Librarian Christine Kiddey retires this week after 26 years at the National Museum and Te Papa. “The length of my time here is just about equivalent to Te Papa’s formal history – the Museum of New Zealand Act was 1992,” she says. “However, I think Te Papa will far outlast me!”
Here, Christine chooses her favourite rare book – and it’s possibly an unexpected one: Atlas to Accompany the Tertiary history of the Grand Cañon district.
I love the way the illustrations, by William Henry Holmes, portray the sense of infinite space and mystery, which is still there now. I’ve been to the Grand Canyon, but the usual bits that everyone goes to. There are still vast areas of it that most people will only ever see in photos. Google Grand Canyon images and you’ll see all those huge empty vistas.
I also admire the skill of the artist. He was making the pictures as a scientific record (imagine doing those thousands of tiny stratigraphic lines) – but they’ve transcended their recording function and become works of art.
‘You never know what’s going to come up next’: On 26 years at Te Papa
The library has moved around a bit. When I started in 1992 it was in a custom-built building at the back of the old museum (built to absorb the Royal Society library in 1991).
We moved to the fifth floor at Te Papa a bit after it opened, then down to the fourth floor where we were open to the public seven days a week for several years. That was always interesting, because you never knew what people were going to ask you.
Then we moved to our present location, and I relocated to Tory St, where I’m mainly looking after the Science and Conservation people.
One of the best things about working here has been the range of subject material. You never know what’s going to come up next.
The first day I started we went over to the main building for morning tea (you could just about fit everyone into the tearoom at that stage). One of the first people I met was then-Curator entomology Ricardo Palma, and he was talking about head lice being found in an ancient Egyptian comb. I remember thinking that this was going to be a whole new sort of job experience (I’d been at Defence before that).
The late Cheryll Sotheran once said of working at Te Papa that you may be frustrated, but you’ll never be bored, and I think that sums it up pretty well.