History of the Macmillan Brown Library - Macmillan Brown Library - Library - University of Canterbury

History of the Macmillan Brown Library

Origins and history

The Macmillan Brown Library was established as a separate collection within the University of Canterbury Library in 1935, when it was received as a bequest from John Macmillan Brown (1846-1935), who had been one of the University's foundation professors (1874-1895). John Macmillan Brown was a distinguished scholar and academic administrator who developed his interest in Pacific peoples and became a well known author. He left the bulk of his fortune to the University to fund the Macmillan Brown Library and the Macmillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies.

Brown had developed a large personal library (c.15,000 items) which was left to the University in its entirety. It reflected his professional interests in English literature, classics and history, but in his long 40 year retirement he strongly developed its coverage of the literature of New Zealand and the Pacific generally. At the same time he travelled extensively through the Islands, nearly every year. Because he was able to spend lavishly, the New Zealand and Pacific section of his library contains much of the classical - and now very valuable - original 18th and early 19th century literature covering the arrival of Europeans in New Zealand and the Pacific, and much 19th and early 20th century Pacific anthropology.

The Macmillan Brown Library has from 1935 been administered as the University's special New Zealand and Pacific Islands collection, although the will gave the University power to add to the original bequeathed collection generally. The will specifically authorised what has been the subsequent concentration on New Zealand and the Pacific Islands and the library's separate identity.

Brown stipulated that the core focus of his endowed library and research centre was to be "the philology, anthropology, ethnology and racial movements and developments, past, present and future of the peoples inhabiting the islands of the Pacific Ocean" and "the peoples, products and problems" of these peoples and "the sympathetic investigation and research of the history, traditions, customs, laws and ideas of the peoples of the Pacific generally".

The separate name and location of the Macmillan Brown Library stem from Brown's original bequest for a separate building (abandoned as a goal to be supported by the estate under an act of parliament in the 1980s) and from the instruction that it should be known as "the Macmillan Brown Library". The policy of permanent retention stems from his injunction that his library should be kept "at all times intact" and "in good condition".

The original library to which additions might be made included large collections of general European history, English and Classical literature, and the anthropology of other parts of the world. The Local Legislation Act, 1941, no.47 empowered the University Library to place materials covering these non-Pacific subjects that were in the original bequeathed library in its borrowable collections, now in the Central Library, providing they were identified as being from "the Macmillan Brown Library." This was done in the 1940s, leaving the Macmillan Brown Library from that point to consist mostly of New Zealand and Pacific Islands collections and to be developed with that concentrated focus.

There were large collections of general New Zealand literature in the original library, and these have been faithfully maintained and developed in the spirit of the will, expanding in size and gathering significant research supporting strength as publishing in New Zealand expanded from the 1960s. John Macmillan Brown's stated purpose in providing a generous ongoing endowment was to "keep [his] library up to date and in good condition" with a "preference" for the Pacific component. In the context of similar specialist area-specific libraries both within and outside New Zealand, the term Pacific has always been understood to include New Zealand. This reflects the geographical and ethnological reality that Aotearoa is the largest island group within Polynesia. This inter-connectedness of Māori and other Pacific Islands' peoples and cultures has been consistently reflected internationally in scholarly discourse, and also internationally in the libraries and museums which have documentary or artefact collections supporting that scholarship.

From 1935 until 1985 Pacific Islands' materials were not bought nor systematically added to the library, partly because while Brown's daughters lived the endowment income was very small, and partly because the Centre itself could not be established until Brown's family legacies came to an end. There was until the mid 1980s minimal interest in the Pacific among university departments at Canterbury. Once it was clear the Centre would be established, back buying of Pacific material was vigorously pursued for several years, made possible by the more generous funding of that time. The Library has been closely associated with the Centre from the time that was eventually established in 1988, and between 1993 and 1997 provided the Centre with quarters in its own space, to foster mutual development. Since 1998 it has been located in the Te Ao Mārama building with the Centre and the Māori Department. Space has also been set aside in Te Ao Mārama for the proposed Ngāi Tahu Research Centre, with which the Library is closely linked. The Library continues to be administered by the University Library, which supplies nearly all its infrastructure: staff, building and equipment, and from 1935 to 2003, most of the funding spent on developing collections.

A further distinctive feature of the Macmillan Brown Library is its collections of archives and manuscripts, photographs and works of art and other unpublished materials. These have been added to Brown's own bequest of a large collection of his own manuscripts and papers, in fidelity to the main tradition of special research librarianship, where a basic principle is that independent research leading to contributions to knowledge depends on having access to primary materials, and cannot be supported by publications alone. These critically important unpublished collections include Pacific materials along with New Zealand materials.

This concentration of research supporting resources of all formats in one area-specific collection reflects Brown's core intention that his Centre and Library might be "for the sympathetic investigation and research of the history, traditions, customs, laws and ideas of the peoples of the Pacific generally". It is this special character that led to the establishment by Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu of their Tribal Archivist on the staff of the Macmillan Brown Library, following the deposit in it of their corporate archive.


Both Macmillan Brown Library and Macmillan Brown Centre share the same substantial endowment funding from the Macmillan Brown Estate. Both are fully integrated into routine university administration and receive funding from general university resources to supplement the endowment. The Macmillan Brown Centre has rapidly developed as one of the most important research centres at Canterbury, reflecting the University's clearly defined focus on Māori and Pacific Islands interests as one of its strategic goals, and in line with government policy. 

Each year the University receives revenue from the Macmillan Brown Trust which is managed by Perpetual Trustees. The amount received is shared between the Macmillan Brown Library and the Macmillan Brown Centre. In previous years part of the money given to the Library was made available for the purchase of Pacific material and the remainder was deposited in a separate reserve trust fund. New Zealand books and serials for the Macmillan Brown Library were then funded from the Library's general funds. The MB reserve fund was closed in 2001 for legal reasons and we are unable to continue depositing money in it. The balance of the reserve fund is now approximately $500,000 and the interest received is used to supplement staffing costs in MB. All of the Library's allocation of trust money received from Perpetual Trustees is now deposited into the Library's collection budget and used to fund both New Zealand and Pacific Islands books for the Macmillan Brown Library. Serials for Macmillan Brown are funded from the general fund.

In the 1990s as the Pacific Islands element in university teaching and research expanded, requiring for the first time since 1935 effective support from the Macmillan Brown Library, the library's share of endowment income has not been sufficient to cover every one of its subject responsibilities in sufficient depth to support research. The decision was therefore taken in 2003 to continue supporting the Māori collection from the subject allocation made available to the Māori Department by the University Library.