Provenance the Web (formerly ISSN 1203-8954 - Vol.1, No.2 March 1996

Polynesian Pathways: - The National Library of Australia Pacific Acquisitions Trip, 1995.

- Adrian Cunningham, International Relations, National Library of Australia

Describes the National Library of Australia's 1995 Polynesian acquisitions trip in the context of the Library's reaffirmed commitment to Pacific collection development. Outlines the preparations for the trip, the contacts made and the material acquired in the four Polynesian territories of Western Samoa, American Samoa, the Cook Islands and French Polynesia. This article is to be published in the periodical, Australian Academic and Research Libraries, sometime later this year.


Adrian Cunningham

With the release of its current strategic plan in 1993[1] the National Library of Australia reaffirmed its commitment to collecting from the Pacific region.

The National Library has strong holdings of historical materials relating to the South-West Pacific, including extensive runs of rare and unique materials in such collections as the Petherick, Nan Kivell and Ferguson collections. The Pacific collecting reaffirmation stemmed from a desire to both build on these existing strengths and to assist in the maintenance of strong strategic, economic and cultural links between Australia and the Asia-Pacific region, links which the Commonwealth Government regards as a high priority. In part, the reaffirmation was also a recognition of the fact that for some years the practical difficulties associated with acquiring contemporary Pacific publications had stymied efforts to secure a thorough coverage of recent output. The strategic plan recognised that, if the Library was to maintain a strong Pacific research collection for the benefit of all Australians, it needed to pursue more proactive and effective Pacific collection building strategies.

Over the last three years a considerable amount of effort has been devoted to reviewing collecting strategies and trialing new services and sources for the acquisition of Pacific materials.[2] In tandem with this process the Library committed itself to a more active involvement in the Pacific Manuscripts Bureau, in an effort to revitalise this 28 year old preservation microfilming project based at the Australian National University.[3]

The review of Pacific acquisitions processes highlighted the inadequacies of such traditional acquisition mechanisms as gift and exchange and remote dealings with booksellers and agents for the acquisition of contemporary printed materials from the islands of the South Pacific. While the National Library still pursues gift and exchange arrangements in some cases and has recently established a blanket order with the Hawaii-based agent Pan-Pacifica, the most notable change of strategy that has followed the Pacific acquisitions reaffirmation has been the institution of regular acquisitions field trips to the islands. Commentators such as Stephen Innes[4] have argued the absolute necessity of personal collecting tours for libraries that are serious about collecting contemporary publications from the islands.

Since 1993, National Library staff have completed four acquisitions field trips to the South Pacific.

  • In April 1993 Amelia McKenzie completed a trip to Fiji, New Caledonia and Vanuatu.
  • In July 1994 Tom Ruthven visited Tonga and
  • in November 1994 Erica Ryan visited Papua New Guinea.[5]
  • In August and September 1995 I undertook a four week trip to Polynesia, visiting four territories, Western Samoa, American Samoa, the Cook Islands and French Polynesia.

Background and Preparation

Apart from a brief visit to Western Samoa in 1989 by Amelia McKenzie (now the National Library's Indonesian Acquisitions Officer in Jakarta) which was conducted under the auspices of the South Pacific Cultures Fund, this was the first time that any of the four Polynesian territories covered in my trip had been visited by a National Library staff member in an official capacity. Through its Regional Cooperation Program the Library has close links with two of the four territories on my itinerary, Western Samoa and the Cook Islands. In the past these links have been of assistance in the Library's Pacific acquisitions program through the provision of on-the-ground assistance and liaison and with the maintenance of some gift and exchange arrangements.

Nevertheless, many of the acquisitions arrangements in these two territories had fallen into disrepair by the time I commenced the preparation for my trip. The acquisition of published material from the territories concerned consisted largely of: the patchy maintenance of some newspaper subscriptions; an irregular supply of serial titles through a small number of standing orders with various government departments and instrumentalities; the purchase of occasional monograph titles from suppliers such as Pan-Pacifica and the Polynesian Bookshop in New Zealand; and the regular supply of titles from the South Pacific Regional Environmental Program (SPREP) in Western Samoa under a deposit agreement negotiated some years ago with SPREP's parent body, the South Pacific Commission. While there was a steady trickle of material from three of the four territories into the National Library's collection, one territory, American Samoa, was almost totally unrepresented in the Library's collection.

Having assessed the state of the Library's current acquisitions program for Eastern Polynesia, my next step was to build up a list of potential contacts in each of the territories. This process took some months to complete and indeed continued for the duration of the trip itself. As a result it became apparent that many of the contact details on the Library's files were either inaccurate, out of date or both.

In assembling my lists of contacts I sought the advice of some area specialists in Canberra. These included former Cook Islands' Director of Education and bibliographer, Bill Coppell, and Dr Karin von Strokirch of the Australian National University's Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australia's leading expert on contemporary French Polynesia.[6] Dr von Strokirch also gave me some useful advice on particular commercial titles produced in French Polynesia that were worth acquiring.

The high cost of commercial titles in French Polynesia and the relatively large number of titles on offer meant that it was necessary for me to be selective in this area, unlike the other three territories I visited where selection was not an issue because commercial titles are both cheap to purchase and few in number.

Before departing Canberra I wrote a variety of letters informing local contacts of my plans and itinerary. My major priority was identifying and obtaining government publications, but I was also interested in obtaining the output of: international organisations with operations in the region; non-government organisations such as political parties, women's groups, trade unions, environmental organisations, etc; research and academic institutions; religious organisations; and commercial enterprises. The chief librarians in Western Samoa and the Cook Islands, Miss Mataina Teo and Mrs Carmen Temata respectively, were both very helpful in the preparation of my trip, assisting me with both accommodation bookings and by suggesting potential contacts.

As the amount of publishing activity in each territory varies roughly in proportion to the size of their populations, it was decided that I should spend more time in the two more populous countries, French Polynesia (population 210,000) and Western Samoa (200,000) than in American Samoa (50,000) and the Cook Islands (20,000). I planned to spend five working days each in French Polynesia and Western Samoa and three working days each in American Samoa and the Cook Islands. Due to post-departure airline rescheduling (a common occurrence in the South Pacific), I ended up spending six working days in Western Samoa and only two working days in Rarotonga (Cook Islands). Although this left me with a very tight schedule in Rarotonga, with the assistance of National Librarian Carmen Temata and her staff I managed to complete all my appointments there in the two days.

En route to Apia, Western Samoa, I spent a day in Auckland consulting with Stephen Innes, New Zealand and Pacific Librarian at the University of Auckland. Innes, a veteran of various Polynesian acquisitions trips, gave me some invaluable advice and more contact names for my already bulging list of publishers.


Over the four weeks I spent in the islands I made contact with over 100 publishers and/or booksellers of various kinds. I personally sent home approximately 200 kilograms of publications. In addition, I arranged for local suppliers to send a further 60-70 kg of material. Of the total material acquired, I would estimate that between half and two thirds was given to me free of charge. I spent over $3,000 on up-front purchases and committed the Library to buying about $4,500 worth of extra material.

The National Library has been placed on a large number of mailing/subscription lists and now has accurate and updated contact details of all the important publishers and distributors in each of the four territories I visited.

The advantages of a personal visit are indisputable. The preliminary list of contacts I had assembled in Canberra proved quite unreliable. A personal visit was the only way I could have identified these inaccuracies and located the correct contact person. Moreover, Pacific peoples respond warmly to personal visits, appreciating the fact that outsiders consider them to be of sufficient importance to warrant a visit. While a letter may be misdirected or overlooked, a personal visit will often result in an armful of free publications and a list of four or five other potential contacts. I also found that informal discussions with locals are invaluable in developing a sense of what is important to them and an understanding of those local trends and developments that need to be documented, thus leading me to pursue particular avenues of inquiry that would otherwise have never occurred to me.

As a representative of a respected national government organisation, I found that almost all of my local contacts were prepared to go to enormous lengths to help ensure the success of my mission. The extent of the cooperation I received was greatly in excess of that which any commercial agent would be able to draw upon. Where possible I undertook to return favours to those who went out of their way to assist me and freely distributed a variety of National Library publications where I felt it appropriate. One unexpected aspect of my trip was the almost universal interest in the email address that was listed on my business card. In each of the four territories visited the imminent arrival of the Internet is awaited with keen anticipation. The islanders see the Internet as a major solution to their age-old problem of isolation. A number of my contacts promised to send me an email message as soon as they obtain internet access and expressed a desire to log into the National Library's World Wide Web home page at the earliest opportunity.[7] [emphasis added]

The high regard with which the National Library of Australia is held in the Pacific region was demonstrated by the extensive assistance I received from local librarians and archivists in each of the four territories. Mataina Teo of the Nelson Memorial Public Library in Western Samoa, Carmen Temata of the National Library of the Cook Islands, Pierre Mourillon and Julien Teaha of the Territorial Archives of French Polynesia, James Himphill of the Territorial Archives of American Samoa and Emma Pen of the American Samoan Office of Library Services all went to extraordinary lengths to ensure the success of my trip. Assistance included the making of appointments for me; the provision of a base from which I could work; the provision of chauffer, introduction and translation services; the provision of duplicate copies of publications from their own collections; and the provision of greatly appreciated professional camaraderie and after hours socialising. The generosity of the Polynesian professionals I encountered is something I shall never forget and hope one day to return in kind.

I am pleased to say that in the case of Western Samoa and the Cook Islands, the benefits of being accompanied on my visits by a local librarian did not all flow one way. Both Mataina Teo and Carmen Temata found it useful for their own libraries to be doing the rounds of the government departments, as they often discovered publications they had not previously seen. They both reported difficulties in ensuring a reliable supply of government publications into their libraries. This puts into perspective the difficulties experienced by outsiders attempting to obtain Pacific publications. If the local librarians have trouble in acquiring locally published material, it is hardly surprising that Australians often experience difficulty in obtaining these publications from thousands of kilometres away. Government publications can be particularly elusive. A general shortage of funds means that departments and instrumentalities often print only the exact number they need and make no provision for printing and storing additional copies. In a number of cases only a master copy is retained from which photocopies are produced upon request.

Western Samoa

Western Samoa has been an independent nation since 1961, before which it was a mandated territory of New Zealand and a German colony (1900-1914). As is the case with a number of Pacific Island territories, Western Samoa has no centralised distribution avenue for government publications, nor is there any legal deposit or government archives legislation. There are some moves afoot to upgrade the Nelson Memorial Public Library to the status of a National Library, with the Library itself embarking upon a project to automate its catalogue and produce as a by-product a national bibliography.

During my six days in Western Samoa I made contact with 34 different publishers, printers and booksellers. It was necessary to visit each of the more important government departments, sometimes more than once, to obtain copies of reports and other publications and to have the Library placed on mailing/subscription lists. These included: the Department of Justice which publishes the Western Samoan Law Reports; the Central Bank of Western Samoa; the Fono or Parliament which produces a Parliamentary journal (ie. Parliamentary papers), Interpretations of debates (ie, Hansard) in English and Samoan, electoral rolls, Acts of Parliament and Regulations; the Samoa Visitors' Bureau; the Education Department; the Department of the Treasury; the Statistics Office; the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture; the Health Department; the Audit Department; the Ministry of Agriculture; the Department of Lands Survey and the Environment; the Housing Corporation; and the Fisheries Division.

I also visited: the offices of the Samoa Observer newspaper and the government daily newspaper and pseudo-government gazette, Savali; the United Nations Development Program Regional Office; the UNESCO Regional Office for the Pacific States; the South Pacific Regional Environmental Program (SPREP); the University of the South Pacific School of Agriculture, which has a major research station at its Alafua Campus; the National University of Samoa; the University of the South Pacific Malifa Centre; the National Council of Women of Western Samoa; the Siosiomaga Society, an environmental NGO; and a number of religious printers and bookshops.

American Samoa

American Samoa has been an unincorporated territory of the USA since 1900.

The Territory has a popularly elected Governor, who reports to the US Department of the Interior, a non-voting representative in the US Congress and a Territorial Government with legislative, executive and judicial branches. The Territory is not under the jurisdiction of the US Constitution, but instead operates under its own Constitution which has not yet been sanctioned by the US Congress.

The territory is well provided with both library and archival services. The Executive arm of the Territorial Government reports directly through the Office of the Governor. I was therefore able to obtain access to a large proportion of Departmental publications through the Governor's Office. These included a number of annual reports, development plans, task force reports and the annual Statistical Digest.

Fono (Parliament) publishes the American Samoan Annotated Code, which is a loose leaf publication containing the updated Acts of American Samoa. The Fono also publishes the Session Laws and Digest and the extremely bulky Journal of the House of Representatives (ie. Hansard). From the High Court of American Samoa I ordered a set of American Samoan Law Reports, 1919-1993.

I also established a subscription to the daily newspaper, the Samoa News, and visited the: American Samoan Community College; the Territorial Archives; the Office of Library Services; the Environmental Protection Agency; the American Samoan Council of Art, Culture and the Humanities; the Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources; the Comptroller General of the Department of the Treasury, from whom I obtained copies of the Comprehensive annual financial report dating back to 1985; and a variety of commercial and religious bookshops.

The Cook Islands

The Cook Islands was a dependency of New Zealand from 1900 to 1965, after which self-government and a form of semi-independence (in free association with New Zealand) was achieved. The main island Rarotonga is well served with libraries and archives. There are in fact two libraries, the National Library of the Cook Islands and the privately-run Cook Islands Library and Museum Society. As is the case in Western Samoa, there is no centralised distribution avenue for government publications. The National Library of the Cook Islands is in the process of automating its catalogue and intends to publish a national bibliography as a by-product of this process.

In the two days I spent in Rarotonga I visited the most important government departments including the Ministry for Cultural Development, the Ministry of Conservation, the Ministry of Marine Resources, the Statistics Office, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Airport Authority, the Tourist Authority, and the Ministry of Planning and Development. The Cook Islands Parliament has recently published a full set of reprints of Cook Islands Acts, which incorporates all relevant New Zealand legislation, and also publishes Hansard, Parliamentary Papers, a Parliamentary Handbook and the Government Gazette.

I renewed the National Library's subscription to the daily newspaper, the Cook Island News and commenced a subscription to the opposition weekly newspaper the Cook Islands Press. I also visited local publishers Sunblossom Press, the Kautanga Society, the Cook Islands Natural Heritage Project and Te Pua Inano Publishers, together with bookshops in the commercial centre of Avarua, the Catholic Church Diocesan headquarters and the University of the South Pacific Cook Islands Centre.

French Polynesia

French Polynesia occupies an extremely large expanse of the South Pacific consisting of the Marquesas Islands, the Gambier Islands, the Society Islands and the Australs. The capital city, Papeete, is located on the island of Tahiti, one of the Society Islands. French Polynesia has been a French Overseas Territory since 1843. The Territory is semi-autonomous and is governed jointly by an elected Territorial Assembly and a High Commissioner appointed from Paris. The Assembly elects the President of the Territory and the Council of Ministers.

My visit to Tahiti happened to coincide with the detonation of the first nuclear device at Mororoa Atoll in the latest round of nuclear test which had been announced by President Chirac in May. When my trip was first planned in March 1995 we had no inkling of the unprecedented level of Australian interest in French Polynesia that would coincide with my arrival in that Territory. With the Australian Government at the forefront of international protests against the nuclear tests and after months of escalating bilateral tension, I feared that, as a representative of the Australian Government, I may receive a cool reception from Territorial Government officials. I feared that the success of the French Polynesian leg of my trip was in real danger if I could not rely upon the assistance and cooperation of government officials.

My fears proved groundless. While many of the officials I dealt with were understandably preoccupied with events unfolding around them, most went out of their way to assist me. While some may have been suspicious about the timing of my visit most sent me away with boxes full of gratis publications and promises to add the NLA to their mailing lists. Of crucial importance to the success of my trip were the senior staff of the Territorial Archives, Pierre Mourillon and Julien Teaha. Although there is no recognisable public library system in French Polynesia, the Territorial Archives maintains a deposit collection of local publications. Quite unexpectedly, Julien Teaha spent the better part of a week driving me around the island, making appointments and helping me with introductions and translations. Given that there had been little previous contact between our two organisations, I was both surprised and extremely grateful for this level of assistance.

As a wealthier and more populous territory, there is substantially more publishing activity in French Polynesia than in any of the other three territories I visited. Two Papeete bookshops, Libraries Archipels and Librarie Vaima specialise in local publications and produce periodic listings of titles. Having established contact with these two outlets, it should now be possible for the National Library to make regular selections of new commercial titles from the lists they produce. The Library has also established an exchange arrangement with local publisher Robert Koenig who runs Haere Po No Tahiti and who is also President of the Societe des Etudes Oceaniennes, which is also a publisher.

There is little in the way of centralised distribution of government publications, although the government printer, Imprimiere Officielle, does have a sales outlet from which I purchased a variety of official publications. Other government departments and instrumentalities visited included: the Tourism Service; the Institut d'Emission d'Outre-Mer; the Presidential Press Office; the Institut Territorial de la Statistique (ITSTAT); the Office Territorial d'Action Culturelle (OTAC), which runs a small public lending library in Papeete; the Territorial Assembly, which publishes a Hansard and the Statut du Territoire de la Polynesie Francaise; the Inspection Generale de l'Administration du Territoire (IGAT); the Bureau des Affaires Communales de la Haut Commissariat; the Counseil Economique, Social et Culturel (CESC); and the Delegation pour la Environnement. For its part, the Territorial Archives produces the Table du Journale Officielle, which is an annual index to the Territorial Government Gazette.

Non-government organisations visited included the Chambre de Commerce d'Industrie; the Institut Malarde, a medical research institute; the Musee de Tahiti et des Iles and the Universite Francaise du Pacifique. In addition I was keen to make contact with those opposition groups which are actively publishing. These included: Hiti Tau, the National Council of Maohi NGOs, a radical pro-independence/anti-nuclear group; Oscar Temaru's pro-independence party Tavini Huiraatira; Jacquie Drollet's Ia Mana te Nunaa; and the two opposition newspapers, La Polynesienne Tribune and L'Echo de Tahiti Nui. As the opposition groups publish very little these two newspapers provide the best source of information for outsiders as to what the opposition groups are thinking and doing. They are an essential counterbalance to the avalanche of pro-government publishing, which includes the largely uncritical daily newspapers, La Depeche de Tahiti and Les Nouvelles de Tahiti.

As a postscript to my Tahitian visit, within minutes of my concluding my business in the Territory the well publicised riots in reaction to the nuclear detonation broke out at Faa'a International Airport. Needless to say my departure for home was delayed and I enjoyed the unforgettable experience of a night of rioting and general mayhem in downtown Papeete when my hotel was evacuated because of stray fire bombs.[8] Who says being a librarian is boring?


In conclusion, as a result of my Polynesian trip, the National Library has filled substantial gaps in its holdings of contemporary material from the region. With appropriate follow-up action with my listed contacts, the Library should be able to ensure a reasonable ongoing supply of material for at least the next three to four years, after which a return trip may become necessary. This commitment to Pacific collecting will help ensure that Australians have ongoing access to a very comprehensive and up-to-date collection of information on regional activities, trends and developments. This is essential if Australia is to integrate with and understand its Asia-Pacific neighbours.


1 ... National Library of Australia Service to the Nation, Access to the Globe: National Library of Australia Strategic Plan 1993-1998 Canberra National Library of Australia 1994

2 ... J Cameron 'New Paths for Pacific Collecting' Australian Library Review vol 11 no 4 November 1994 pp445-450

3 ... A Cunningham 'The Pacific Manuscripts Bureau: History and Recent Developments' Australian Academic and Research Libraries vol 26 no 4 December 1995 pp237-242; E Maidment 'The Pacific Manuscripts Bureau: Current and Future Operations' Australian Academic and Research Libraries vol 26 no 4 December 1995 pp243-247

4 ... S Innes 'Acquiring Official Publications from Developing Countries: A South Pacific Perspective' Australian Academic and Research Libraries vol 25 no 2 June 1994 pp89-94

5 ... E Ryan 'Publishing in Papua New Guinea: The National Library of Australia Acquisitions Trip, 1994' Australian Academic and Research Libraries vol 26 no 3 September 1995 pp157-162

6 ... Karin von Strokirch's Ph. D. thesis, 'Tahitian Autonomy: Illusion or Reality?' is soon to be published by Crawford House.

7 ... P Walton, J Tarpley and A Cohen 'Improved Communication Linkages in the Pacific Islands Region, and the Implications and Opportunities for Library and Information Services' in Asia-Pacific Library Conference: Conference Proceedings vol 1 Brisbane State Library of Queensland 1995 pp101-118

8 ... A Cunningham 'When Papeete Burned' National Library of Australia News vol VI no 4 January 1996 pp9-12

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