The following is the presidential address delivered at the annual meeting of the Board of Governors of the New Zealand Institute, at Wellington, on the 29th January, 1915, by Charles Chilton, M.A., D.Sc., LL.D., F.L.S., Professor of Biology, Canterbury College:—
Gentlemen of the Board of Governors of the New Zealand Institute,—Before we commence the business of our meeting it is our sad duty to record the loss of one of our number—Mr. James Stewart, C.E., of Auckland. Mr. Stewart had been a member of this Board from its reconstitution in 1903, and was with us at our last annual meeting, and, though well advanced in years, he appeared then in his usual health, and followed the business with his customary care and keeness. Very shortly after our meeting, however, he passed suddenly away. In the name of the Institute I sent an appropriate message to his relatives, and a brief obituary notice was inserted in the last volume of the Transactions. Our aged members must in the course of nature be taken from us one by one, and, while we mourn their loss and rejoice in the results of their labours, we should be reminded thereby of the greater responsibility that rests on those of us that are left, and be stimulated to renewed effort while we still have the opportunity.
Early last year we were able to join our scientific brethren of Australia in rejoicing at the safe return from the Antarctic Continent of Dr. Mawson—now Sir Douglas Mawson—and his companions, and later on we had the pleasure of hearing from his own lips an account of the splendid results achieved notwithstanding the extraordinary difficulties and dangers that were met with, and of getting a vivid and accurate idea of life in the Antarctic from the exceptionally beautiful and varied series of pictures that he was able to display. Judging from what I have seen of some of his collections, I feel confident that the biological results of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition will equal, if they do not surpass, those of any other Antarctic expedition in their interest and completeness. I trust that Sir Douglas Mawson's endeavour to obtain sufficient funds for the adequate publication of the results of his researches will soon be rewarded with success.
But from Australia there comes also cause for sorrowful condolence. Some two or three months ago the Commonwealth Federal Investigation Steamer “Endeavour,” which has done so much good work in bathymetrical and biological observations round the coasts of Australia, was sent on a mission to Macquarie Island, and has not since been heard of, and there seems little doubt that she has been lost with her crew and scientific staff—another sacrifice to the claims of science and the destructive seas of subantarctic regions.
Sir Ernest Shackleton's expedition has gone to the far South in its adventurous effort to cross the Antarctic Continent from the shores of the Weddell Sea to those of the Ross Sea, and later on we shall be anxiously looking for news of the welfare of the leader and of those who are with him.
It gives me great pleasure to announce that the long-expected illustrations to Mr. Cheeseman's “Manual of the New Zealand Flora” have been recently published in two handsome and valuable quarto volumes. The work has been in preparation for several years; it has cost much both in human exertion and in money, and the result is highly creditable both to the author and to the Dominion. We can heartily congratulate Mr. Cheeseman on the publication of another noteworthy contribution to the botany of New Zealand.
I regret to say that the similar series of plates to illustrate Mr. Suter's “Manual of the New Zealand Mollusca,” to which I referred last year, has not yet been issued, though the work connected with their preparation has been completed, and it is hoped that they will very soon be printed.
Last year we took pleasure in conveying to a distinguished foreign botanist—Professor Engler, of Berlin—on the occasion of his seventieth birthday, our congratulations on his long years of service to botanical science, and an appropriate reply from him will be found among the correspondence to be presented to you later on.
To-day we are engaged in a life-and-death struggle with the German nation; international courtesies and schemes of co-operation for scientific work are suspended, and the resources and inventions of science are being used to carry death and destruction to thousands and tens of thousands of the finest individuals of the manhood of the nations, while as incidents in the struggle—incidents that are scarcely apologized for as regrettable—ancient and famous universities and libraries are destroyed, beautiful and historic cathedrals are laid in ruins, and town-halls and other public buildings, the pride and glory of the citizens, are battered to pieces. It is a ghastly and pitiful
spectacle, and it is a poor consolation to the evolutionary biologist to be able to recognize the war as only a part of that great and grim struggle for existence, universal among organisms, by which nature evolves to higher things. We can only hope that as the final result nations will arise with loftier ideals, and a higher and nobler appreciation of the claims of humanity, righteousness, and justice. In the meantime, we must all sympathize with one of our number, Dr. Cockayne, the result of whose years of labour spent in the preparation of a work on the vegetation of New Zealand for the German series “Die Vegetation der Erde” seems likely to be lost beyond recovery.
Of the business arising out of our last meeting that will come again before you, perhaps the most important is that dealing with the proposed contribution by the district Institutes towards the funds of the New Zealand Institute. I am glad to say that practically all the Institutes have agreed to the principle of the contribution, some of them, naturally enough, restricting their acceptance of it to one year only. Not only will the levy be a valuable means of assisting the scanty funds of the central body, but it will, I feel sure, strengthen the connection between the Institutes and this Board, and make the district Institutes feel that they are really, as they are legally, an integral part of the New Zealand Institute. In case there may be any misapprehension on the point, let me say at once that in my opinion the payment of this contribution will not in any way lessen the necessity or the justice of appealing to the Government at the proper time to increase the amount of the statutory grant; it will show, rather, that we are prepared to contribute from our funds as readily as we have always contributed by our labours towards the requirements of the Institute, and thus demonstrate that we are deserving of further assistance. Even for the work that we now do, our funds are far from adequate, and the Institute could easily widen its sphere of work and of usefulness if it were assured of adequate funds; for example, our publications, creditable through they are, appear small and unimportant in comparison with those of many other similar societies.
Last year I endeavoured to draw attention to the condition of our library, and of the collections housed in the Dominion Museum. I regret to say that things are pretty much in the same unsatisfactory condition still. The Museum is still standing in the same place, and, though one or two minor alterations have been effected to make it more habitable, there has been no real improvement, and the valued collections are no safer from destruction than they were when I addressed you on the subject last year. The Science and Art Board appointed by the Act of 1913 was constituted in May, 1914, by the appointment of its members, and it is gratifying to know that in addition to the President of the Institute, who is a member ex officio, two other members of this Board have been appointed to the Science and Art Board. As yet, however, the Board has not been called together, and no steps have been taken to carry out the work for which it was established.
Under the Science and Art Act of 1913 provision is made for the formation of a Dominion Library, and proposals were made at your last annual meeting by which, under proper conditions and safeguards, the Institute might be willing to allow its library to form a part of this Dominion Library. Further and more detailed suggestions in the same direction will be laid before you at this meeting, and will require your earnest and careful consideration.
The genuine worker in any department of knowledge—in science, history, economics, or literature—requires books, not because of any pride he may take in their possession but for the use he can make of them. Provided he can have ready access to them, and make full use of the information contained in them, it is a matter of indifference to him whether they are owned by himself or by some one else. Similarly, as the Institute is never likely to want to sell its library, it does not matter whether the books legally belong to the Institute or to the Dominion Library; all that is necessary is that the working members shall be allowed to use the works with no restrictions other than those that are absolutely necessary for the safety of the volumes and for securing similar privileges to other members. It is important that we should definitely make up our minds as to the kind of library we want. It was pointed out clearly by one of our members at a meeting of the Standing Committee that what we require is a library that will be used for the purposes of research—a library, therefore, partaking largely of the character of what is generally known as a reference library, and as unlike the ordinary circulating library as possible; and yet if the library is to be of any real use there must be adequate provision for sending its volumes freely to those who wish to make use of them.
Much has been said about the erection of a suitable building in which the library could be safely housed. The difficulty of providing the funds that were deemed to be necessary for this purpose is the chief cause of our want of progress in this matter in the past, and during the present European crisis, while all our available resources must
necessarily be used in the first place for securing the maintenance and ultimate victory of the Empire in its great struggle, it is not to be expected that funds can be provided for a costly library building.
But is such a building necessary at all? Let us consider what we mean by a library—a research library. Such a library consists of books or papers, printed or written, containing information of value. The building is no essential part of the library, and has no value or interest to the investigator apart from the fact that it is the place where he can find the books containing the information he wants. Naturally, the books must be stored somewhere; but it is a matter of indifference whether they are all in one building or scattered in many buildings, whether all in one centre or widely separated, provided only they are readily accessible to those who require them.
In biology we are familiar with what we call vestigial organs—remnants or survivals of organs or structures that once were useful to their possessors, but have long since ceased to have any useful function. By the struggle for existence among organisms these survivals are finally got rid of altogether, or so greatly reduced that their presence causes no inconvenience; but among the institutions and customs of civilized societies we have many survivals that, unfortunately, are much more difficult to get rid of, and form serious hindrances to progress. The idea that a building is an essential part of a library is a survival from previous centuries, when books were scarce and consequently of great value, and were housed in some building near the centre of the village or the community, and when the rapid means of transport and of intercommunication from one end of a country to the other that we enjoy in the twentieth century were not dreamed of.
I will endeavour to apply this line of argument to the question of our own Institute library in greater detail presently, but first let me remind you of another commonplace biological principle—every organism, is more or less perfectly adapted to its environment, and if the environment changes, and the organism is not sufficiently plastic to change with it, then the organism necessarily falls behind in the struggle, and is doomed to ultimate destruction.
Now our social, political, and scientific institutions or societies are organisms—they are composed of living members or units, just as an animal or plant is composed of living cells, but in many cases the struggle to which they are subject is not keen enough to bring about perfect adaptation to changed circumstances. Our Institute, for example, has grown up largely on the model of scientific societies in England, in the countries of Europe, or in the States of Australia, where there is one dominant centre of population and of activity in which the great majority of the members reside, or to which they are naturally and readily attracted. Consequently, these societies can with advantage have a central and permanent home, where the office and library can naturally be placed. But the condition of things is altogether different in New Zealand, where we have no dominating centre, but at least four centres of activity of approximately equal importance, and our Institute will always fall short of complete success so long as it fails to adapt itself to the peculiarities of its New Zealand environment.
You can easily follow out the parallel for yourselves, but what I want to urge upon you is that in our policy for the future control of the Institute we should endeavour to get rid of the idea that it must necessarily be permanently associated with any single geographical locality, and must arrange the machinery for its management so that it can adapt itself to varying conditions as they arise, our great object being to see that the influence of the Institute is exerted and its advantages enjoyed wherever they will be most effective in promoting the objects for which it was established.
All the meetings of this Board, with two exceptions, have been held in Wellington, and all the members of the Board nominated by the Government since the reconstitution of the Board in 1903 have been residents in Wellington. There is no justification for either of these courses unless they have been desirable in the best interests of the Institute. Our Institute is composed of the members of the district Institutes incorporated with it, and these are scattered over the whole of New Zealand; and where the members are, there should the Institute be. To keep in touch with our members, to help them in their work, and to learn what they can teach us, we should endeavour to meet in rotation in the different centres where the district Institutes have their headquarters. These Institutes differ in character, constitution, and methods of work; and it is not desirable that they should be otherwise, or that we should endeavour to impose any uniformity upon them—each will do its work best by adapting itself to the particular needs of its special environment. But it is essential that this Board, which has the general control of them all, should be thoroughly acquainted with the special characters of the Institutes, and that the members of one Institute should have some opportunity of meeting those of other Institutes, and of receiving the stimulation and encouragement that arises therefrom. There mav be practical difficulties in the way, but I am endeavouring to
put before you the ideal that we should aim at; and if we fully realize that, and strive to reach it, some way of overcoming the difficulties will readily be found. If we are to become acquainted with the Institute as a whole, we must endeavour to meet periodically at least in the four chief cities—Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, and Dunedin. A suggestion was made some years ago that we might meet at the same place and about the same time as the Senate of the New Zealand University. On the Senate are usually some who are also members of this Board; at present there are three, and there might be more if it were possible to attend the meetings of both bodies without inconvenience. These members, being present at the Senate meeting, could attend the Institute meeting without additional travelling or expense, and the opportunities that would be afforded for the meeting of the learned members of two bodies having so many objects in common would exert a widening and invigorating influence on both.
But we must do much more than this if we are to reach our individual members effectively. In the New Zealand Institute Act it is provided that “The Board of Governors may from time to time, as it sees fit, make arrangements for the holding of general meetings of members of the Institute, at times and places to be arranged, for the reading of scientific papers, the delivery of lectures, and for the general promotion of science in New Zealand by any means that may appear desirable.” That clause was, I believe, inserted on the suggestion of the late Captain Hutton, who hoped that the Institute would one day be able to hold meetings something like those of the British and Australasian Associations for the Advancement of Science. We have made no effort to hold such general meetings, and I am afraid we are in danger of looking upon the annual meeting of the Board of Governors as being held almost entirely for the purpose of making arrangements for the publication of the Transactions, the presentation of an annual report and balance-sheet, the payment of accounts, and of other routine business; and the result is that the existence of the New Zealand Institute is unknown to the great majority of the people of New Zealand. Extension of our work would be beneficial to the community generally and to ourselves, for we are doing valuable and useful work, and if we can only make this evident to the electors we shall have no difficulty in procuring funds for further extension of the work. If the Board of Governors were to hold its annual meetings at various centres in rotation, we could easily arrange for general meetings of the members at the same time, to which the public could be freely invited. The details of the necessary arrangements could be left to the district Institute at the place where the meetings were held, and the stimulus of the work of preparation and of the healthy competition between the different Institutes in the effort to hold the most successful meetings possible would, I feel sure, speedily cause greatly increased growth of the whole Institute. At present there are many persons in the general community genuinely interested in scientific matters who are ignorant of the work of the Institute, and who receive no assistance from it.
We can now return to the consideration of our library. The present position is that, although we have a library of considerable size and value, it is stored in such a way that it is practically maccessible and of no use to the members. We have often been told that research in New Zealand is greatly hindered by the want of properly equipped libraries. There is, of course, considerable truth in this statement; but, on the other hand, it is equally true that we do not make anything like the use we should of the books that are in New Zealand, and this is especially true in the case of the Institute library.
Our library consists mainly of the scientific journals and periodicals that have been received during the last forty-five years in exchange for our Transactions. If these were available for use, we would have a library of fair completeness and of extreme value, especially to the workers in zoology, botany, or geology, the sciences in which research is most urgently needed and is most easily carried out.
Now, as you know, these books are not available. Some of them are in the library-room of the Museum; others are stored away somewhere else in the Museum, either on shelves or in cases; but it is impossible to tell what books are in the library, or in many instances to find any particular volume that is required. What have we done to try to improve matters? For the last twelve years we have appointed Library Committees and Librarians, and we have received reports, but we have not succeeded in making any real improvement, and the condition of affairs appears to be growing worse instead of better. What can be done? The first thing that is necessary is to overhaul the library, and find out what books we have. One member of this Board now resident in Wellington, Dr. Cockayne, has offered to devote part of his valuable time to assisting in this work. At first sight, and judging from our want of success in the past, it would appear to be a hopeless task, but I have little doubt that if he were assisted by two or three others as enthusiastic as himself, and were allowed the use of a few clerks or typists, the great part of what is necessary could be accomplished in a fortnight, and at a cost small in itself and trivial in comparison with the value of the work done.
What are we going to do with them when we have found out what books we possess? We have no room to store them in the Museum in the way they should be stored—accessible for use—and we are not likely to have a building in Wellington suitable for the purpose placed at our disposal for a long time to come. Moreover, as I have tried to show you, it is neither necessary nor desirable that we should continue to try to store them all in any one place. The books belong to the members of the Institute, and are required by the working members scattered all over New Zealand; and where these members are, there should the books be. Let us decentralize our library: send the geological journals and books, for example, to Dunedin, or to any other place where they are likely to be most used; the botanical to Auckland; and so on. In the four large centres it would probably be easy to find some library belonging either to the district Institute or to some other institution in which the books could be stored, and to get the librarian or some other person interested in the particular subject to take charge of them. In this way we could at once get rid of the difficulties about the library building and the want of funds to employ a librarian with sufficient time to attend to the duties of the position. But how are we going to manage even if we separate our library this way? You will perhaps say that we must, first of all, have a complete catalogue, so that any member may know what work is in the library, and where it is to be found. But this is quite unnecessary, if by a catalogue you mean an ordinary printed catalogue giving a list of the whole of the books. Such a catalogue may be desirable in a circulating library, the subscribers of which do not know what book they wish to consult, and use the catalogue to find some book suitable to their taste. But for a research library such a catalogue is unnecessary, and is only a useless “survival.” I well remember years ago going into the library of the University of Edinburgh and being shown the catalogue which was being prepared. It then consisted of about thirty large manuscript volumes; it was far from completion, and it had been found impossible to go to the expense of getting it printed. It would be quite unnecessary for the person engaged in special research if it could be printed, because during the progress of his research he always finds out the particular works that he wishes to consult, and all he wants is some method of ascertaining if they are in the library or not. If I want to find out whether a particular work on Crustacea is to be found in the library, it is only a hindrance to offer me a large printed volume containing a complete list of works on all subjects, and to waste my time in making me turn over many pages containing lists of works on geology, botany, and other subjects, until I come to the special page devoted to the Crustacea.
If you agree with this you will probably say that what we want is a card catalogue, and that if our library is decentralized there should be a complete card catalogue of the whole of it in each of the four large cities. But even this, though it might be useful in some cases, is by no means necessary. The person who is in charge of any portion of the library must, of course, be able to find out what books he has under his care, and to get them when wanted, and for this he may make a card catalogue or adopt any other suitable method he pleases. But all that is necessary for the worker is that he should know where the section of the library dealing with the subject in which he is working is kept, so that when he finds he wants a particular volume or paper he can send a post-card asking if the volume is there and, if so, if he could have it, and receive an answer or the volume by return of post.
It might be thought that all this will require elaborate organization, and will lead to a large amount of clerical work; but if you consider the small number of men in New Zealand who are engaged in research in each particular science or branch of science, and if you remember that the library may be subdivided to any extent that may be found desirable, you will see that the work required will also be so divided that it could be accomplished without difficulty, and without appreciably increasing the labours of the persons in charge of the different sections. For instance, if you send the books dealing with geology to the place where the greatest amount of geological work is being done, they will be accessible without trouble to the workers there, and probably there will not be more than a score of applications by workers from other districts in the whole of the year; and it would not be a difficult or arduous task to reply to a score of post-cards in the course of twelve months. As a matter of fact, this method is already in operation to a limited extent, and in a few cases books have been sent from the local Institute libraries to workers in other districts on the few occasions on which they have been asked for.
It will be objected that if we scatter our library in this way we run the danger of losing many of the volumes. Naturally, we should stamp the books and take the usual elementary precautions to ensure the safety of the volumes, and a list of the works at each particular place would be made and a record kept of the books sent on to individual workers. It is, however, possible that, notwithstanding such checks, a
few books, from time to time, might be lost in transit, or by the failure of those to whom they had been sent to return them; but with ordinary checks these losses could be kept to a minimum, and it is far better to use your library even if a book is occasionally lost than not to use it at all. It is not good policy to preserve your books by destroying their use. For all practical purposes the great part of the Institute library has been lost for many years.
I am afraid I have kept you too long, and that, instead of giving you a presidential address dealing in general terms with the work of the Institute, I have brought before you debatable matters and detailed methods which would be better discussed by the executive committee. But in doing so I have been trying to carry out the principle of adaptation to the environment. A presidential address delivered to a large gathering of general members of a society who are not directly concerned in its working can appropriately deal in a wide and general manner with the objects or aspirations of the society, while the details of its management are left to an executive committee, and are therefore not dealt with in the address. But this Board is the executive committee of the Institute, and I have, therefore, endeavoured to place before you some definite suggestions for the more efficient carrying out of our duties, and, as my term of office as President will naturally end at the conclusion of this meeting, I have been anxious to take this opportunity of doing so.
I have to thank you for the patience with which you have listened to me, and for your assistance and courtesy during my term of office as President. I have been connected with the Institute for a long period, and many of my most pleasurable experiences have been associated with its work. In resuming my position as an ordinary member I shall do so with the full intention of performing to the best of my ability the duties appropriate thereto—that is, I shall endeavour to continue to be an active and, I hope, a vigorous and efficient cell in the organism that we call the New Zealand Institute.