04 February 2013

The Hillside Railway Workshops Library

[First, an apology to subscribers who received my previous 'post' that was nothing but a string of letters and numbers in the title. It was part of Technorati's blog verification process.]

In April 2012 KiwiRail announced that it was putting Dunedin's Hillside Railway Workshops up for sale. Seven months later, staff redundancies were made and part of the business was sold. The rest of the plant is to close with the loss of ninety jobs.

This is a sad end to an enduring and historic company, and sadder still for the people out of work. Established in 1874, Hillside was once the largest railway workshop in the South Island of New Zealand, employing more than 800 workers by 1935. Its men were well looked after. The company encouraged its employees to further their education by subsidising night classes at the Dunedin Technical School (est. 1889), later named the King Edward Technical College. Hillside had its own ambulance division, a sporting team, a Sick and Benefit Society, and a social and dining hall. There was also a substantial library.

From The New Zealand Railways Magazine 3:4 (Aug. 1928)

Opened in 1884 with just two boxes of books, the Hillside Railway Workshops' Library grew to 15,000 volumes by 1928.* The library was more than technical manuals, engineering books, and related trade journals. In fact, according to a copy of the 1913 Hillside library catalogue held by the Dunedin City Library, just 208 of the 13,005 entries fell under the heading of 'Engineering (&c)' at the time.

Late nineteenth-century and contemporary fiction formed the largest portion of the collection, accounting for just over 11,000 entries; clear evidence that the library was for the leisurely enjoyment of the employees and their families, rather than a working library for consultation. In addition to works of fiction and books on engineering, the catalogue records titles in a variety of other subjects, from astronomy, biography, and electricity, to mining, poetry, and travel.

There is also a section headed 'Miscellaneous Subjects', which includes a diverse range of books from Thomas Carlyle's Sartor Resartus and F. D. Maurice's Religions of the World, to Margaret Sangster's Winsome Womanhood and A Shorter Working Day by R. A. Hadfield and H. D. Gibbin. There are other titles on workers' rights and interests besides A Shorter Working Day listed in the miscellaneous sequence, which suggests a rather progressive atmosphere.

An Uncertain Fate
What happened to the Hillside collection?

Some books were dispersed, for a few titles found their way into the Dunedin City Library collection, such as a copy of Fergus Hume's The Lonely Church (1904) complete with the Hillside library label and stamp.

Other titles found so far with the Hillside label and now held by the Dunedin City Library are: A Double Blindness (1910) and A Maid of Mettle (1913) by Mrs L. Baker published under the alias 'Alien'; Louis Becke's By Reef and Palm (1896), Breachley, Black Sheep (1902), 'Neath Austral Skies (1909) and Under Tropic Skies (1905); and A Colonial Reformer (1891) by Rolf Boldrewood (the occasional pseudonym of the Australian writer Thomas Alexander Browne). There are also five further books by Fergus Hume: The Mystery of Landy Court (1894), The Red Bicycle (the 1916 first edition and the later 'cheap edition'), The Red Window (1904) and The Vanishing of Tera (ca. 1900).

Whether specific books such as these were intentionally deselected, possibly sold in order to raise funds for newer purchases, or were part of a much larger dispersal of the entire collection remains unknown. Enquiries made with Hillside Engineering, Archives New Zealand, and other major archival repositories have shed no light on the Hillside library's fate. I will post an update should my continued research uncover any further information.

In the meantime, the related evidencethe catalogue, book label, and article noted belowdoes at least raise the wider question of what other factory libraries existed in New Zealand? The 1 May 1912 issue of the Otago Daily Times mentioned the Sarbon Library, which was available to the more than 160 employees of the Dunedin based manufacturing firm of Sargood, Son and Ewen Ltd. Kā Taoka Hākena: Treasures from the Hocken Collections (2007) notes an early Mills & Boon romance from the Employees' Library of the New Zealand Wax Vesta Co. Ltd., Caversham, Dunedin, which had a largely female workforce (102). Such bibliographic clues are certainly worthy of further investigation and research into this hitherto little explored, yet fascinating, area of New Zealand's library history. Should any readers know of other New Zealand factory libraries, please post a comment below.

*A description and history of the Hillside Railway Workshops Library was published by D. H. Hastings in The New Zealand Railways Magazine 3:4 (August 1928). It is available on-line through the NZETC.

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