New Zealand’s first sci-fi novel, Anno Domini 2000, written by New Zealand’s former premier Julius Vogel, was not exactly the sort of story Virginia Dobson was expecting to find when tasked with re-cataloguing the ‘gold books’ section of the James Duncan Reference Library.
The ‘gold books’ collection of the library contains a diverse range of material, ranging from histories of New Zealand to early editions of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. They have been collected over 20 years by Wendy, the CEO of the McGuinness Institute. After gathering such a wide variety of texts, it was time to reorganise and systemise over 1,600 rare books. Virginia is well-suited for this task.
Virginia is an experienced librarian, having worked for two years at Wellington City Libraries, and has a special interest in the quirks and oddities found in old books. She completed a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in English at Canterbury University in 2012 and is now finishing the tail-end of a law degree at Victoria University of Wellington.
Virginia’s Honours thesis involved researching the gender archetypes in the writings of James K. Baxter and uncovering a side of the poet that mainstream New Zealand often forgets. She says that analysing New Zealand’s social history through its literature is extremely insightful, and this is true too of the varied collection seen in the James Duncan reference library. Named after the former chair of the Commission for the Future, Professor James Duncan (1921–2001), the library has been established to provide a record of long-term thinking in New Zealand.
In addition to the (sometimes faded) perspectives these old books can give on the socio-historical development of New Zealand, Virginia is intrigued by the construction of the books themselves. She explains that some are bound in goat’s skin (from 1875), and she notes that the Institute has three copies of the same edition of Te Rauparaha and the Sacking of Kaipohia by W.T.L. Travers and Rev. J.W. Stack. All three are marked and faded in a different way.
Virginia’s entire re-cataloguing and examining of the books will take upwards of four days. When asked about her favourite book, Virginia points to a 1927 Larousse French Encyclopaedia. With a cover from the height of Art Nouveau and illustrations throughout, she says that finding the book in the collection was an absolute delight.
The James Duncan library is able to be viewed by appointment.
Thank you Virginia, from all of the team, for your stellar help. Below are three of Virginia’s favourite finds:
- Anno Domini 2000 (1889) by Sir Julius Vogel (former premier of New Zealand)
- Nouveau Petit Larousse Illustré (1927); published by the Librararie Larousse Paris
- Plants of New Zealand (1906) by R. M. Liang and E. W. Blackwell