Death of former Hocken Librarian, Michael Hitchings, 1924-2010

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Joanna Paul (1945-2003), M.G. Hitchings, Hocken Librarian, 1965-84, March 1985, pencil on paper: 422 x 296mm, accession: 85/7, commissioned by the Hocken Library to appear on the cover of the 1984 Annual Report.

Hocken staff were saddened to learn of Michael Hitchings’ death on Friday 19th March. We record our appreciation of his contribution as Hocken Librarian from 1965 to 1984 and his ongoing support of the Hocken. We join his family and friends in mourning his loss.

The Hocken Library Annual report for 1984 published an appreciation of Michael’s work “RETIREMENT OF MICHAEL HITCHINGS. The retirement of Michael Hitchings on 30 June 1984 as Hocken Librarian marked the end of an era for the Library. His service was noted by the Hocken Library Committee at its meeting on 28 March 1984 in the following terms.
“The Committee notes Mr Hitchings’ decision to retire at the end of June 1984 with regret that he will be leaving the position of Hocken Librarian and gratitude for his achievement in that position since April 1965.

Mr Hitchings’ early career included meteorological work on Campbell Island before he became involved with research libraries in the field of New Zealand and Pacific studies. He worked briefly in the Library of the Auckland Institute and Museum, and from 1956 to 1965, with two interruptions, in the Alexander Turnbull Library; the interruptions were to take a Commonwealth Library Fellowship at LeHigh University, Pennsylvania, and to work as a New Zealand Government Historical Manuscripts Officer in London. From 1963 to 1965 he was Assistant Chief Librarian of the Alexander Turnbull Library.
Mr Hitchings was therefore well prepared to take the post of Hocken Librarian in 1965. Dr Hocken’s original gift had by then been developed into a notable collection, thanks to the foresight and devotion of two University Librarians, Mr J. Harris and Mr F Rogers, and the careful work of Mrs G Strathern, who was appointed assistant in charge of the Hocken Library in 1952, and her assistant Mrs L. Rodda, but its potential as a resource for research in many fields relating to New Zealand and the Pacific was understood by few people. The growth of advanced studies and research had only just begun, and there was only limited appreciation of the value to a university of a research collection of this kind.
It became Mr Hitchings’ task to build up the collections of the Hocken Library, to develop its services to scholarship, and to find, train and preside over the specialized staff that was needed. During his librarianship the collection has grown enormously. In his annual report for 1968 he said, “Total accessioned items now number 36,000, but the true holdings probably approach 40,000 for there are many unaccessioned volumes of newspapers, unbound periodicals and archives.” At the end of 1983, the number of “volumes in stock” totalled 131,000, and there were in addition 2587 metres of archives and manuscripts, 85,000 photographs, nearly 6,000 pictures, and many other items.
This accumulation of material has been essential, if somewhat embarrassing. The use that it is put to by increasing numbers of scholars depends not only on its existence but also on the work of the Library’s staff in organizing it and helping readers to use it. The Hocken Library stands very high in the scholarly world, to the great credit of the University of Otago, and this is due to the hard work and professionalism and the scholarly understanding of Mr Hitchings and his staff.
The achievements of the last nineteen years have not been gained without problems. The move to a new building, necessitated by the growth of the collection, was a difficult experience; and the services so avidly used have been provided under conditions of severe restraints on staffing. To a large extent, however, the Hocken Library’s problems have been caused by its success.
Mr Hitchings contribution has been enhanced by his involvement with the New Zealand Historic Places Trust and similar bodies and by his close association with scholars and creative artists. He is known by these to be a man of principle and of great integrity in the handling of material entrusted to the Library, and the Library has gained from this knowledge. His honours, the MBE, and the Fellowship of the New Zealand Library Association and of the Art Galleries and Museums Association of New Zealand, would have caused no surprise to those who have benefitted from his work.”

Hocken Librarian Sharon Dell reports, “Late in 2009 Michael and his former wife Maureen Lewis donated a collection of almost 115 art works and related hand printed books and catalogues to the Collection. The works reflect their long interest in the creative arts and their close relationships with writers and artists. Stuart Strachan and I had a Christmas lunch with Michael and as I left him my last words were to thank him again for the gift. “You know how much it means to us don’t you?” I said. He looked at me directly and deliberately and said “Yes, I do.”
I left him content that he was aware of our appreciation and the importance of the enduring contribution he has made to Hocken’s collections and research into New Zealand’s creative life.

Three Hocken Librarians at lunch: Sharon Dell, Michael Hitchings, Stuart Strachan, December 2009.

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About Anna Blackman

I'm Head Curator Archives here at the Hocken Collections and one of my tasks is to maintain this blog.

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