State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 73 Autumn 2004


State Library of Victoria Photographic Unit. Bust of Redmond Barry by Charles Summers. Photograph taken in Cowen Gallery 2004.


Brian Hubber
Leading by Example: Barry in the Library

Le bon Dieu est dans le détail
Gustave Flaubert (1821–1880)


Redmond Barry was a dominant personality during the founding years of the Library, and he continued to be involved with its governance and operation until his death in 1880. He maintained a belief that the best way to achieve a prosperous civilised society was to cultivate in its citizens, through the standard books of the time, the ‘character of the loyal well bred English gentleman’. The Public Library was not intended ‘to attract the idle and inquisitive or to entertain the frivolous’; rather it was intended to stimulate ‘intellectual culture’ and to elevate the general public taste.
To Barry's eternal credit (in the mind of this librarian at least) he was not a mere amateur or dilettante but did possess a ‘ferocious energy’. In the 1850s, the management of a large reference library was not the exact science that it is today. Barry took it upon himself to lead by example, and so was quite prepared to immerse himself in the minutiae of the Library's operations. In 1853, while plans for the Library building were still on the drawing board, he prepared the list of foundation book purchases, which he transmitted to the Agent-General in London. He also developed a sophisticated colour-coding scheme for the Library's bindings, designed to make searching and re-shelving so much easier. In fact, throughout his time at the library, Barry was concerned with the quality of the Library's bindings. His commitment even extended to rolling up his sleeves on the eve of the Library's official opening so that he could help unpack and shelve the books.
This paper, then, should be read as a tribute to Redmond Barry - for his obsessive nature, for his attention to detail, for his pushy, autocratic qualities, and for his inspiration. However, rather than concentrate on some of Barry's great achievements, I have taken the opportunity to recognize Barry's greatness in a number of smaller, perhaps more arcane subjects.

The library's catalogues and how the books were arranged

In 1854, following Barry's letter enclosing the list of foundation book purchases for the Melbourne Public Library, the Agent-General contracted the London bookseller, J.J. Guillaume, to be the Library's supplier. It was arranged with Guillaume that each consignment of books sent to Melbourne should be accompanied by a printed list. These inventories were published as small pamphlets and listed the books alphabetically by author and title. Their primary purpose was to ensure that the Library received all the books listed and for which it was paying. In the early years, the inventories were probably also useful as a bibliographic record of the Library's collection, even though they did not classify the books or indicate a location on the shelves.
Early visitors to the library did not use the Guillaume catalogues. The plan of the Library and the physical arrangement of the books obviated the need for a classified catalogue. The reading room was rectangular with alcoves on the long sides. Each alcove contained books relating
to a particular subject, and to aid the reader, a panel printed in large gold letters indicated the subjects of the books. Subdivisions were indicated by smaller labels on the shelves. As well, there was a manuscript Bay Catalogue of the works in each alcove. Thus the reader was furnished with a full account of the subject matter of the entire Library collection.
Of course, the Library's classification scheme, largely the work of Augustus Tulk, did contain anomalies. The Argus of 1868 was gracious enough to point out that Fisher's Three Years in China was in the ‘Voyages’ section while McPherson's Two Years in China was under ‘Asia’. It is clear, then, that the librarian's knowledge of the collection was crucial in helping readers find their books. Tulk himself was a gifted linguist, fluent in Greek, Latin, French, German, Spanish, Dutch, Italian, and could get by in Russian, Hindustani, Fijian and several Australian Aboriginal dialects. His obituarist tells the story of an occasion when Tulk was asked if a particular Bible was in the Telegu language. Tulk replied that it was in Amharic and then proceeded to find Bibles in Telegu and Sinhalese in order to demonstrate the difference.
The first comprehensive Library catalogue was published as a book early in 1862 - even though the date on the title page is ‘1861’. Five hundred pounds was set aside for its compilation and production, and Barry ensured that a great deal of thought and care was put into the design of the work. The typographical organisation of the bibliographic entries is exemplary, and the book is decorated throughout with more than 70 woodcut engravings after designs by artist and landscape architect, Edward La Trobe Bateman, the cousin of Governor La Trobe. La Trobe Bateman's original engraved blocks are still to be found in the Library's Picture Collection.
The 1861 catalogue is divided into several sections, including a lengthy preface giving information about the development of the Library, an author listing of more than 27,000 works, a section entitled ‘Globes Charts Maps Surveys’, a catalogue of the Lending Library, and a subject index. Subsequent book catalogues followed this same pattern.

Augustus Tulk [ca. 1860-ca. 1873] Photograph. H4691. La Trobe Picture Collection.

It is important to note that while the catalogue was obviously an important tool for the operation of the Library, an aid to both the user of the Library and to the librarians, it was also the means by which further donations were sought and the Library's profile raised. These presentation copies were often large paper copies, printed in a combination of red and black, and specially bound in green or red morocco leather inscribed in gilt. The 1862 catalogue was distributed to editors of colonial magazines and newspapers who had donated files of their publications, to the heads of government departments, and to various VIPs, including the governor, the former governor, and the colonial secretary. Barry was very active and successful in soliciting library donations on the basis of the catalogue.
In its early years, the Melbourne Public Library grew at such a rapid rate that a supplemental catalogue was published only three years later in 1865, describing a further 11,000 titles. Indeed, a printed insert in the 1865 Catalogue indicates that even while it was in press, a further 5,450 volumes were added to the collection.
The next comprehensive catalogue was the monumental two-volume work of 1880 - a work which described more than 109,000 titles. For this, Barry wrote an extended essay on the Library's development, his last such piece before his death that same year. The 1880 Catalogue went a long way in impressing upon visitors to the great International Exhibition of that year that in a single generation the city of Melbourne had developed into a great and civilised metropolis - one that could boast one of the finest libraries in the world.
The 1880 Catalogue was the last of the great book catalogues published by the Melbourne Public Library. After Barry's death cataloguing and shelving practices changed considerably. By the 1880s, the Library was expanding at such a rapid rate, that the traditional book catalogue could not cope. In the Rare Books Collection there is still a copy of the 1880 catalogue that is bound with blank leaves so that descriptions of new books can be included. This working

Seal of the Melbourne Public Library. Print: wood engraving. 5 December 1870. Illustrated Australian News IAN05/12/70/208. La Trobe Picture Collection.

catalogue also includes the fixed locations of each book. In Barry's day, books were simply returned to their alcove and shelved, but from 1881 each book had a fixed location which was noted in the book itself and in the catalogue. These fixed location numbers consisted of three digits, indicating the alcove, the shelf, and the place on the shelf. This practice has a very long history.
The interleaved book catalogue, however, is very unwieldy, and so the dictionary card catalogue was introduced in 1891. Many readers will remember the card catalogue. It was still in public use in the early 1990s and now resides in the Library's basement - a stately source still required for unravelling particularly knotty provenance and bibliographical questions.

Seals and mottoes

In his letter of December 1853 to the Agent-General, Barry gave explicit instructions on how to bind the books. In particular he instructed the bookseller:
That each volume have stamped, on the outside of the Cover, with neatness and regularity ‘Melbourne Public Library’ with a design similar to that enclosed, which he will cause to be well and neatly engraved, the stamp being sent with the books.
Unfortunately, the enclosure has not survived, but the motto was certainly the one with which the library's readers are so familiar - that is, ‘Delectant domi non impediunt foris peregrinantur’ (a delight at home and no impediment abroad). Guillaume uses the same motto on the title page of his first printed catalogue of 1854, and we can also demonstrate that he carried out his instructions with regard to the seal by referring to books that came out in the first consignment. For example, The Art Union for 1846 (the volume containing W. Fox Talbot's famous calotype) was in Guillaume's first consignment. It is bound in red morocco leather and green cloth and is gilt stamped on the front cover with the library's seal and motto.
The motto itself comes from Cicero (Pro Archia Poeta, cap.7). The full quotation is as follows:
Nam ceterœ neque temporum sunt, neque œtatum omnium, neque locorum; et hœe studia adolescentiam alunt, senectutem oblectant, secundas res ornant, adversis perfugium ac solatium prœbent; delectant domi, non impediunt foris; pernoctant nobiscum, perigrinantur, rusticantur.
[a delight at home, and no hindrance abroad; they are companions by night, and in travel, and in the country.]
Obviously, with Barry's classical education he would have been familiar with the Cicero, but perhaps the motto was suggested by its appearance in an essay entitled ‘My Books’ by Leigh Hunt, first published in 1824 but anthologised many times in the nineteenth century.
The design of the seal is prosaic - a shelf of books to designate a library! - and is very similar to the first, very plain seal of the University of Melbourne, for which Barry was also responsible. The seal with motto has been used on generations of book stamps for the Melbourne Public Library, the Public Library of Victoria and the State Library of Victoria, and is also to be found decorating the La Trobe Street entrance to the Library, a building which dates from 1951. The motto by itself is an element within the art nouveau stained glass windows which decorate the stairwells in the west and north links of the domed building. The Library's architect, Norman Peebles, designed these windows, and they date from 1910.

Gold stamp of the Melbourne Public Library. Detail of Art Union 1846, London. ∗SF 705 AR 7]. Rare Book Collection.

Gold stamp of the Melbourne Public Library. New Testament. British and Foreign Bible Society, 1849. This edition in Samoan. Presented to the Melbourne Public Library by the Society on 6 January 1862. ∗S 225.599613 L9. Rare Book Collection.


Stealing books

As has often been recognized, Barry's library was a very liberal institution for its day, providing free access to all over the age of 14 years without the requirement of any written reference. Such liberalism was seen to be risky, and the security of the books in the public library was a concern right from the outset. From the library's opening day in 1856, Edward Washfield, the Library's porter, was assisted by a constable at the entrance during opening hours, and later in the century, retired constables were considered to be very suitable attendants.
Concern for the security of the books led to the adoption of an ingenious method of identifying the Library's books. The practice was described by Barry as follows (and one can just imagine Barry's legalistic mind mulling over the problem):
But a yet more complete means of proving property is secured by inserting at a particular place on a page, or on more than one, a letter in any language, a character or symbol, which is also registered in the stock book. In the case of a prosecution for larceny the assistant who made the entry in each is called as a witness, and, although the volume may have been completely altered in appearance, rebound, and all traces of other marks expunged by acids or otherwise, this minute emblem will remain to be recognized.
Given the complexity of this procedure, I did have doubts about whether it was ever used, but upon checking the stock books I found that there was indeed a column for ‘Number and Mark’. Inserted against many titles was a number (the page or folio number) and a mark of a few letters (usually the initials of the author). For example, the stock book entry for Alberti's Descrittione di tutta Italia (Bologna, Giaccaroli, 1550) is annotated ‘117 F.L.A.’ - where ‘F.L.A.’ = Fra Leandro Alberti. Upon checking the book itself, I found ‘F.L.A.’ on folio 117. Barry makes mention of this practice in the library's 1870 annual report and again in an address to the International Conference of Librarians in London in 1877, so the practice must have been in operation for some time.
It is not known whether this scheme was effective, but it is true that in the 1860s some 13 men were convicted of stealing books from the Library. Most received prison sentences of 3 or 6 months, but Joseph Smith got two years for stealing 28 books and then trying to sell them to the Ballarat West Mechanics' Institute. Perhaps some of these convictions turned on the secret identification of the books.
Although the loss of books through theft was minimal, there appears to have been political pressure to tighten up procedures at the Library. In 1870, however, the Trustees under Barry's leadership felt it was important to maintain the policy of complete freedom in the use of the Library, a policy which has always been one of the institution's most marked characteristics.

Travelling Libraries

Redmond Barry's conception of the Melbourne Public Library was as a national reference library. Fairly soon after its foundation, however, there was pressure to make the library's collections available to the country and outer metropolitan areas.
In April 1859 the Trustees resolved that 500 volumes would be purchased for circulation among the libraries and mechanics‘ institutes of the inland towns. By 1860 the system of ’Travelling Libraries' was established, although it serviced only those libraries within 10 miles of
the Melbourne Post Office. By 1867, however, the system had been extended to the whole colony. The service was greatly appreciated: at its height in the 1880s 120 cases containing more than 8,000 books were circulated to 42 libraries.
The cases themselves were substantial things, made of oak, bound with brass, fitted with strong handles and lined with green baize. The books fitted snugly on the shelf so they ‘are not allowed to suffer from friction in travelling’. Each case contained about 60 books and weighed more than 100 Ibs. It was closed with a sliding door, on the inside of which was a list of the contents. Each case was covered with a waterproof tarpaulin to protect it on its journey. When placed back to back on a table and the doors removed the cases served as open bookshelves.
The books themselves are also of interest. They were purchased especially for the ‘Travelling Libraries’ and very often were duplicates of books already in the reference library. Like the cases, the books were sturdily presented, being bound in full green morocco leather with gilt spine and marbled endpapers. As with all books acquired in these early decades, the Library's seal was stamped in gilt on the front board. However, the motto was slightly different for books in the Travelling Libraries. The original motto ‘Delectant domi non impediunt foris peregrinantur’ has the word ‘rusticantur’ added. So the whole motto now reads in English ‘A delight at home and no impediment abroad while on the road or at rest in the country’. ‘Rusticantur’ is a clever allusion to the main purpose of the ‘Travelling Libraries’, which was to make the Library's books available to the country districts.
[The above article is an abbreviated adaptation of a talk by Des Cowley and Brian Hubber given as part of the ‘Talking about Treasures’ programme for 1998. The content is based on a number of sources, the most important of which are as follows: E.L. Armstrong's two chronological histories, The Book of the Public Library, Museums and National Gallery of Victoria 1856–1906 (1906) and The Book of the Public Library, Museums and National Gallery of Victoria 1906–1931 (1932), Redmond Barry's prefaces to the various library catalogues, including The Catalogue of the Melbourne Public Library for 1861 (1862), The Supplemental Catalogue for the Melbourne Public Library for 1865 (1865), and The Catalogue of the Public Library of Victoria (1880), and Richard Overell, ed., Early book purchases in the Melbourne Public Library: Redmond Barry's instructions to the Agent-General, December 3rd 1853 (1997).]