New database a rich repository of NZ non-fiction
Bridget Williams Books
Pricing on request
This is not your ordinary book review: the subject is not a book, with its quaint paper pages and old-fashioned front and back covers, but a collection of books, a library with digitised pages and electronic access. In other words, the subject of this review is a platform, or the BWB Collections, a new digital database "combin[ing] some of New Zealand's finest non-fiction narratives to provide a powerful new platform for reading, research and education."
Built as a database, the BWB Collections are ordered according to subject. The first collection to go live is the Treaty of Waitangi Collection, a rich repository for New Zealanders who want to read or research our history, with the next two collections scheduled for release within the next month (they are the BWB Text Collection, a catalogue of BWB's exciting Text Series, and the Critical Issues Collection, a list of titles on contemporary subjects)
For many, this may feel like the future of publishing. The Collections do not exist in your hand – unless you are accessing them from a phone or tablet – instead the product is online, available at home, at work or on the train or bus. There is no need for a bookshelf, only a username and password. And who needs libraries, you might ask, when you can access everything you need to know about, say, the Treaty of Waitangi, from an online database?
This is a common juxtaposition – digital work is rendering the page and the library obsolete — but it seems to misread the social role the Collections play: the Collections do not replace paper books or the library, but add to them. The Collections are a database, not a meeting place like a library, and work best when reading instrumentally, like researching a legal case, writing an essay or presenting to a history class. Particular pieces of knowledge are easy to search for (life is as easy as CTRL F) and the presentation is crisp. The screen cannot quite reproduce the feeling of a page, but the interface is clear and simple – exactly what a busy reader needs. That said, it is worth noting that you cannot download books in the Collection for reading offline (there are plans to implement a read offline feature in the future).
As a professional researcher and writer, the Treaty Collection is invaluable. It holds all of the essentials, from Claudia Orange's masterpiece The Treaty of Waitangi to lesser known, yet no less useful, titles like Janine Haywood and Nicole Wheelan's The Waitangi Tribunal. But at the same time, the Collection is interesting simply as a reader. Knowledge about some of the most important and dramatic parts of our history is just a click away. Reading has never felt this easy, but it may take some time to get used to.