Celebrating three specialist, purpose-designed and soon to be closed University of Auckland libraries. Photography by Samuel Hartnett, publication edited by Anna Miles  and Lucy Treep.

The Ex Libris exhibition and publication celebrate three specialist University of Auckland libraries designed as purpose-built learning environments to support education and scholarship in the creative arts. In June 2018 the University of Auckland Vice-Chancellor announced that these libraries would close and their collections would be consolidated within the General Library on Alfred Street. In this process, 45 full-time library staff will lose their jobs. The Elam School of Fine Arts, The School of Architecture & Planning and the School of Music & Dance will lose architecturally-designed libraries adjacent to their teaching spaces.

Photographer, Samuel Hartnett was approached to make a record of the three libraries. Ex Libris: Regarding Three Libraries, the publication that accompanies his exhibition reflects these places of “eureka discoveries and infinite possibilities,” including a history of each library, record of the specialist librarians who have tended them, and the action by current students in response to the imminent loss of these spaces. The contributors are Sait Akkirman, Rachel Ashby, Kathryn Aucamp, Sebastian Clarke, Warren Drake, Elena Lochore-Ward, Anna Miles, Victoria Passau, Nova Paul, Tim Sumner, Lucy Treep, Brian Flaherty, Raukura Turei, Stephen Turner, Linda Tyler and Jane Wild.

The three purpose-designed library buildings, built between 1962 and 1986, represent a spectrum of different architectural languages and visions. As Sebastian Clarke writes, “There is the modest 1960s structure that expanded and grew concrete fins, the open-plan pagoda designed in the 1970s, and the flamboyant piano of the 1980s that rocked Symonds Street”.

Intriguingly, Hartnett avoids the heroic architectural shot. In his carefully-pruned selection of 12 photographs, it is almost impossible to differentiate one library from another.

Hartnett’s photographs remind us of the private experience of public space — and that a precondition of ‘private experience’ is having time to spend in communal space. He is captivated by the human patina of these spaces. He finds clefts dug in the doors of the Architecture Library by passing fingernails; a patch of carpet reputedly rubbed out by the heels of a long-serving librarian; graffiti and crumbs in a carrel. Institutional banality is not omitted — the sequence features an overflowing pot plant stain on a filing cabinet. He unashamedly intermingles the sensuous and the bureaucratic.

This exhibition has been made on the basis of a question: How to photograph a library that is closing? Hartnett’s photographs allude to the “blissful” stretches of time students once spent in the libraries that were effectively curtailed by the 1992 advent of the student loan. 

What will be missed most is not the libraries but the cultural creation that they have enshrined. 

Ex Libris: Regarding Three Publications edited by Anna Miles and Lucy Treep will be available for $10 (including GST) from Objectspace.


Anna Miles is an Auckland art dealer who has worked as a critic, curator and lecturer. She opened her gallery in 2003 having decided it was more productive to be a champion than a critic. Anna is a graduate of the University of Auckland where she studied Fine Arts and English. She teaches part time in the School of Art and Design at AUT University. Anna has curated two previous exhibitions for Objectspace: Bespoke: The Pervasiveness of the Handmade (2006) and A Lace Life: The Alwynne Crowsen Collection (2008). Her most recent curated exhibition was Vanished Delft: Handmade Material Culture at the Pah Homestead 2017).

Samuel Hartnett is an Auckland photographer who specialises in architectural and art documentation photography.

He graduated from Unitec with a degree in photography in 2006.

Prior to establishing his own business, Hartnett was employed in a part-time capacity by the University of Auckland where he had responsibility for installing and documenting the University’s art collection. His 2014 photographic series, In Situ records the University art collection as it was disseminated on campus at the time. 

Ex Libris, Drip, 2018. Image: Samuel Hartnett.

Ex Libris, Sarah’s Hair, 2018. Image: Samuel Hartnett.

Ex Libris, Fringe, 2018. Image: Samuel Hartnett.