At Dunedin Public Library in 1961 about 24% of our adult issue was non-fiction material, but in 1972, just eleven years later, it had increased to 31%, approximately a 7% change in reading habits over these years. If this change in itself is not significant, then the greater reference use of the same library is because over the same period enquiries rose 33%. This pattern is true to most, if not all, public libraries in New Zealand and reflects the greater user of the library as an information centre and as a source of factual material/
The major cause of this rapid change, I believe, has been the advent of television. Television was introduced to Dunedin audiences late in 1960 and immediately after that date the non-fiction and informational use of the library, began to increase. Television obviously opened up a new awareness and areas of interest to the “masses.” It awakened a need to search out knowledge in various fields and although total public library issues dropped temporarily after its introduction, non-fiction issues continued and are still continuing to increase.
Documentaries, do-it-yourself type programmes, news slots and current affairs series all aided this interest in information and the need to be informed. Television opened a new world to the “masses” in New Zealand and prompted discussion and a sense of enquiry that placed an increased demand on library materials.Since Media 7 on Thursday will be about documentaries, I thought I would bring you something from 1973. This is Euan M Miller, the Deputy Librarian of Dunedin Public Library in The Changing Shape of Books, Papers delivered at a seminar held in 1973 by the New Zealand Book Council, in association with the Department of University Extension, Victoria University of Wellington. You see what he saw? Intelligent television made people use libraries more. How about that?
Of course it wouldn't happen these days because TVNZ7 is almost the only intelligent television we have and we won't have that for much longer.
Anyway, moving right along, I went to the best party of the year on Monday, the launch at Sunday Painters of The Forrests, by the estimable Emily Perkins. A hoot was had by all; and all was almost every writer in Auckland. What's more, I won the raffle - half a case of Forrest wines.
Enough about me. Here's some intelligent television. Back after the break
And here is Emily talking to Chris Bell. So, after all that, I expect you are wondering what Euan M Miller had to say about the state of the novel in 1973.
The state of the serious novel is not so satisfactory at the present time. Although the decline in new author publishing that took place during the nineteen sixties appears to have stabilized now, the type of book being produced at present has little widespread demand - even for serious readers. Authors that are currently being published are tending to write on very narrow themes, of personal relationships that affect only a tiny segment of the world’s reading population, and, as a consequence is difficult for the general reader to see much relevance in this fiction to his or her everyday life. I know many authors today look rather disparagingly at requests for the good old novel full of everyday situations and well-rounded characters but this is exactly what the reading public is demanding.
The success of Jonathan Livingston Seagull on the western market is a very apt example of the voraciousness of readers for this type of fiction writing. Jonathan may not fly forever but better writers in the same field could easily attain both instant popularity and long term critical acclaim if they chose to follow his example.
Some reprint publishers in Great Britain have acknowledged this reader demand and a capitalizing on this market with long lists of reprinted titles. The future of the introverted novel - if it has any future - is short; and unless there is a major change in fiction publishing soon this form of literary expression will become as little used as the collections of essays that lie languishing on library shelves today.
How wrong he was, I am delighted to say - having suffered Jonathan Livingston Seagull as a penance for growing up in the seventies. Anyway, go and buy The Forrests and Novel about my Wife, if you haven't already, and Not Her Real Name, while you are at it. You know you want to.