Book Review: As You Will – Carnegie Libraries of the South Pacific, by Mickey Smith

Available in selected bookshops. 

cv_as_you_will.jpgThis is a pictorial book, and something of a labour of love for the photographer Mickey Smith. She has already presented some of her photographs in exhibitions, and her travels to remaining Carnegie library buildings were no doubt personally rewarding. However, the result is a quirky and somewhat puzzling book, even with the addition of historical images.

The book has a very logical structure, beginning with the three Carnegie libraries that are still in use as libraries, followed by the majority which have been re-purposed, then the three that have been closed for earthquake reasons. Of the 18 libraries that Andrew Carnegie funded in New Zealand, six buildings have been demolished or destroyed by a disaster. So an historical image has been found for each to complete the task.

There is a brief foreword by Charles Walker, but this does not really provide a context for the book. So there is no narrative structure, other than the logic followed by locating the buildings and photographing the remaining functions and interior space. But why were there 18 libraries funded by the Carnegie organisation in provincial New Zealand, and only four in Australia, and one in Suva, Fiji? The latter is one of three that still performs basic library functions, and the only other examples are in Marton and Balclutha, of all places.

The photographic reproductions are very good, but most of the images are of rather mundane interiors, even for the libraries that have been re-purposed. The exceptions seem to be the ones that have become restaurants or bars, such as in Dunedin and Fairlie, and the Onehunga gastropub that provides the portrait in the cover image (presumably this is of Carnegie). The only other memorials for Carnegie himself seem to be in Hokitika and Westport, in two of the libraries that are now closed. It seems that the three libraries that remain in provincial Australia still have a library purpose or have added museums.

There are two puzzling aspects to the layout of this book. The first is that, while the library architecture is actually the key focus, this is always represented by the historical images of the library being opened. There are no contemporary shots of the library exterior, with the exception of the one in Timaru, and this is only because the façade is all that remains. The second puzzling aspect is the choice of images in a landscape format, which are placed in a vertical position in the layout, which makes them seem disoriented. Meanwhile, some of the larger images do appear across the spread of the layout in the usual landscape form.

Notwithstanding the quirky layout and the lack of captions this remains an interesting book, and directs us to the influence that Carnegie’s philanthropy had, if not in the creation of the mainly provincial libraries, then at least in terms of their distinctive architectural forms.

Reviewed by Simon Boyce

As You Will: Carnegie Libraries of the South Pacific
by Mickey Smith
Published by te tuhi
ISBN 9780908995608