State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 80 Spring 2007


From the Editorial Chair

This number completes forty years of continuous publication - thirty years as the La Trobe Library Journal and subsequently ten as The La Trobe Journal.
The Journal was initially conceived as a way of supporting and promoting the La Trobe Library — the Australiana collection of the State Library, which was housed in a specially built wing from 1965 to 1990. Its scope broadened following the closure of the La Trobe Library as a separate administrative unit, the move away from exclusively Australian material being strikingly exemplified in 1993 by the handsome double number (Nos. 51 and 52) devoted to medieval manuscripts. Although Australian content still predominates, since then the content of the Journal has been as wide-ranging as the collections of the Library. With its continuing emphasis upon scholarship and the sources of scholarship to be found in the various collections, the Journal now supports and promotes the whole State Library as a research centre.
Once a journal is established, societies often find it difficult to maintain the level of commitment and enthusiasm with which it was first produced. The small group who formed the Friends of the La Trobe Library were fortunate to have the distinguished historian Geoffrey Serle as a driving spirit. He was responsible for setting up the Journal, and undertook the editorship for the first ten years, as well as holding executive positions in the society. What he established so effectively was carried on by a succession of editors, many of whom were members of the Library staff prepared to volunteer their time and their talents. That tradition has continued, with librarians helping to edit the Journal as well as contributing articles, and in all sorts of ways supporting the work of those from outside the Library. Over forty years some names have recurred fairly often, but the contributors are increasingly diverse in their backgrounds and specialities, their common interest being in what is to be found in the Library.
A comprehensive history of the State Library in the second half of the twentieth century is yet to be written. The historian who reads through the archives of the Friends will discover the depth of concern in the society for the future of the Library during one of its bleaker periods and the determined efforts made to stimulate public support and encourage enlightened government policies. The name of the society had been changed to the Friends of the State Library in 1984, but in 1998 that name disappeared, as the society merged with the State Library of Victoria Foundation and its activities were taken on by the new organization. In establishing the Foundation in 1994, the Library had recognized that in order to grow and develop it had to seek continuing private and corporate funding on a scale hitherto unattempted.
As readers will be aware, over the past decade there has been a renaissance of the State Library, and it is not too much to claim that a new era has begun. The La Trobe Journal (as it became on the Foundation's assuming responsibility for its publication) is part of that
renaissance. Thanks to the greater resources of the Foundation, it has been possible to increase the size of the Journal and aim at a high standard of presentation; and at the same time there is a larger readership and an increasing range of potential contributors. The introduction of the State Library Creative Fellowships has helped the growth of the Journal, with almost every number containing at least one contribution from someone who has held a fellowship. It thus reflects the status of the institution as a research centre, but it may also be said to have contributed to that status, representing as it does a public commitment to scholarship. With the whole file of the Journal now available online — there is a two-year interval between the publication date of an individual number and its appearance online — the potential readership is vastly increased, which means that it will in future be even better known both in Australia and abroad. Future historians will surely see The La Trobe Journal, now established as a significant and central element in the profile of the Library, as a valuable legacy of the Friends and a vindication of their faith.
To mark the occasion, in this number we are looking back to the early years of the La Trobe Library, the Friends and the Journal, not to indulge in nostalgia but to give the readers of today some sense of the distance that we have come, of what has been achieved. There is plenty here to jog the memories of older readers, and perhaps also catch the interest of those who have only recently joined the Foundation and have not known of the earlier period. One hopes, too, that there may be enough to persuade an aspiring researcher or two that the La Trobe Library and the Friends are both deserving of full historical studies.
In 1998 the title of the Journal was changed because it seemed anomalous to refer to the La Trobe Library, which no longer existed as a separate entity. The unintended effect of the change has been to shift the emphasis to the man after whom that library had been named. The State Library has the largest collection of material relating to C. J. La Trobe, who is certainly a major figure in the early history of Victoria. Articles on La Trobe have appeared in the Journal from time to time, and the research continues, with further contributions in this number.
Local history has been a recurring theme over the past forty years. It has seemed appropriate that this number, which celebrates the achievement of those people in Melbourne who founded the Journal, should concentrate on the history of the city.
Finally, a personal note: it is now time for me to give up the editorship, and I want to express my warmest thanks to all who have assisted and encouraged me, in various ways, over the past ten years. My assistant, Sandra Burt, to whom I owe special thanks, is also retiring. I am pleased to announce that my successor will be John Arnold, who has already had a long association with the Journal — in fact, the first copy that I ever saw was the Henry Lawson Issue (No. 28) which he and Frances Thorn compiled. Gregory Kratzmann, recently retired from La Trobe University, will be guest editor of No. 81, which will focus on themes of medieval interest.
John Barnes

Forty Years On: The Library and the Journal

The La Trobe Library Journal, which began in 1968 under the editorship of Geoffrey Serle, was a logical outcome of the desire of the Friends of the La Trobe Library to support and strengthen the Australiana section of the State Library that had opened in 1965. The aims of this dedicated and very active support group founded in 1966 were ‘to publicise the Library, to attract financial support for it, to help fill gaps in the book-collection, and to encourage the donation of manuscript and other material.’
The contents of the first number, consisting of 16 pages, indicate the very practical value of the publication for anyone interested in Australian history, and the history of Victoria in particular: ‘Victorian History 1850–1900: A Guide for Research-Workers and Book Collectors. Part 1’ (Geoffrey Serle); ‘The Redmond Barry Papers’ (P. A. Ryan); ‘Portrait of William Buckley, Attributed to Ludwig Becker’ (Marjorie Tipping); ‘Select List of Additions to the Australian Manuscript Collection 1965–1967’.
The Journal drew the attention of would-be researchers to areas worth investigating and encouraged potential donors of material. By No. 5 (April 1970), Friends were being ‘earnestly requested’ to refer to newly appointed Manuscript Field Officer Patsy Adam-Smith ‘any leads they may have to material in private hands and to ponder over enquiries she might profitably make’.
Some account of the La Trobe Library and the Friends is given in the 1991 double issue (Nos. 47 and 48), which appeared after the Library had been closed. The articles collected here — mostly informal memories — are not intended to offer an assessment of the institution or to canvass the arguments for and against having a separate Australiana library. With their focus on people rather than systems or policies, they evoke the atmosphere and suggest what the library meant to those who staffed it and those who used it over the 25 years of its existence.
‘A man will turn over half a library to make one book’, Dr Johnson once remarked. That is something both scholars and librarians know full well; and scholars know how much they owe to the keepers of collections of books. All of the contributors to this section have worked in the State Library as librarians or individual researchers and sometimes both. Librarians and those who support libraries tend to be unsung heroes at best, and the achievements of patient workers are all too often forgotten in this age of instant celebrities. In a personal memoir Marjorie Tipping — the same Marjorie Tipping who had an article in the first number of the Journal — reminds us how dedicated individuals by their efforts can influence cultural history. One such individual was Tristan Buesst, the first President of the Friends of the La Trobe Library, of whom Wallace Kirsop writes. Forty years on, it is fitting to record what Tristan Buesst and his contemporaries have contributed to the making of the State Library as we know it today.