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Ninth Australian Library History Conference: collections, characters and communities.

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Around 30 delegates attended the Ninth Australian Library History Conference on Friday 26 and Saturday 27 June 2009 at the Swinburne University of Technology's Prahran Campus, Melbourne. The conference was jointly hosted by the Mechanics' Institutes of Victoria http://home.vicnet.net.au/~mivic/index.htm and The Centre for the Book http://arts.monash.edu.au/cftb/ at Monash University.

The conference was launched the evening before with a reception at the State Library of Victoria, followed by the annual Foxcroft Lecture. Titled 'Carnegie Down Under: A century of the Dunedin Public Library', the lecture was delivered by the former National Librarian of New Zealand, Dr Mary Ronnie. Dr Ronnie has had a long and successful career in New Zealand libraries and was also Head of the Graduate Department of Librarianship, Archives and Records at Monash University.

The papers delivered at the conference reflected one or more of the themes for the conference--collections, characters and communities. Speakers came from Australia, New Zealand and the United States. Several papers continued the Foxcroft Lecture's theme of the Carnegie Corporation's influence in Australian library development; others focussed on individuals who were at the forefront of Australian library reform in the light of the Munn-Pitt report, including John Metcalfe, Geoffrey Remington and W.H. Ifould. Two papers looked at aspects of special librarianship: the development of the GRATIS inter-library loans system used by medical and health libraries and the history of the Australian Law Librarians' Association.

The history of the Mechanics' Institute was another popular subject. Several speakers, me included, are researching these subscription libraries and their close counterparts, such as literary institutes, art schools and athenaeums. A comprehensive, mapped history of Melbourne's private circulating libraries showed how many had survived well into the 'free public library' period, outliving almost all of the Mechanics' Institutes that once featured in almost every Australian town. I spoke about the Braidwood Literary Institute and its subscribers.

Among the most interesting papers (not that any were not!) were those that focussed on unique libraries or collections, such as the 'bush book clubs' that operated for decades in remote rural Australia; the library of the Supreme Court in Victoria and conflict between two of its high profile users, Redmond Barry and Robert Pohlman; the Cosme Library, founded by William Lane, in the New Australia settlement in Paraguay; and the collection of Lord and Lady Casey housed in the Berwick Mechanics' Institute.

Another highlight of the conference was a visit to the Prahran Mechanics' Institute, http://www.pmi.net.au/ located next door to the conference venue. The institute is one of only a handful of Mechanics' Institutes that have managed to adapt and survive in the modern free public library scene; this one specialises in Victorian local history and has built an impressive collection that is available for inter-library loan.

Just as Australian history is no longer dismissed as boring, uneventful or unimportant in global terms, the range of papers delivered at the Ninth Australian Library History Conference showed that Australian library history deserves greater recognition of its contribution to the wider study of world library history.

Andrew Sergeant, Reference Librarian, Information Services
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Author:Sargeant, Andrew
Publication:National Library of Australia Gateways
Article Type:Conference news
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Aug 1, 2009
Words:529
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