Actio 5.2 – “For All Who Read: The State Library of Tasmania and its Resources” (1955)

 

For Actio 5.2. I’ve chosen to examine a primary source to analyze how it reflects library history, how it aids in understanding the particular time period and how it illustrates themes or movements in library history.

Checklist:

Primary Source Material (2 points)

Library Connection (2 Points)

History Connection (2 points)

(Professional Connections (2 points)

Link or Attachment to Resource (1 point)

High quality reply (1 point)


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“For All Who Read” is a 1955 informational film produced and sponsored by the State Library of Tasmania. It depicts the training of staff, the operations of the library and its services, and offers a window into life in Tasmania in the 1950s and the role played by libraries in Tasmanian’s lives. To analyze this text, I examined it using the frame provided by Miroslav Kruk’s essay, “Carol Kennicott’s dilemma”, which compares the history of two former British colonies (The U.S. and Australia) to understand the history and current state of libraries in those countries. To explore general themes in library history, I also examined the film using Alexis McCrossen’s 2006 article from Libraries & Culture, “’One Cathedral More or ‘Mere Lounging Places for Bummers’? The Cultural Politics of Leisure and the Public Library in Gilded Age America.” Themes from library history discussed in this article, such as the reforming impulse towards “uplift” and tensions between “high” and “low” culture and the role played by librarians in mediating culture were helpful in unravelling meaning from the narration and images of the film.

 

 

 

In this film, the realities of mid-twentieth century life in this relatively isolated island state in Australia are evident, as are the historical and philosophical currents that contributed to this former British colony as a nation. The pragmatism and utilitarian nature of that history which pitted transported convict settlers against a rugged environment, and a dependence on Great Britain for cultural and political models, are evidenced in the entire short film, from the accent of the announcer (clipped upper class British), to the emblem of the state at the end, which is clearly derived from British royal imagery. Currents in library history in general are also on display in this film, such as tensions between meeting public demand for popular entertainment and emphasizing “uplifting” practical instructional materials, and the understanding that libraries play a role in democratic societies to educate citizens, and “shape tastes of…patrons (Battles, p.120.)” The latter is described by Battles as “the Promethean impulse” of the nineteenth century librarian, who pities readers and envisions the mission of the library as a transformative place enabling “reformation of culture and society (p.120.)” The same, “anxieties about idleness” and “aspirations for uplift” Alexis McCrossen identifies in her article about the formative Gilded Age and Progressive eras which were so powerful in shaping American libraries can be found in the discourse of this film about libraries in this remote outpost of the British Empire in the 1950s (McCrossen, p.170.) In particular, what McCrossen identifies as the adoption of reformers of the “civilizing function” of public libraries (p.173), which they took as, “their mandate…to meet the public’s demands” with a, “goal…to improve, indeed to shape its tastes (p.174).”

Before launching into the analysis of the film, I’d first like to review  some information about the locale this film is set in and concepts presented by Miroslave Kruk about library history in Australia, and Australian culture and history.


Snapshot of Tasmania and its History

(Images from Tasmania article on Wikipedia)

 

 

Tasmania is an island state in Australia. Its capital is Hobart. Tasmania is a rugged and remote place with a history and legacy of colonial brutality towards indigenous people and harsh conditions faced by convict settlers. It is also filled with natural beauty. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, in the twenty first century it is the poorest state in Australia, with a shrinking population and is regarded as somewhat insular. It is known for its production of hydroelectric power and the beauty of its landscape, which can be quite rugged, resulting in the population being concentrated to the, “northern and the southeastern regions (Encyclopedia Britannica.)” Indigenous Tasmanians suffered greatly during the colonization period and were exploited physically and sexually by the European/British colonists. They also suffered from diseases introduced by settlers. In 1831 surviving native Tasmanians were relocated to Flinders Island for their own protection from settler hostilities and violence, but returned in 1847. Convicts transported from the UK also endured intense physical and repressive social conditions. In the twentieth century, prosperity in Australia benefited Tasmania through the 1970s and 1980s; in the 1990s however, the economy declined. By the beginning of the twenty-first century economic conditions improved. A growing ecological movement gained traction in society, producing the “Green Party” that opposed the exploitation of natural resources. At this time, the Aboriginal movement also grew, raising awareness of an emerging ethnic and cultural identity of mixed race people of Aboriginal and European decent. Modern transportation and communication have made Tasmania less insular and isolated.


Libraries Tasmania

 

 

According to the “About Us” page of the Libraries Tasmania website, the first library in Australia was built in Tasmania in 1825. Tasmania was the first state with an, “integrated library and archive network”. They, “provide modern library services that are accessible and inclusive” and “welcome people of all ages, interests and needs.” They also operate Archives Tasmania, which preserves the history of the state. The “For All Who Read” film is available for viewing on this website as well as YouTube.

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Libraries in Australia According to Kruk

“Libraries do not exist in a social vacuum. Their goals reflect the structure and aspirations of societies in which they function. (Kruk, p.49.)”

In “Carol Kennicott’s dilemma” Miroslav Kruk writes that for libraries in Australia, “its beginnings are marked by the need to survive in a harsh environment by a group of convicts and marines whose only aspirations was to return to England (p.53)” Further, he observes that the lack of an idealistic foundation myth like the United States’, and the reality that the nation began as a penal colony, make necessity rather than an idealized philosophical vision one of its core pillars. Despite this, Kruk argues that progressive Enlightenment ideals impacted the worldview of future Australians and their libraries, particularly characteristics such as skepticism, irreverence, liberalism, economic self-interest, and a hostile attitude towards organized religion (p.53). Comparing Australia to the United States, also a former British colony, Kruk observes that unlike the U.S., Australian culture is “derivative”, arguing that its political system and social culture are still deeply attached to the mother country (p.54).

With this lens in mind, Kruk asserts that the history of Australian libraries is the history of British colonial libraries. The dependence on English culture depressed interest in native Australian literature and indigenous literary works. British mechanics libraries, whose “purpose” was “to elevate the working class to a higher cultural level” (p.54) were influential but ultimately failed to take root in Australia. Kruk concludes that the “demise” of these imported institutions was, “due to the limited enthusiasm for moral elevation among the users (p.54).”

Kruk asserts that the ideology of Utilitarianism dominates Australian culture and is “visible in Australian libraries” (p.55.) After analyzing Australian libraries and situating them in the context of Australian culture, the author criticizes the emphasis on entertainment versus instruction as demonstrated by the composition of the collections, arguing for more, “intellectual boldness” in the theorizing about what libraries are for.

For All Who Read: A Breakdown

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State Library of Tasmania in the 1950s

The film begins with images of the state capital of Tasmania, Hobart, and of the State Library of Tasmania, which is depicted as bustling with foot traffic from happy patrons. Jaunty music plays as the narrator says, “Here in Hobart is the headquarters of the State Library of Tasmania, a building very familiar to the people of the city and the surrounding countryside.” According to the narrator, the library is,

“Filled with books and with people, and the exacting job of helping one to find the other. Here books are tools, implements to be used when a problem is to be tackled, a key to relaxation and leisure when a busy day’s work is over, a stimulant that adds good taste and grace to living. For the library staff to library books are tools to be known thoroughly and minutely, to be used wisely and well. Much time and care are taken to see that the staff know these tools perfectly and are able to use them efficiently to help others.”

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Staff training

The emphasis on utilitarianism Kruk argues is a foundation of Australian identity is on display with the framing of books as tools to solve problems, and to be used to relax after work is done. This sentence also illustrates the long held anxieties about the dangers of  fostering idleness in libraries, a fear that it might be just a “mere lounging space for bummers” as discussed by McCrossen. The imagery at this point is very interesting. A man is shown consulting a technical book, choosing a tool and repairing an electronic device. Another man “relaxes” after work while still wearing his three piece suit by reading a book by the fire.

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Books are constructed in this discourse as literal and figurative tools to be used to solve problems.

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An Australian man in a business suit “relaxes” after work with a good book.

 

 

The following idea, that library resources can be a “stimulant that adds good taste and grace to living” speaks to the librarian impulse to “foster culture” as discussed by McCrossen. In this way, this introductory section of the film illustrates, “the cultural politics of leisure” that formulates the role of the library and the librarian as an arbiter of culture and a civilizing influence. To illustrate this theme, the next sequence after the man repairs the electronic equipment depicts a woman who reads a book about art history, then the image of her holding the book dissolves  into a copy of the painting hanging on her wall.

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The patrons depicted in the film are serious  minded and diligent, as well as hardworking. They include a military man, a serious older student wearing a school uniform, and an older lady who dresses so formally for a visit to the library that she actually wears a hat and white gloves. A young man is shown using a reference work on fishing lures to make one. A researcher uses the microfilm reader, a stamp collecting child studies his stamp book, a woman knits while consulting her open knitting book, and a serious minded group of well dressed “young people” relax by smoking cigarettes and drinking from sherry glasses as they listen to classical music. The titles of the books  used to illustrate the collection speak to the pragmatic and uplifting nature of the library’s mission. For example, they offer titles on architecture, business, careers, science, productive hobbies like gardening, and high culture such as ballet, and finally moral instruction on religion.

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The emphasis on practicality and pragmatism cannot be overstated in the discourse of this short film. Both the literal aspect of the obstacles presented by physical location in terms of the mainland and the rest of the world, and in terms of the Tasmanian landscape and weather, and the ways in which people are depicted using materials for practical serious or semi-serious  pursuits and not totally frivolous entertainment.  Even leisure reading is constructed as a self-improvement exercise that benefits the nation. Hobbies like knitting produce a sweater, pottery is the most practical of arts, and children located in towns far from urban areas are served by a bookmobile staffed by a librarian who, helps the children find “books worth reading.” This emphasis on practicality is further illustrated by the sequence in which some surveyors go to the library to identify a boundary line, then are shown in the field surveying the land, and in the depiction of enthusiastic attendance of screenings of documentaries that are supposed to instruct rather than entertain.

 

Narrator:

“But with non-one is demand for books greater than with children. As far as possible, to no one who can read is the service denied. Who they are doesn’t matter, what they read does. Here particularly are the librarian’s experts trained to understand children, to know children’s books and children’s view of life. (Montage of school children with books and librarians.)

For those who can’t get to the library, well the library goes to them. If near to the city of Hobart, by bookmobile visiting the more distant schools of (unintelligible region) where a librarian trained especially for work with children helps and advise and introduces books worth reading. All children throughout the state have the same library services of books.

“For All Who Read” is an informative short film. It is designed to inform the public on the services and purposes of the State Library of Tasmania. But it also constructs understandings and meanings of the library in its depictions, while also reflecting the society that created the library itself. The film highlights how well it serves the widespread populace through bookmobiles and library outreach to hydroelectric plants, and remote manufacturing parks, as well as isolated rural people in the countryside. The patrons are depicted as enthusiastic about using the services and materials, not simply for enjoyment but for practical activities that benefit the larger social group.

One aspect not previously discussed is the narrative surrounding staffing and training of the library in regards to gender. Women librarians are mostly depicted as “subordinate” to administrative staff that are men, a theme of library history that predates even Dewey’s documented desire, “to define the profession down (Battles, p. 144).” The women at the State Library of Tasmania in this film act as service providers, caregivers and clerical staff, while the men design the buildings, offer expertise, lead the meetings, and give instructions to rural branches on bookmobile vehicle selection and so on. (One woman does lead the training seminar however.) It is worth noting that not a single aboriginal person is present in this film.

 

 

 

“For Those Who Read” is only eleven minutes and forty-nine seconds long, but a thesis could be written dissecting the ways in which it illustrates long standing themes and issues in librarianship, from the mission of “uplift”, to tensions between high and low culture that librarians from the Gilded Age until today wrestle with, to the depiction of gender in staffing.  In terms of the specific setting in Tasmania, the utilitarian philosophy that motivatess Australians as described by Kruk is extremely clear in the frames used to depict how patrons use the resources they choose (or are at least depicted), as are the realities of the physical island itself, which requires bookmobiles and interlibrary loan services to get materials from the outside world and mail service to deliver  to patrons who are too distant to travel to the library itself. In many ways it is a charming time capsule but also a reminder of historical, race, class and gender issues that permeate libraries today.


Works cited

Battles, M.. (2015). Library: An unquiet history. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Kruk, M. (2015). Carol Kennicott’s dilemma. The Australian Library Journal, 64 (1), 48-56.

http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0049670.2014.988840.

McCrossen, A. (2006). “One cathedral more” or me pounding places for bummers”? The

cultural politics of leisure and the public library in Gilded Age America. Libraries &

     Culture, 41 (2), 169-188.


Transcript of “For All Who Read”

“For All Who Read: The State Library of Tasmania and its Resources” (1955)

(TAHO)

Authorized by the Minister for Lands & Works The Hon. Eric Reece

Script W.R. Hill, A.L.A.

Commentator: Theo Carlstrom

 

Jaunty music plays

Announcer:

“Here in Hobart is the headquarters of the State Library of Tasmania a building very familiar to the people of the city and the surrounding countryside”

(Film of bustling foot traffic in and out of library building)

“Filled with books and with people, and the exacting job of helping one to find the other.

Here books are tools, implements to be used when a problem is to be tackled, a key to relaxation and leisure when a busy day’s work is over, a stimulant that adds good taste and grace to living. For the library staff to library books are tools to be known thoroughly and minutely, to be used wisely and well. Much time and care are taken to see that the staff know these tools perfectly and are able to use them efficiently to help others.”

(Students librarians are shown learning in a training seminar.)

“Subjects trainees must learn before they may call themselves librarians are many and varied. Planning and design, administration, library law, office routines, publicity and display and books! And all with one end in view, to bring a more efficient service to those that use the state library. But not only books find their way into …this house. Information in all its forms is sought out and preserved or future use.”

The scene changes to the archives…

One special section has in its sole care the preservation of documents and manuscripts recording the history of the state. Often these scraps of paper are unique and can’t be replaced at any price, so must be carefully handled and guarded as preciously as gold.

(Door closed door locked)

When information is needed it is often photographed and reproductions and facsimile sometimes are sent all over the world.

In another place are stored copies of all of Tasmania’s newspapers, events just news today may possibly be history tomorrow.

(Image shows newspaper announcing death of Queen Victoria)

“For some people only the very latest and up to date information is of any use. And for these the reference library gathers together periodicals from all over the world on most subjects and in several languages.

(A man in a formal postman or delivery man’s uniform is show talking to a female librarian, he then travels to pick up a sack of books, which he delivers back to her.)

Through the interlibrary lending scheme books are often obtained for Tasmanian readers from the mainland or further afield, from Europe maybe or the Americas. Sometimes the answer to a reader’s problems is found nearer to home at universities, government departments, commercial or industrial libraries. All of which willingly cooperate in making all books available everywhere. For convenience or because of the rarity of the originals, some information comes from overseas comes in the shape of microfilm or photostat, a whole book in little.

Perhaps a map will provide more than a book can, an old boundary line to be located in the hills, or the course of a rivulet, now closed over.

(A female librarian is shown placing a map in front of two men dressed in business casual. Then the men are shown surveying land in a remote place.)

Or maybe a slice of history, drawn from some by gone navigator sort.

(An old map of the ocean is shown.)

Sometimes again, the library has the answer in a documentary film which can instruct professionally no matter how remote the village or how difficult the weather. And how good then to be able to gather round one’s own fireside to enjoy or discuss the world’s greatest music.

Whatever the means the aim is the same to provide adequate materials to whatever reader requires.

But with non-one is demand for books greater than with children. As far as possible, to no one who can read is the service denied. Who they are doesn’t matter, what they read does. Here particularly are the librarian’s experts trained to understand children, to know children’s books and children’s view of life.

(Montage of school children with books and librarians.)

For those who can’t get to the library, well the library goes to them. If near to the city of Hobart, by bookmobile visiting the more distant schools of (unintelligible region) where a librarian trained especially for work with children helps and advise and introduces books worth reading. All children throughout the state have the same library services of books.

At the municipal library where there is one…or the long distance’s children’s branch library, in other places the children’s services is through the schools where generally the teacher is also the librarian, encouraging the children to read widely knowing the value in the education of good literature and how the promotion of wide and varied interests makes for good and effective citizens.

(Behind the scenes footage of stacks, books stacked on tables, female employees processing books.)

But behind the scenes of the library its books, books, books, books, books and yet more books. Books to be sought out and bought, books to be repaired and in the library bindery with all the craftsman skill of hand an eye turning the old back almost into new.

(Two women are shown doing some bindery work, a man is shown using tools to repair book spine.)

Books to be processed with speed and precision to keep up with the demands that seem insatiable from both the old and the young.

(Room full of women, seated at large table, sorting books, placing identifying book plates, etc.)

For the school days the need for books becomes greater as children grown to be men and women find that knowledge and information are to be sought after on one’s own, with no one now to teach.

In most municipalities the councils operate as part of their normal social services libraries such as these of Penguin, and Ross, where these people can now turn for recreative enjoyment and information and satisfy the ever present wish to know more of people places and things.

To help and advise these municipal councils a team of trained librarians work in the country areas.

(Men stand around in suits and ties and sit at a conference table. One man hands another photos of bookmobiles.)

Whenever a council wishes to improve its services these librarians are ready with practical aid and professional skills, maybe advising on the type of vehicle suitable for a traveling library service for a scattered library population, or maybe advising on the design of a new building for a library now extended to its full capacity. By discussing with a local librarian newly published books added to the library, or screening informative documentive films to rural audiences.

At the (?) depot a special staff is kept busily engaged selecting and dispatching collections of books for these municipal libraries and sending them on their many and diverse ways.

(All female staff shown.)

By land, by sea, and by air to the many municipalities which provide free library services. (Montage of means of travel for books shown.)

To remote industrial projects, hospitals, lighthouses, hydroelectric settlements, and to isolated townships, and even in the out of the ways places where no social group exists, then through the library’s postal service to country people. So goes on all over Tasmania the distribution of books and information in all its forms, advancing the high tradition in the state of healthy bodies and healthy minds. For as a great king once said, public libraries are as essential to the minds of the people as open spaces to the health of their bodies.

(Ends with image of the of coat of arms/symbol of Government of Tasmania.)