Alice Minchin was the first professionally qualified woman librarian in New Zealand becoming the Librarian at Auckland University College from 1918 to 1945.
Alice was born on 5 November 1889 in Waihou, Hokianga. In 1906, she was given the opportunity by relatives to attend Bath High School for Girls in England and gained London Matriculation in 1908. On her return to New Zealand, she attended Auckland Training College to become a teacher. She taught in several country schools until 1915.
Alice then changed careers to become a cataloguer under John Barr at Auckland Public library. In 1917 Alice answered an ad from Auckland University College and became the University’s first full-time librarian. The job involved cataloguing, shelving, office work and managing the borrowing of items. In 1926, after part time study, she gained a Bachelor of Arts from the University.
In 1931 the Carnegie Corporation offered grants to university libraries to increase their book collections and improve staff training. They provided a fellowship to a recognised library school for one year to enable libraries to manage the sudden acquisition of books. Alice was given the opportunity to study in the United States along with other New Zealand librarians. Alice gained a bachelors degree from the University of Michigan School of Library Science in 1933, the first woman in New Zealand to receive a degree in librarianship.
Early advocate for pay equity
Back in Auckland, Alice had to prove herself, unlike her male colleagues. She was underpaid compared to other University College head librarians. Once qualified, Alice was meant to be paid at the same rate as a lecturer, then £400 per annum, have the status of head librarian and be in control of the library. The Council was reluctant to agree to this, even though it was a condition of receiving the Carnegie grant. They wanted to gradually increase her powers and status, claiming that she would be unable to cope with the sudden increase in responsibility. Alice had organised and ran an efficient library on approved methods with a well-classified and catalogued collection and the Library Committee finally convinced the College Council in 1936 that Alice should receive the salary, authority, and status due to her.
Alice retired in December 1945. She went on to spend a year as a senior lecturer in at the New Zealand Library School in Wellington. Alice never married, and when her sister died, Alice took on the responsibility of bringing up her children. Alice Minchin died in July 1966 at the age of 77.
Joanne Rowan, Scholarly Content Adviser
Enid A. Evans. ‘Minchin, Alice Ethel‘, Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, 1998.
Olive Johnson. The true university: A short history of the University of Auckland Library 1883-1986. University of Auckland Library, 1988.
Joanne Rowan. ‘A history of the first two University of Auckland Librarians, Alice E. Minchin, 1918-1945 and Fredrick Arthur Sandall 1946-1969.’ MLIS, Victoria University of Wellington, 1999.
Feature image: Alice Minchin with two other library staff members, Enid Evans and Joyce Gray. Photographer unknown. University of Auckland Library Special Collections MSS & Archives Vault 21.