Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Establishing the NSW Public Library system

in D E Stevenson, Andrew Carnegie & public libraries I talked about the public library cut-backs that had occurred in the US and UK. Since then there have been two stories I wanted to comment on: one was a press release from the Local Government and Shires Association of NSW - NSW Government library funding is well overdue, say councils ; the second a story on the UNSW Library - Books get the shove as university students prefer to do research online.

I will do that later. In the meantime, in my original post I promised to provide some material on the history of the establishment of the public library system in NSW. This follows. It is an excerpt from my original PhD thesis, a biography of David Drummond who was then NSW Minister for Education.   

"In 1937 public library systems throughout Australia were woefully inadequate.[1] The New South Wales system can be taken as typical, for it was certainly no worse and in some cases was better than those existing in the other states. There was one state library in Sydney, the Public Library of New South Wales, which was not in fact a public library in the normal sense of the word, but a reference library. This attempted to serve the whole state, despatching books direct to country readers, including the small country schools. Considering the size of its collections and the range of services provided, the Public Library was probably the worst housed of all the state libraries.

Outside the Public Library there were only two libraries which even began to approach the municipal libraries common in other countries, the Sydney Municipal Library which was funded by the City Council alone but which attempted to serve the whole metropolitan area, and the Broken Hill Municipal Library. Elsewhere the population was serviced only by commercial subscribing libraries or by libraries maintained by Mechanics' Institutes or Schools of Arts; these last provided limited collections to subscribers often more interested in the billiard-room than the library. The situation was worse for children: judged by overseas standards, there was not an acceptable children's lending library in the whole country. Beyond the problems of books and facilities was that of trained staff. Trained librarians were rare, and indeed in the medium size towns and suburbs, the School of Arts' librarians often acted as combination librarian, billiard marker and janitor.

Drummond became interested in the problems of the State library system during his first term.[2] Early in that term he discovered that the Government made a grant of 6,500 pounds to support libraries other than the Public Library.[3] However, he was astonished to discover that of this, 50 per cent was allocated immediately to the Sydney Mechanics' Institute, and a further 25 per cent to the Manly School of Arts, leaving only 25 per cent (of which Newcastle got half) to be distributed amongst Schools of Arts throughout the rest of the State. As a strong new stater this distribution struck Drummond as being 'unutterably unfair', and he determined to do something about it as soon as it was politically feasible. His opportunity came in 1929-30 when, under the growing influence of the Depression, the Treasury requested expenditure cuts. Drummond promptly cancelled the grant.

By this action, Drummond left the majority of the State's library system, imperfect as it may have been, without any form of Government support. His problem, then, was to find a new way to support and reshape the system, particularly in country districts. In this regard, Drummond was now convinced 'that unless you could tie the libraries in the country to the local government authorities... you'd get no vitality, no life, no real interest and the whole thing would be on an attenuated hand out.'

In 1934 the Carnegie Corporation appointed Ralph Munn, the Director of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburg, to carry out a survey of Australian and New Zealand libraries.[4] For his Australian study, Munn was joined by Ernest R. Pitt, the Chief Librarian of the Public Library of Victoria. Their report, published in January 1935, was a devastating indictment of the library system throughout Australia. The problem had arisen, they suggested, because most Australians knew nothing about a modern library system. Their solution was a system of rate or tax supported public libraries.

The publication of the Munn-Pitt report provided Drummond with an opportunity to develop his plans. These involved a three-tiered library structure. At the apex would be the Public Library which would act as a central repository for reference material that was either rare or required on an irregular basis. Then there were to be regional libraries, which would hold relatively large book stocks, could borrow from the Public Library, and would on-lend as required to the smaller libraries. Finally, there would be local libraries. The Government would pay all the costs, as before, of the Public Library, would finance the regional library buildings and would subsidise the running costs of the regional and local libraries with local government providing the balance.

With a state election to be held on May 1935, Drummond was able to persuade the Government to accept his proposals in principle. In his policy speech the Premier announced that extensions would be carried out to the Public Library. He went on:

This is the first step in a scheme to bring proper library facilities to every important centre in the state. We propose to establish a system of regional libraries, based upon this extended public library system.[5]

Following the elections, Drummond set out his proposals in a fourteen page minute, starting with the principle that the 'development of an adequate free library serving the people of N.S.W. is the natural corollary to the system of free and compulsory education'.[6] However, no formal government action had been taken on his recommendations by the time he went overseas.

While Drummond was developing his plans, a new movement, The Free Library Movement, emerged dedicated to the free library cause.[7] Over the next three years, the Movement mounted a sustained campaign (funded in part by a grant of 25,000 dollars from the Carnegie Corporation to the Australian Council For Educational Research) that grew in intensity and sophistication. An office was opened in Sydney, branches were formed in various parts of New South Wales, a press propaganda campaign was organised, a series of booklets was printed supporting the cause,[8] and sister organisations were formed in Victoria, Tasmania and Queensland.

Drummond gave active support to the growing Movement. His trip report provided ready ammunition to free library campaigners. He was guest speaker at the Movement's second general meeting in March 1937.[9] In April he spoke at a public meeting in Wagga called to form a branch of the Movement; the first president was the Major, Drummond's old friend H.E. Gissing.[10] Then in August he spoke to the Annual Conference of the Federation of Parents and Citizens' Association of N.S.W. at Goulburn.[11] Other Government ministers joined Drummond in his campaign: E.S. Spooner, the Minister for Works and Local Government, told the 28th Annual Conference of the Association of Local Government Clerks that the establishment of good libraries would be a municipal service of the very highest order.[12]

With the Free Library campaign well underway, Drummond's problem was to find a way to capitalize upon it. In June 1937 he announced the appointment of a Library Advisory Committee to inquire into the library system, the means by which it might be extended, and to draft any necessary legislation. The new Committee's report was effectively determined in advance. Its chairman was W.H. Ifould, the Principal Librarian at the Public Library. As with many of his senior officers, the working relationship between Drummond and William Ifould was extremely close.[13] Ifould, who had been given copies of Drummond's papers prior to his appointment, accepted Drummond's general approach, and the two men collaborated in the Committee's appointment. Again, those selected could be expected to favour Drummond's position. Alek Hicks (who was vice president of the Free Library Movement) once more represented the Departmental interest, while of the remaining five members four were connected with the Movement.

While the Committee studied the general problem, Drummond took preliminary steps towards the solution of a related problem, the lack of school libraries and of trained school librarians. Early in 1938 the State Library ran a vacation course in librarianship for forty country school teachers. This was followed in February by a special course for eleven newly graduated teachers who were then appointed to schools as teacher librarians with special authority to introduce modern library methods.

In December 1938 Drummond released the report of the Library Advisory Committee. Its recommendations followed the approach set out in the Pitt-Munn report and developed in Drummond's memorandum.[14] It recommended that a system of shire and municipal libraries should be established, that these libraries should be subsidised by the state, that regional libraries should be introduced, and that the State Library building should be completed as soon as possible. To supervise the new system, the Committee recommended that a Library Board should be created. The Report was an immediate best seller, with a print-run of over 5000 just to meet pre-publication demand. On 18 January 1939 Cabinet approved the Report's recommendations and decided to introduce legislation to give effect to them;[15] this legislation, duly passed later in the year, was the first such legislation in Australia: it was quickly followed by similar Acts in other states. Cabinet also decided to establish immediately a training school for librarians.

With the passage of the legislation, responsibility for libraries passed to the Library Board and its new chairman, Geoff Remington. Their task was a substantial one, for they had to persuade local government to adopt the program. 'They worked extremely hard', Drummond later recalled, 'to get this sold to the local government people'.[16] These efforts were largely successful. However, the Board - and Drummond - did suffer a major setback. The growing financial problems associated with the war led the Government to delay proclamation of part of the legislation.[17] It was left to the new Labor Government to proclaim the remaining sections. Even then, part of Drummond's plan remained in limbo, for his proposed regional library network was not established.[18]"

[1]The description of the New South Wales library system is drawn from: R. Munn and E.R. Pitt (with an introduction by F. Tate), Australian Libraries. A Survey of Conditions and Suggestions for their Improvement, Australian Council of Educational Research, Melbourne, 1935.

[2]Unless otherwise cited, the description of Drummond's views and activities in this area is taken from the Interview Transcript.

[3]This amount is drawn from Report, p.21. The Interview Transcript gives the sum as 6,850 pounds.

[4]The material in this and the next paragraph is drawn from: Free Public Libraries, The Free Library Movement, Sydney, 1936.

[5]Cited in Free Public Libraries, p.18.

[6]Minute of 12 September 1935. Cited Cooke, 'Ministerial Influence in Education', p.384.

[7]Details on the history of the Free Library Movement are taken from: the Report of the Council of the Movement for the years ending 31 March 1936, 1937, 1938 and 1939. (In Mitchell Library Sydney); the introductions to the Free Library Movement, Constitution of the Free Library Movement with an Introductory Note and A Model Branch Constitution, second edition (1936), third edition (1938), The Free Library Movement, Sydney; Free Public Libraries, The Free Library Movement, Sydney, 1936; G.C. Remington, The Free Library Movement, New Century Press, Sydney 1937; and G.C. Remington and J. Metcalfe, The Free Library Movement 1935-1945, New Century Press, Sydney, 1945.

[8]See, for example: E. Salter Davies, Libraries and Citizenship. Extracts from a Public Lecture delivered at Canberra under the auspices of the New Education Fellowship, Free Library Movement, Sydney, 1937; I.L. Kandel, The Free Library Movement and its Implications, The Free Library Movement, Sydney, 1937; C. Hartley Grattan, Libraries: A Necessity for Democracy, The Free Library Movement, Sydney, 1938.

[9]Second Annual Report of the Council.

[10]Third Report of the Free Library Movement.

[11]Quoted ibid.


[13]For descriptions of the relationship between the two men see Interview Transcript and Cooke, 'Ministerial Influence in Education', p.384, footnote 7.

[14]The recommendations are set out in Remington and Metcalfe, The Free Library Movement, p.3.

[15]Cabinet Documents, 10 January to 31 May 1939, New South Wales State Archives, Premier's Department, 9/3031.

[16]Interview Transcript.

[17]See Cabinet Meeting 3 April 1941. Cabinet Documents, 18 October 1940 to 10 April 1941, New South Wales State Archives, Premier's Department, 9/3035.

[18]Interview Transcript.


Anonymous said...

Jim I think it was a very fine, and very practical, thing that Mr Drummond was able to advance.

My only comment is re your words "... Library Advisory Committee. Its recommendations followed the approach set out in the Pitt-Munn report and developed in Drummond's memorandum."

Why is it always seemingly necessary to have an inquiry; a minister's memorandum; another inquiry?

This is not criticism, except of the soul destroying repetitive approach to all things "governmental". I dunno how Drummond had the patience required; he's an absolute Saint.


Jim Belshaw said...

Hi KVD. DHD used inquiries quite deliberately as a way of testing ideas, more of gathering support. Sometimes he waited too long.

This was a different world. With a break in the middle, he was an activist Education Minister for thirteen years. That's a long time!

He had his own firm ideas, but had to get things through at a time when NSW was emerging from depression. In his first pre-depression term, he mounted what he called a raid on Treasury. In the second period it was just harder.

Jim Belshaw said...

Actually, David, I should write something on that.