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THE ATHENAEUM., Southern Cross, Volume 14, Issue 50, 23 February 1907
(To the Editor)Sir—A gieaera'tion has passed since the Invercargill Athenaeum wan established. and during the greater part of the time which has elapsed the question of the Athenaeum’s final status has been frequently discussedMany people have maintained the opinion that its constitution requires that it should be a public institution in the real meaning of the word “public”—that is to say, free to the whole people. Taking this view, they have been contentr so far, to regard the present system under which it- has been carried on for thirty years, as a merely temporary one. In the early days of a colony there is something to be said in favour of the plan of requiring a locality invoking- the aid of the State to show its earnestness in the matter by putting its own shoulder to the wheel. The town and district did shoulder the wheel when they required an Athenaeum, with the result that they received a handsome endowment from the State in return for their efforts. “Times- change,” says the proverb : “we also change with them.” With the growing prosperity of the country these endowments continually increase in value. The Athenaeum grows rich, in fact, and the real question is whether this wealth is being used to all the good it is capable of doing. Now the position of the town and district have undergone some important changes in the course of the past thirty- years, as all who know them as they were then and are now-, will admit. Instead of a mere handful of townsfolk ami local residents, nil more or less acquainted with one another, we have a new class to deal with. People of all sorts and conditions are led to take up their residence here who neither know nor Care to study the traditions of thirtyyears ago. It is perhaps a mortifying- reflection, but none the less a true consideration which must accept forgetfulness of past benefactions as characteristic of th- human race in general. Rather one would advise such of the old benefactors of Invercargill who still remain (and we are glad to know that many yet survive) to turn their faces to the rising sun ami rejoice in the promise of to-day. Such a man Mr Roche seems to be, judging from the motion he brought forward at the Athenaeum's last general meet ing. He thinks that the time has now come for making the reading room a free one. and such an opinion from a man who never strays in the direction of hasty or careless innovation should carry weight. 'No result can of course be expected from addressing either the committee or the subscribers. who cannot, strictly speaking, be regarded as anything- else than defendants of things as they are. It would bo hardly generous to quote the old doctrine that an institution never reforms itself without at the sametime remarking that it is very rarely its proper business to do so. Whatever the committee or the subscribers think individually, they must, in such a matter, be acted upon from outside. Therefore, as a proof that the townsfolk really are in earnest, a public meeting ought to be called. Any body could do this, as well as the Mayor, because in order to take ing action in the future it would be be quite needless to call a show of hands in the first instance. Let the nucleus or ball be made, and as it is rolled about it will grow. Supposing this course to be taken. let us briefly state what would be the line of argument most likely to prevail with anyone, whether he chance to be at the moment an insider or an outsider.
In the first place we should consider that Invercargill lias now ceased to be a village, and is interested in giving its residents tin. 1 fullest knowledge of what is goihg on in tint world. A free reading room is a sort of intellectual lighthouse. and the satisfaction we derive from rendering our harbour a safe anchorage is ®f the same nature with the 'desire we should feel in rendering the. town a pleasant place to live in. As it is there is no resting place in the town for anybody unless he is prepared to pay for it. Although there is no doubt that visitors to the Athenaeum are received and treated with every civility, people will not as a rule put themselves under an obligation so long as they can avoid doing so. A shopkeeper invites you to call and inspect his wares, assuring you of a welcome whether you buy or not. But we do not suppose that be ealeu-
lates running his business on the lines of a free show, and so very likely we decline his offer. Neither is th© Athenaeum averse to receiving as much in the way of subscriptions as it can get, and everybody supposes as much. Subscriptions, moreover, do not affect everyone in an equal manner. A man with nothing to do, who spends all his time in reading, may- make the place serve as his club, and spend his whole waking existence- in it for the same amount as that paid by another who, having a variety of interests in other quarters, hardly visits the place, unless in its neighbourhood, at very- rare intervals, while he is well-known to everyone to be a resident of the town. A third, perhaps, pays his subscript. Lou as a matter of usage, and is never seen in the place at allOthers —and they are naturally most —take care to have nothing to do with it at all, ami so escape all liability, while forfeiting a gratification which should always of right stand invitingly accessible. These inequalities might be tolerated were the reading room a self-supporting affair. but i t is not ; so that those who stand i-eckonv-d as non-subscrib-ers and mere outsiders forfeit their share of the State's benefaction to give elbow-room to those in more favourable circumstances.
The Young Men's Christian Association 'deserve thanks for their offer to provide a free- reading room. Per- 5 sonally we do not object to receiving favours oven at the hands of a sect 1 . Put like most people we would rather not re-st nuclei - an obligation beyond our power or inclination to requite. The Athenaeum is rich in endowments —the Association is not rieli, and has to lie sel It supporting. In the case of being unable to support itself and the reading room, it must either appeal to the public at some future time or cut the cable.. In that event the town will be in no better case at the finish than at the start- Moreover. the Athenaeum question is ime which -both it and the general public are interested in having settled. The Ordinance of the old Provincial Council, under which the Athenaeum was originally constituted. manifestly contemplated certain developments and contingencies. Those we must not at present discuss. or to what body the management might be transferred, though perhaps the broader basis of -the County Council would bo found most generally acceptable. All that need be said is that those who think the lime ripe for giving the town a free public reading room should take counsel together and set about the work in a businesslike maimer—not by appealing to the Athenaeum corporation. but- by -discovering the opinion of the public ilse-li. Pot that be ascertained, and then a short Act of Parliament will do the rest. Yours, etc., ADVA.VCP INVKUCARGILL.
THE ATHENAEUM., Southern Cross, Volume 14, Issue 50, 23 February 1907
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