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Our Heritage

This heritage section celebrates the people who created the law librarian in New Zealand.

Oenone Greig

How she was found.

In July 2005 while on a family trip to the Hokianga Harbour, we stayed at the Treehouse Lodge, Kohukohu. Not having a book with me, I raided the kitchen collection and found Macdonald, Penfold, and Williams (eds), The Book of New Zealand Women A biographical dictionary, Bridget Williams Books, 1991. In this book I found Mrs Oenone Greig and her story.

Realising she was a law librarian before the term existed in New Zealand and not many people knew about her, I sought information from the Mr Wayne Chapman, a consultant to Buddle Findlay. He directed me to her family who gave permission to tell her story written as an obituary by her employer. (PJN) Meaning of the name

Oenone Greig

From Buddle Findlay May 1988

“Oenone Greig 1896 – 1988

Oeneone M. Greig, “Noni” for short, came to work for Buddle Anderson Kent & Co I 1967/8. She had just been forcibly retired from the National Library Service when it was found that she was at least six years over the normal final retirement age of 65. Guy Smith and John Pottinger, then senior partners, knew she would be of use in the office. Originally she looked after telephones and mail, but following the move to the National Bank Building in 1969, she became not just a mail clerk but librarian, deeds custodian and filing clerk as well.

More than that she became a vital point of reference for the whole office. Apart from her amazing memory, her ability to track down a file, a document, a letter or a piece of information, she retained a constant interest in and concern for people, both staff and clients.

Whenever a question arose (and questions always seem to arise in law offices) about someone or something, the usual response was: “Ask Mrs Greig”. If Mrs Greig didn’t know, she would find out. She seemed to have an unbounded energy in tracking things down and an insatiable thirst for knowledge – not just knowledge in the trivial sense, but on all levels. Her reading was wide and deep. Most lunch hours you could usually find Noni with her feet up in an empty office, a book in one hand and an apple in the other.

Noni was born in Wellington. Her father did not believe in higher education for women. After marriage and a tough life on a dairy farm in the 1920s, Noni returned to Wellington and, although she had the responsibility of bringing up a family, she fulfilled her ambition and went to Victoria University. She graduated in due course with an MA with First Class Honours in Psychology. She worked in Greece for a lengthy period of time at the end of the Second World War, subsequently joining the National Library Service on her return to New Zealand.

Noni exemplified the enlightenment of the classical scholar. She had some of the qualities of those shadowy figures referred to in Greek myths – seers or sibyls. She was the most knowledgeable woman that it has ever been my privilege to have met, and one of the wisest.

She was certainly one of the oldest active employees in any office (legal or otherwise). She died as she would have wanted – sitting at the office computer seeking information. She was 91.

Chris .G. Pottinger. May 1988”

Julia McMahon O'Higgins

A reminiscence from Julia McMahon O'Higgins, MA LLB NZLACert, the first law librarian at the University of Auckland. Julia oversaw the separation of the law collection from the main library and created a separate Law Library to be known at a later date as the Davis Law Library.

"In New Zealand, in the late-'60s of the last century , the study and teaching of law began to change. One change was a switch from part-time study by the law clerk in a office towards his law degree. (A female law clerk was not common, at all. That was up for change, too). Full-time study on a tertiary bursary became the reality by the late '60s. The change in the teaching of law gave rise to more tools of trade –more books, casebooks, journals, "duplicated" materials, most kept for reference use only in the law library space.

In May 1963 , Arthur Geoffrey Davis (1899-1966) in his 20th year of service as Dean of Auckland Law School, presented to the Chancellor of the University at the capping ceremony 26 candidates as fit and proper persons to receive degrees in Law. (Among the graduands: B.C.Gould LLM 1st class Hons.; R.J. Sutton, Senior Scholar in Law. Janet Anne Williams was the one woman graduand in law). Up to 6 years part-time study in law would have been spent by most of those candidates.

They would have "kept terms" required by the University. They would have attended lectures offered by 8 full-time teachers (whose appointments dated from 1942, 1951, 1955, 1958, 1961 (2) 1962,). Each person capped LLB would have completed a course of study covering 19 papers (including 16 papers of law spoken of as: Civil Procedure, Commercial, Company/Partnership, Conflict, Constitutional/ Administrative, Contract, Conveyancing/Taxation, Crimes, Equity, Evidence, Family/Succession, International, Jurisprudence, Land, Legal System, Torts.

Words written on peace order and government in NZ – law reports, statutes, digests, texts – were held at the Law School Library. The various editions of texts authored originally by James Mitchell Garrow (1865-1935) while Professor of English and New Zealand Law at Victoria (1912-1934) were an essential to law student study. 33 titles of "Garrow/Garrow and..." issued between 1912 and the early '80s included editions on Crimes (7) Evidence(6) Personal Property (5) Real Property (5) Trusts (5) and Wills (5) . The 1960s saw 8 editions of "Garrow ands…" from Butterworths (NZ). (Garrow's original publisher was Ferguson & Osborn, Lambton Quay. Wellington, a skilful printing house, and a quality outlet for office supplies).

The rise in law student enrolments, numbers of law teachers, collections of law reports, commentaries and books during the 1960s led to a crush point. In 1969 the Davis Lawl Library at Auckland University became a 650m2 area in a new building. which also accommodated the law school on the floors above and below its law library. Dean J F Northey worked hard to support the needs of the law school –its teaching programmes, its research and publications interests, the development of its law library resources.

His timing was right – Australian law deans were at work on a similar policy, The Australasian Universities Law Schools Association (AULSA) met in conference at regular intervals (an Auckland graduate Dr Daniel Patrick O'Connell (1924-1979) was its President in the mid-'60s at the start of his stellar career as an International Lawyer). The Conferences ran meetings of Interest Groups. Law Librarianship was Interest Group. From contacts Dr Northey invited Igor Kavass, specialist law librarian, to survey and report on Auckland's law library needs. (Kavass was Monash's founding law librarian about to move to America to develop new law school libraries (including Nashville and Hawaii) and to work on establishing the IALL ).

In the Kavass Report (1968) Auckland Law School library was given a written statement to guide stock development, and a classification schedule (based on Monash law library's schedules) for common law and international law monographs. Existing book stock was re-classified then by Peter Skegg (Dean of Law University of Otago 1990-92). The schedules stayed the distance for some time. They absorbed growing areas in courses taught– Air Law, Criminology, Law and Society, Restitution, Rights Law, Dispute Resolution, Women and the Law are some examples. Funding for the Davis Law Library came from the University's Library Grant, and from the Spencer Mason Trust for a specific purpose – subscription to some parts of the US National Reporter.

Like developments were going on in other Australasian law libraries (tertiary, court, law societies) The basics of law librarianship were in place. In following decades contact between law library people in Australasia was maintained through ALLG Newsletter, and meetings at AULSA Conferences (NSW Victoria, South Australia) and through IALL Conferences at venues around the globe. Journals on our work got started. Information storage and retrieval systems got real.: the word automation had a ring to it; legal information facilities were going global in interesting ways. At the Dublin 1990 Conference of British and Irish Law Librarians, Mary Robinson, then Professor of Law at Trinity College, Dublin (and soon to become President of mIreland) spoke on the significance the Centre for European Law operating at Trinity College and the significance of on-line access to legal information to such a resource. AUSTLII was soon to debut; BAILLI following a little later.

The early days in law librarianship were closing. From the '60s to the mid-80s New Zealand law librarianship was done by hand – rotary dial, manual typewriter, cards filed in catalogue drawers, class-marks poker-worked onto book spines, books issued and discharged as desk copies. But wait there's more. The more is the quality of vitality and flair of so many who worked at the Law School library A summer team of four student workers (doing an annual check of bookstock) morphed – to an Associate Professor of Design, to a District Court Judge, to a Public Health Medicine Specialist, one a Senior Counsel at the Victorian Bar. Another of the Davis Law Library’s part-time staff became Prime Minister. Of the full-time staff some stayed in academic library work, others went to private practice libraries then starting to develop. Some went to Law Society libraries. So many were talented people successful in creative arts – novelists (2) makers of film and documentaries (3), a tambor recitalist and singer of ragas (1), a nationally successful artist, a Broadsheet staffer. Issues of the time - the anti-nuclear movement, the anti-Springbok tour, women's rights – claimed the commitment and energies of Davis Law Library staff members. Their input it was into law librarianship that animated the plans and development proposals and strategic schemes and made that resource significant and special."

November 2005. Julia McMahon O'Higgins

Victoria University of Wellington Law Library

"The library at Victoria College was established in 1907. .... A separate Law Reading Room was proposed in 1951 and operational by 1953. Miss Jean Plowman was appointed as Law Librarian in 1962..... The stock at that time was 8000 volumes. ... Miss Plowman retired in February 1986 after 21 years of service. During her time as Law Librarian the library gained a reputation for its specialised holdings in foreign language material, United States and Canadian material,as well as those of Australia and the Pacific Islands. The international law collection is particularly good. Exchanges were set up for journals - our own law review and the New Zealand Universities Law Review were used. Law Societies, practitioners and the American Council of Learned Societies assisted with some notable gifts.

Although [the library] was set up as a reference only collection, the Law Library customarily made its resources, both the collection and the staff's expertise, available to the wider legal community. This access was repaid by gifts of material and immense goodwill. The international collection and the French administrative law material was used to assist in New Zealand's Nuclear Tests cases and in the Rainbow Warrior affair. "

Notes from Mrs Heather Toebes, Law Librarian, 8 June 1990.

Heritage is also information development in New Zealand.


From the National Library was a tremendous creation for the time. Only a publicly funded institution could have assumed the risk. It lasted 10 years and it may have been the NDIS project difficulties that created the sale to Status Publishing.. The Government could not keep funding the losses.

1988 - Kiwinet was announced at the NZLIA (LIANZA) conference in Hamilton in 1988. The databases available were quite interesting. Newzindex, INNZ, the legislative material included the Parliamentary Bills, Parliamentary Questions and Hansard. The Court of Appeal decisions and the Scitec database from the DSIR.

1989 - The Briecase database was added as was LINX from the District Law Society libraries. The Datex commercial and stock exchange information database became available.

1990 - The Employment Law Index and the Planning Tribunal decisions were added. A Business Press database and Company Annual Reports were released.

1991 - The Commerce Commission database was made available. In 2007 we still do not have an adequate public version of this database.

1992 - The Independent newspaper database in full text and the Newstel database were both made available.

1993 - The Newspaper Index from the Parliamentary Library was added. AGIS from the A-G's office in Australia also became available. The NZ Trade Marks database was released as was the Historic Bills full text database. Interesting we have regressed so much. We do not have a historic Bills database at all in 2007 and many parties are still talking about it 14 years on.

1994 - This is the year The Knowledge Basket was launched.

1995 - The Parliamentary Bills Digest was added to The Knowledge Basket as was the ABIX database, an Australian product from RMIT. The NBR database was released. The full text NZ Acts and Regulations from Legislation Direct were released.

1996 - Competition from more and more web sites is appearing. Peter Scott, the National Librarian leaves. The NDIS joint Australia and New Zealand project is cancelled.

1997 - Chris Blake is appointed as CEO of the National Library. He was a career public servant and was obviouly there to contain the spending of the unit. The losses incured in the NDIS project made the demise of Kiwinet an inevitability. It was sold to Status Publishing in December 1997. Noted that Kiwinet kept the INNZ, FIND and KUPU databases. Three of the 35 databases previously hosted on this site.

The client group thought that Status Publishing would take over the whole suite of databases and become a substituted KIWINET. Status Publishing already offered 5 of the databases hosted on KIWINET so these were taken down. However, this company had to make the databases finally earn their keep. Only those which were used by subscribers were retained. Urgent submissions were made for the retention of AGIS and the Status directors agreed to a 3 - 6 month trial. The information buyers did not support the database so it was taken down. The information purchasers in New Zealand had to realise that commercial information providers are not charities. In 2007 that thinking still exists in some quarters.

A newspaper article of the time reported that KIWINET had 700 paying clients.

1998 - The termination and settlement of the NDIS contract.

1999 - Kiwinet and NZBN mainframe decommissioned.