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The George Tanner Library, Parliamentary Counsel Office, New Zealand

by Anand Kochunny, MLIS




Named after a former Chief Parliamentary Counsel, the George Tanner Library serves the needs of staff at the Parliamentary Counsel Office (aka PCO). With less than 100 members of staff — of whom around 35 are counsel — the PCO is a relatively small organisation in a relatively small country. Our size can also work to our advantage, as this article will show.


As stated on our website, “The Parliamentary Counsel Office (PCO) is New Zealand's law drafting office. It is responsible for:

  • drafting New Zealand Government Bills (except Inland Revenue Bills) and Legislative Instruments

  • publishing all New Zealand Bills, Acts, and Legislative Instruments, both in hard copy and online on the New Zealand Legislation website




While the collection is oriented mainly towards the needs of drafters, the library embraces the keen interest that PCO staff have towards sports, both indoor and outdoor. As the pictures above show, we make space to showcase the achievements of our sports teams — just as we use spare space to accommodate a modest collection of board games. Needless to say, the PCO prides itself on its staff welfare policies and on being a family-friendly organisation.


A Potted History of the Library

Rumour has it that the origins of the library lay in the passion another former Chief Parliamentary Counsel possessed for collecting books and reports that came his way. Loath to relinquish the collection that he had built, it was decided that this collection would form the basis of a library for the PCO. Over time, the collection grew, was organised by librarians who came, contributed to the development of the library and went, was initially housed in a room, and then moved to a central location on one of the two refurbished floors that the PCO now occupies. The PCO Librarian’s role is a sole-charge position, and I’m informed that I’m the fourth Librarian to manage the PCO Library. I do have a student assistant who works part-time, and is the best gift that my predecessor could have left for me — particularly during my early days!


A Brief Tour of the Collections

Given that the PCO is primarily responsible for drafting legislation for New Zealand, the pride of our collection is our Bills books — beautifully bound sets of successive versions of bills as they have progressed through Parliament before being accorded statutory status. The contents of these Bills books have been digitised and the books themselves have been relegated to semi-retirement status in an offsite storage facility, awaiting recall when required. Indeed, with the consequent decrease in space for the library collection as a result of being moved out of a dedicated room, a significant part of the collection that was historical and less used has been packed into boxes and sent to the offsite storage facility.


The rest of the collection has been dispersed across the two floors that we now occupy, with our Lundia shelving system holding our collection of Reference books, the Lending collection, the Reports collection and the Journals collection …




… while our collection of New Zealand Gazettes (1860 - 2014) is housed across the passage from the Lundia shelving system. Note the red bars, which are designed to prevent the books from toppling over during an earthquake. Since New Zealand lies on the boundary between the Australian Plate and the Pacific Plate, we experience earthquakes fairly regularly; however, most are rather small (as earthquakes go) and don’t bother us. That said, New Zealand is also referred to as the Shaky Isles — and with good reason!




Meanwhile, our twin collections of New Zealand Statutes and New Zealand Regulations (see below) are housed in bookshelves that line the passages on both floors. As we publish New Zealand statutes and regulations on a purpose-built website, the print editions come in handy for historical research.




Our collection of New Zealand Statutes comprises various series of the statutes, such as:

  • Statutes of New Zealand, 1842 - 1892

  • New Zealand Consolidated Statutes, 1908

  • New Zealand Statutes Reprint, 1908 - 1957

  • Reprinted Statutes of New Zealand

  • Loose Reprinted Statutes of New Zealand

  • New Zealand Statutes, 1854 – 2014




In comparison, our collection of Regulations seems more orderly, with a single series running from 1936 – 2014.


One of the more interesting items in our collection is a volume that includes the New Zealand Company’s Act of 1846, along with the New Zealand Constitution Act of 1852. Both of these documents are preceded by the Letters Patent of 1842, a part of which is reproduced below:




While the Letters Patent of 1842 correct the description of the boundaries of the new colony of New Zealand, the Letters Patent of 1839 first lay British claim to New Zealand.


In addition to print resources, we subscribe to a number of electronic resources that are primarily centred around legal reference or linguistic reference. We also have the advantage of a special relationship with New Zealand’s Parliamentary Library that allows us to source material through them, given the extensive holdings and resources that they possess.


Size Matters

So what’s remarkable about our size, given that we’re rather small? In a word, agility. We can be nimble because we’re small. Allow me to illustrate: when I joined the PCO towards the end of 2016, I found that we were using leading-edge 19th century technology for the Circulation function, as shown below:




In a country like New Zealand, where trust is an integral part of the culture, it didn’t matter very much if staff simply used a notebook to record check-outs and crossed the record upon return of the item. PCO staff are conscientious, responsible and reliable, and our system of Circulation is based upon the principle of honesty. It works — except when you want to find out who has borrowed a particular book. Then one has to flip through pages, decipher the scribbles of staff, call up people to ask if they have the book ....


There had to be a better way — and there was a better way. Our LMS supplier had developed a mobile app that would enable library patrons to:

  • check-out and check-in library books using the built-in scanner function of the app

  • search the catalogue by Author, Title, Subject or Keyword

  • renew loans and place reservations

  • access details of items they had checked out, including due dates

  • download and read eBooks

  • view messages sent by the library, and reading lists

as illustrated below.









It didn’t take much time to convince my manager of the benefits offered by this app, and being a small organisation, it didn’t take long to get my IT colleagues on board. They evaluated the app and whitelisted it, making it easier to roll it out across the organisation. We’re thus in the process of replacing leading-edge 19th century technology with cutting-edge 21st century technology.


The mobile app was already included in our subscription, so all we’ve had to spend money on was purchasing barcodes and a few hand-held scanners for the benefit of those members of PCO staff who would rather not install yet another app on their smartphone. Being a small organisation, there are just two degrees of separation between my CEO and myself. My CEO was an early adopter of this app, and was simply delighted with the convenience it afforded. My CEO enthusiastically endorsed it at an all-staff meeting where I delivered a presentation on the app to introduce it to my colleagues.


What’s Next?

As we continue barcoding different parts of our collection, we do so with an eye to the future. If we move away from devices that tie us to our desks (such as telephones and PCs) to mobile devices (such as smartphones and tablets), then the Library is already well-placed with this app being whitelisted by or IT team, for this will enable the app to be included in any future image for the organisation’s mobile devices. Further, as this app has been built with eBooks in mind, it should stand us in good stead once we add eBooks to our collection. From the perspective of the Library’s patrons, adoption of this app offers at least two advantages: efficiency and convenience. It saves them time and effort, and it allows them to access the Library catalogue from any place in the world with a Wi-Fi connection. In a globalised world that encourages mobility in the workforce, both these attributes are very relevant, indeed.



Copyright 2018 by Anand Kochunny.


About the author:

Anand Kochunny is a professionally registered and qualified librarian, having worked for over 13 years in the public sector in New Zealand, where he earned his MLIS degree from Victoria University of Wellington. Prior to migrating to New Zealand, Anand had worked at the library of the British Council in Kolkata (India) as an Assistant Manager. He began his career with Tata Consultancy Services as an Assistant Librarian shortly after completing his BLIS from Jadavpur University in Kolkata. Working in New Zealand, Anand has led projects that have brought information to the fingertips of users, and is a champion of knowledge-sharing practices in organisations. He can be reached at anand.kochunny@pco.govt.nz