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In celebration of 125 years since women gained the right to vote, we are sharing the stories of inspirational and trailblazing New Zealand women.
Recently I was asked to write about Enid Evans, the first professional librarian employed at the Auckland War Memorial Museum (from 1946 to 1970). Although I didn’t know much about her, I was aware of Enid as her name comes up whenever we talk of the history of the library and in relation to a number of notable collections acquired during her tenure.
As I’ve delved into our museum archives, I’ve discovered a wealth of material that demonstrates her skill and professionalism; and the enormous network of colleagues, researchers, local and family history enthusiasts she was in contact with over her working career.
Her warm and approachable manner created a welcoming and relaxed atmosphere in the library – much appreciated by all who visited. Her subject knowledge was drawn on constantly when giving talks to groups and societies.
Some of her favourite and always well-researched topics being early Auckland, early New Zealand women and how they lived, New Zealand writing before 1860, the 19th Century New Zealand novel, the Selwyn’s, and attitudes to women in New Zealand before the vote’
- Thwaites, 2015.
In a time before the internet and easily searched digital indexes, Enid created access to the growing library collection through the manual indexing of early colonial newspapers, books vital to researching the history of early Auckland and the letters and manuscripts of early missionaries and others.
She used her knowledge to write, publishing articles in the New Zealand Herald and the Auckland Star as well as contributing to the Encyclopaedia of New Zealand (McClintock, 1966) and the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography (Evans, 1998, 2010).
Enid was also instrumental in a number of important acquisitions to the library collections; some examples - in 1952 the Edward Earl Vaile collection on the exploration and discovery of the Pacific, and the Dudley and Robertson collection of drawings by Charles Heaphy.
Image: Enid Evans. Permission granted for resuse by I.G. Thwaites
The Women’s Archive, donated by Enid Roberts, was also accepted into the collection and actively developed by Enid with volunteers from the Auckland branch of the National Council of Women. Over 5000 entries were created about New Zealand women from all walks of life.
In 1969, Enid accepted a significant donation from Wilson and Horton Ltd which became the core of an important national collection of early New Zealand newspapers dating from as early as the 1840s. These included the New Zealand Herald, Southern Cross, Weekly News, New Zealander, New Zealand Herald and Auckland Gazette, Auckland Times and the Auckland Chronicle amongst others.
Enid’s successor, Ian Thwaites, sums up the impact of her extraordinary career beautifully.
‘…Enid and Auckland Museum Library were synonymous. She was one of New Zealand’s first women chief librarians, for in those days it was a male-dominated career path. Despite pitifully small staff numbers and a modest salary, Enid built the museum library to the point where it eventually became recognised as one of the country’s leading historical research libraries… to rank with Alexander Turnbull and Hocken libraries.’
It was unfortunate and I’m sure as a great loss to the Museum when in 1970, at only 56, Enid had to retire for health reasons. She lived on till 97, and died in 2011.
Enid was a leader in her profession, despite the fact that most of the chief librarians at that time were men. She was an exemplary role model, teaching trainee librarians and contributing actively to the Museums and Library sector. This was recognised in the many awards she accumulated -
Image: Enid Evans, 7th from right in the second row. PH-RESOS-192 N.Z Library Association-1945 Conference, Wanganui
Collections Online - Enid Evans
Cite this article
Legel, Paula. 'Enid Evans, Librarian Extraordinaire', Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira, Published: 23 08 2018.