The Report of the Inter‐departmental Committee on the Libraries of the Union of South Africa of 1937 resembled closely in substance and in spirit the Report on New Zealand libraries of Munn and Barr in 1934, and that of Munn and Pitt on Australian libraries in 1935, a resemblance arising no doubt from a similarity of historical circumstances within the three dominions: new countries with small populations; the institution, to meet the needs of small reading circles in scattered areas, of libraries like those of nineteenth‐century England; the preoccupation of the peoples with the more immediate demands of living and with the exploitation of natural resources. These old institutions have tended to linger, being private or semi‐private, less susceptible to change and becoming more and more anachronistic, less able to play the part expected of a modern library, while the new have developed slowly and only here and there as yet will they bear comparison with the best in the older countries. These reports of the thirties witness the fact that the majority of public libraries were ‘subscription’ libraries of nineteenth‐century pattern, small in size and lacking in quality of stock; that the largest municipal libraries and the university libraries were insufficiently stocked, the chief strength reposing in the national libraries. And the reasons: lack of money or, more truthfully, the withholding of money needed for library and bibliographical purposes, itself the outcome partly of public and official apathy and procrastination, and partly of ignorance of the advantages derivable from modern library and bibliographical services; the paucity of trained staff to teach and by practical example to spread ideas and increase understanding; in the case of Australia and South Africa, the vastness of the territory to be covered and the sparsity, of settlement involving intricate organization and considerable costs, and in South Africa the existence of two European racial groups and consequent bilingualism which often call for parallel collections. A decade has, of course, elapsed since Munn and Pitt wrote that ‘most Australians have had no contact with a progressive and complete library system and know nothing of its functions and facilities’ and since the South African committee reported that ‘in library development the Union of South Africa lags behind the rest of the civilised world’; and much has been accomplished in the meantime, but the South African condemnation is still broadly justified, though there are individual libraries to which it does not apply.
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