like to live in the past instead of simply regurgitating facts.

One of the things that fascinated Andrew about Tolstoy was the fact that while we know him as a great novelist, in Russia he was more known for his political beliefs – including his idea of passive anarchy which went to to inspire people like Gandhi. However, after digging into Tolstoy’s domestic sphere he concludes that:

he would not like to be Mrs Tolstoy.

Cover of ResolutionAndrew’s latest novel is Resolution, about the German botanist Georg Forster who travelled with Captain Cook on his second voyage and later became a revolutionary in France. Interestingly, in Communist East Germany Forster was seen as a champion of class struggle and became a national hero. It’s great to hear about different and interesting people and I’m looking forward to reading this book.

An obvious favourite of Andrew’s is Queen Victoria who he describes as “taking being an embarrassing mother to new heights”. However, he is now researching Prince Albert, who is quite a different kettle of fish. Indeed, Andrew describes him as being

deeply strange and complicated.

He also believes that although Victoria was madly in love with Albert, he never fell in love with her and controlled her to a great degree. Look out for this biography in 2019, as its going to be fascinating!

Andrew obviously has a passion for the people he writes about and it was fabulous to have the opportunity to listen to his great storytelling here in Christchurch – which, he reminded us, is very much a Victorian city.

A N Wilson, photo by Andrew London

 

Buses, Byzantium and fangirling Stella Duffy

image_proxyMany years ago I used to bus up and down the Walworth Road and round the Elephant and Castle, south of the Thames in London, either on the 68 or the 468 (if memory serves me right Janet Frame used to take one of those buses, or one very similar).

While I’d spend quite a lot of that time reading I also used to enjoy looking out of the window at the variety of people and places. I always enjoyed the Mixed Blessings Bakery, Rimworld the hat shop, and the halal noodle bar. On a more serious note, there was also a memorial to victims of the Blitz on the side of the Cuming Museum. As with any city it was a true palimpsest, with many layers of history side by side and intermingled.

Imagine my nostalgia when the pages of a book took me on that same journey, but decades earlier. A book which has a dedication which talks of a taniwha in the Thames. I just loved Stella Duffy’s London Lies Beneath, so rich and evocative of the melting pot of the city in 1912.

This sense of place and history and connections is one of many reasons I am so excited that Stella is coming to the WORD Christchurch Autumn Season on 15th May to talk about her latest books, including London Lies Beneath, and her task of finishing Ngaio Marsh‘s unfinished Money in the Morgue.

Stella Duffy, photo by
Stella Duffy, photo by Gino Spiro

Stella writes and campaigns in many areas, such as the arts, breast cancer, women’s and LGBT issues, and has worked in the theatre and written a number of novels and short stories. More recently she has become a co-director of Fun Palaces – a weekend each year where a variety of venues and locations enable arts and science for all, with a belief that community belongs at the core of all culture. They are a brilliant idea and Central Library Peterborough has had the opportunity to host a Fun Palace for the last couple of years.

I have also only just realised that Stella has written fiction about the Empress Theodora – I do love a bit of Byzantium!

I can’t wait for 15th May and hope to see you there.

The magic word ‘Anzac’

On 25 April we will stop to remember those who served in the conflicts New Zealand has participated in, from the world wars to Iraq and Afghanistan, via Korea, Vietnam and others, and not forgetting New Zealand’s 19th century wars and the Boer War.

“Indian Troops at Gas Mask Drill.,” by Unknown. The Imperial War Museum via First World War Poetry Digital Archive, accessed April 13, 2017, http://ww1lit.nsms.ox.ac.uk/ww1lit/collections/item/3616.
“Indian Troops at Gas Mask Drill.,” by Unknown. The Imperial War Museum via First World War Poetry Digital Archive, accessed April 13, 2017, http://ww1lit.nsms.ox.ac.uk/ww1lit/collections/item/3616.

There is much to remember, and this year the focus will be on the 100th anniversaries of the Battle of Messines in June and Passchendaele in October, in particular 12 October which saw more than 800 New Zealanders killed in a single day.

As the First World War disappears from living memory, we are fortunate to have access to historic newspapers either on microfilm at Central Library Manchester or at Papers Past. They can show us how Anzac Day has been commemorated and represented over the past century. An editorial from The Press on 25 April 1917 explains that the “magic word ‘Anzac’… tells us how Australians and New Zealanders fought and died shoulder to shoulder in the cause of freedom” and that “time has not yet mellowed the memory of that day.”

CoverThe editorial also makes a passing reference to some of the Indian troops who served during the Gallipoli campaign. Around 16,000 individuals from the Indian Army served during the campaign and their neglected story is well told in Die in battle, do not despair: the Indians on Gallipoli, 1915 by Peter Stanley.

Ever growing access to different sources and new publications means that we can uncover and share more stories than ever about the First World War and other conflicts New Zealand has been involved in.

Lord Jellicoe inspects the First Canterbury Guard of Honour, ANZAC Day, foundation stone ceremony, Bridge of Remembrance [25 Apr. 1923] CCL PhotoCD 15, IMG0023
Lord Jellicoe inspects the First Canterbury Guard of Honour, ANZAC Day, foundation stone ceremony, Bridge of Remembrance [25 Apr. 1923] CCL PhotoCD 15, IMG0023

Anzac resources

This article was published in issue 3 of our quarterly magazine, uncover – huraina. Read it online.

We need to talk about America…

Not that we haven’t been doing just that for the last few months, but there’s so much to say. America fascinates and repulses me. I couldn’t live there – not just because I would eat all the food – but it is a fascinating place to observe, and we are fortunate to generally be able to enjoy its cultural output, both high and lowbrow. So naturally I was intrigued when I spied Claudia Roth Pierpont’s American Rhapsody in a bookshop in Auckland. I immediately went to the nearest library, hopped on the wifi and requested a copy (btw – aren’t libraries great?).

Cover of American rhapsodyIt’s a funny book, endeavouring to “present the the kaleidoscopic story of the creation of a culture.” Lofty intentions indeed! However, it is more of a collection of biographical and critical essays about a range of major players in American culture. The first two-thirds of the essays – which include Wharton, Fitzgerald, Hepburn and Gershwin are perfectly okay, but it’s the final third where, for me, the book truly comes alive. Orson Welles‘ and Laurence Olivier‘s (not from the US but that’s not the point) approaches to acting and Shakespeare are compared and contrasted. What is naturalism, how – and should – America tackle Shakespeare? These themes of naturalism and an American theatrical tradition are continued in an essay on Marlon Brando.

Cover of James Baldwin: Early novels and storiesWe are reminded that Brando was a supporter of the Civil Rights movement, and the last two essays cover novelist James Baldwin and singer Nina Simone who – to my shame – I didn’t know much about at all. Reading about these two African-Americans and learning more about the the nuances and iterations of the wider Civil Rights movement is inspiring me – to read their words and listen to their music and make an effort to further understand America’s painful history.

So, I’ve come away from this book thinking about acting and how we express our country through our cultural creations, and also with some new inspirational figures to look to. We need them.