Thursday, 14 May 2015

FOLMI Newsletter No. 3

The Friends of the Launceston Mechanics’ Institute is holding its AGM on 22 May 2015 at 5:30pm in the Adult Education Buildings, 8 High St.  Everyone interested in FOLMI’s activities is welcome. The agenda has the necessary and customary items, beginning with confirmation of last year’s minutes, then:                                                          

  • President’s Report; 
  • Treasurer’s Report, which will be followed by a motion that, because of the small amounts of money handled by the association, we will avoid the cost of auditing (currently about $600+) by taking up the Dept. of Consumer Affairs & Fair Trading offer to apply for exemption from audit;                             
  •  Election of officers and committee (all of those currently holding positions are willing to continue, but of course new nominations are encouraged and will be called for on the evening);                             
  •  Setting of annual membership fee – currently $0; there are no plans to change this;               
  •  Any further business.

There will be a less formal meeting and general discussion afterwards to talk about the events of the last year, answer questions and plan for the coming year, especially major projects.

Well, we couldn’t have asked for more from our CHG-funded Significance Assessment of the LMI Collection.  Dr Susan Marsden of Adelaide was really enthusiastic about the Collection, spent several days looking over it and meeting with members and staff at QVMAG and Launceston LINC before writing a VERY commendatory report. It came in time for us to continue with the CHG round of 2015 applications outlined below. We’re planning to print off a dozen copies of the 44 page report to present to Council. LINC and others interested in the fate of the collection, as well as keep a copy for reference in D007 at UTAS.
You can access an electronic copy of the report, plus its appendices, via the FOLMI blog at:  We will have a copy at the AGM on 22 May.
Dr Marsden made quite a few recommendations to preserve and promote the collection, including:
             establish a suitable permanent home in Launceston, with public access to it;
             continue cataloguing and digitising of items;
             develop projects (such as work on assessing items) and training programs for volunteers;
             increase public knowledge and use of the Collection as a whole, as well as of the most significant items;
             offer non LMI books to QVMAG;
             negotiate with LINC to restore the Australian and Tasmanian titles and related publications to the LMI Collection [now that’s ambitious!];
             use her significance assessment (SA) as a planning document.
One of the most useful aspects of a successful significance assessment is that it allows us to make further applications for support for our work, especially in asking the Community Heritage Grants scheme to fund a Preservation Needs Assessment – in fact it seems that such a step is almost guaranteed by the scheme.  As well we’re looking for support for cataloguing the collection, and applications for both projects went in to CHG on 3 May.  Again there’ll be a long wait to find out what we’ll get, and it won’t be until November 2015 that we’ll have official notice of getting a preservation needs assessment (budgeted at $6,127) and perhaps funding for cataloguing training and registration costs with Libraries Australia (budgeted at $6,370, with opportunities for five members who are qualified librarians to receive specialist training in this form of cataloguing).

The latest information on our blog has some great new items posted by Dorothy Rosemann and Peter Richardson, including:

  •  a deal brokered in 1920 between the Commonwealth Parliament librarian Arthur Wadsworth and the LMI librarian Joseph Forward to obtain a complete set of the Historical Records of Australia – the only ones to be found outside a capital city;

  • Anthony Trollope’s works in the LMI fiction collection and the famous author’s visit to Tasmania; and

  •  publications by the Institute, especially in the C19th.

Sue and Emily McClarron have set up a Facebook account.  It’s an even more immediate means of keeping up with news and members’ interests. Its most recent pages  are on the Brindley organ (to mark Mothers Day 10 May); a 1917 children’s book The Young ANZACs; Anthony Trollope’s 200th anniversary; and an ABC OPEN posting of St John St as it might be now if the 1971 demolition of the Mechanics’ Institute hadn’t occurred.  The Facebook address is:

Inventory of nonfiction – Some sixteen members of FOLMI have been involved in compiling an inventory of the nonfiction books shelved in D007 at UTAS. They worked from November 2014 to April this year, usually in teams of two, to record in long-hand the publication and accession details of approximately 8000 titles.  The recording sheets are filed in ring binders kept on the northern wall of D007.                                                                                                                                                          Creating an inventory has been a most important step in the long-term task of cataloguing the collection as a whole. We can use it to check via Trove which items are held elsewhere in Australia; where that’s the case, we can access full publication and physical details of these books.  It will be a great saving in time in cataloguing, as we can merely indicate in the National Union Catalogue that we hold a copy, and to extract those details for use in our own collection catalogue. It also gives us an opportunity to add LMI Collection titles that aren’t held elsewhere in Australian public collections onto the Australian National Bibliographic Database.

Inventory of popular fiction – Two of the inventory teams have continued to record details of the Victorian & Edwardian Fiction Collection inherited from Launceston LINC. The State Library back in the early 1990s created a catalogue for the fiction up to 1914, but it had a number of limitations.  It included quite a few books published before 1914 but had never been in the Launceston Mechanics’ Institute collection; they came from donations from the public or other libraries all over Tasmania, and seem just to have been included on the Stack shelves in Launceston because they were of a similar venerable age. Also, as we’ve learnt that the LMI certainly still existed partly under that name until 1929, and until 1945 administered by the once-LMI Board, any items transferred to the State Library in 1945 as part of the collection as it existed then we now consider as part of our collection.  
So some members have been separating out books that were never owned by the LMI and adding in the ones after 1914 that were, and the recording teams have continued filling out inventory sheets for them to include with the nonfiction when the big copy-cataloguing task begins. Quite a few of the weeded books, like those from Evandale Subscription Library, Longford, Deloraine and other local libraries, and those presented as Sunday School Prizes, will go to QVMAG, who are adding considerably to their holdings of books with regional affiliations.  Others, like those from Ouse, Green Ponds, Port Esperance and Bushy Park have been offered to local history groups elsewhere in the state who’ve shown strong interest in recovering items that offer insights into their past. It’s hoped that this part of the cataloguing project will be finished and reported on at the 22 May AGM.
Lady travellers – Anna Lynde has been compiling a bibliography of works in our collection by intrepid lady travellers and explorers of the nineteenth century. This was clearly a subject of great interest to LMI members.
Catalogues published by the LMI - Sue McClarron has been analysing the many printed catalogues produced by the Institute for the convenience of members. Sue is looking at the ways the collection was organised and how it evolved over time.
Women’s roles and contributions to the LMI – Dorothy Rosemann has been working through the Institute's records now held at QVMAG, recording the level of membership and involvement of women in the Institute.
Flickr project – Peter Richardson has developed an extensive online collection and exhibition of Institute bookplates, binders' tickets, booksellers' stamps and other ephemera found in the LMI books at

It’s our hope that discussion and the Q&A session after the AGM on the 22nd will open up new avenues for members to initiate projects and to indicate their interest in participating in those that are suggested.  Come along and join in!

Mike McCausland
Secretary, FOLMI

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Significance Assessment Report

With the generous support of the National Library's Community Heritage Grant Scheme, we commissioned a Significance Assessment of our collection in December 2014. The assessment was carried out by eminent South Australian historian, Dr Susan Marsden. Dr Marsden's report has been received by Friends of the Launceston Mechanics' Institute and her all-important 'Statement of Significance' is reproduced in full below.

Anyone wishing to download the complete report and appendices may do so using the following links which also appear under LINKS in the sidebar.

Significance Assessment of the Launceston Mechanics' Institute Collection (2.85mb)

Appendices (1.72mb)

Statement of Significance

The Launceston Mechanics Institute collection is a historically significant collection of high value. The collection is primarily of historical significance as a rich and now rare set of books and periodicals dating mainly from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that comprised the larger part of the library of a major mechanics institute in an important regional city in Australia, and illustrating the reading habits, information sources and connections of a colonial and non-metropolitan city, and its international and British empire connections. This largely intact and extensive Institute collection also retains (as a separate collection, at QVMAG) most of the associated Institute records. There appears to be only one comparable (but smaller) collection in Australia, that of the Ballaarat Mechanics Institute.
While the Collection in its entirety is of most significance it has many significant individual items, including a first edition of Middlemarch, books inscribed to and donated by founding settlers (as described in detail in Part 2), and many other individual books and sets of periodicals that are ‘collectables’ of some value.
Mechanics Institutes played a vital role in Australia’s cultural development, particularly in regional towns and cities. One of the most important of them was the Launceston Mechanics Institute. In operation from 1842 until 1929, and as an institute membership-owned library until 1945, this was one of the earliest mechanics’ institutes, ultimately one of the largest, and with the retention of a substantial part of its literature and archival collections, one of the most enduring institute libraries in Australian history. Munn and Binns, two of the most influential figures in the history of Australian libraries both highly rated the LMI library as the best of any library outside the capital cities, and as probably the best surviving institute library in Australia. 
From the accession registers around 46,000 items were acquired between 1842 and 1945. Some 20,000 books and 2,000 periodicals survive from this library, together with the Institute’s records and some furniture and other objects. The two most closely comparable Institute collections in Australia are those of the Adelaide Circulating Library (at the SSL) and the Ballaarat Mechanics Institute collection (Victoria), but the LMI collection is of earlier provenance than both, is more representative of an institute library than Adelaide’s, and is larger than the Ballaarat collection.
This significance assessment has confirmed that the size, quality, scope age and provenance of the LMI collection places its importance equal to or above any similar collection in Australia, and hence its national significance. The LMI Collection is not only the most substantial and comprehensive Institute library to have survived in an Australian regional centre from before 1850, but appears to be the most substantial and comprehensive library collection to have survived from the entire period of the flourishing of mechanics institutes in Australia, between the 1840s and the 1940s.
In their CHG application, FOLMI quoted specialists in this field, Adjunct Professor Wallace Kirsop and Pam Baragwanath. Kirsop stated:
The Launceston Mechanics Institute collection, despite all its vicissitudes, is clearly the most substantial one to have survived in a regional centre from before 1850. Indeed Adelaide is the only other one of comparable longevity and it is of course, metropolitan. Ballarat and to a lesser extent Bendigo offer collections of impressive scope begun in the second half of the nineteenth century. Consequently Launceston has claims to be unique, and its collection is vital in my view to the heritage of the whole country. After all we have lost the holdings of older institutes in Hobart, Sydney and Melbourne, not to mention Geelong. In short Launceston is a special case of national significance.
Pam Baragwanath made a similar observation (see also 1.2.2).  This SA not only confirms those specialist opinions, but adds to the unique status of the LMI collection. 
This is also the last intact collection of books from the major cultural institution in Launceston’s history. The significance of this Collection is increased by having institute stickers and rules still attached and by the preservation in Launceston (at QVMAG) of related administrative records, and catalogues, as well as histories. The Institute’s history is well-documented in newspapers and in unpublished and published accounts, most substantially in Whitfeld, History of the Launceston Mechanics' Institute and Public Library (1912), and Petrow, Going to the Mechanics (1998). Many of these works also provide important contextual information. The Launceston Mechanics Institute – and hence, the LMI collection - was significant not only because of its early date, longevity and scale, but because the associated records of the LMI have survived, and that rich documentation is supported by several published histories, as well as unpublished research and news reports.

Friday, 8 May 2015

A Special Gift to the Institute

While trawling through the records of the Launceston Mechanics' Institute recently our assiduous FOLMI researcher Dorothy Rosemann discovered this intriguing letter from parliamentary librarian Arthur Wadsworth to our own librarian Joseph Forward.

The offer contained in the letter, a complete set of the Historical Records of Australia for the Institute, is remarkable enough given that Launceston was the only city outside the state capitals to receive a set. But the reasons given for the decision are even more surprising. Firstly, that Launceston "possessed independence of Hobart up to almost the middle of the [19th] century". Clearly this was not based on historical fact. Launceston's period of self-rule under a Lieutenant-Governor reporting directly to Sydney lasted a mere nine years, from 1804 to 1813, and from 1825, when VDL became an independent colony, Hobart was incontrovertibly the seat of government.

Wadsworth's second justification – that "the relation of Launceston to Hobart is different to that of any city in any other state to its capital" – was however quite true, remains true to this day, and would have been viewed as a badge of honour in 1920 in the "northern capital".

The man who carried these arguments to the Federal Parliament on behalf of the Institute was long-serving Tasmanian Senator, John Henry Keating, a member of the Parliamentary Library Committee and a fierce advocate for his state. It was Keating who convinced the Committee of Launceston's unique constitutional position and historical claim to special treatment.

Just three days after Wadsworth conveyed the Committee's decision to the Institute, the Senator wrote a letter headed "UNOFFICIAL" to Forward, setting out in detail the Committee's reasoning for the special treatment afforded to Launceston, pointing out that all similar requests had been turned down, and emphasising their reluctance to set a precedent which might be exploited by other regional cities and towns.

He then suggested a quid pro quo which he believed would absolutely seal the deal by removing any doubts that Launceston was a special case. When Dr Watson (compiler and editor of the Historical Records) had visited the Institute library in his search for early records he had "seen an extra copy or copies of the local issue of Pickwick Papers with locally drawn sketches." Keating concluded "I think perhaps the best course would be, if your Committee feels so disposed, that they should offer one of these Pickwick papers to the Library Committee of the Commonwealth through its Secretary. Such an action would be satisfactory in every way and would, I can assure you, be very much appreciated by the Library Committee as well as personally by yours faithfully J H Keating."

Senator Keating urged discretion in the matter and further suggested that it was desirable that the exchange should not come formally before the Institute's committee, nor be referred to in their minutes.

And so it was, presumably, that the Institute gave up one of their copies of Dowling's pirated edition of 'Pickwick Papers' and the Parliamentary Library gained a very desirable item through their own act of piracy – a gift with strings attached.

Today the original set of Historical Records of Australia is held in the local studies collection in Launceston's public library, along with two bound copies of Dowling's edition of 'Pickwick Papers' and an even rarer set of the original parts as issued in 1838-39.