Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Books on Polynesia

One important area of analysis of the surviving Institute collection is to establish the retention rate of books through a comparison of what was in the collection (sources such as the Accession Registers and printed catalogues are invaluable in this regard) and check this against what is still held.

The working hypothesis is that survival will vary greatly in different subject areas and categories of reading. Thus, recreational fiction titles would be less likely to survive than philosophical works on the basis that they would be more heavily read when new and then fall out of favour, or would be worn out and discarded because of condition. Only when the collection is fully catalogued, will it be possible to conduct statistically reliable surveys to measure survival rates.

In the interim a small survey was conducted on a subset of the non-fiction collection. A subject area – Polynesia – was chosen because a list of holdings in 1906 was available as the basis for a check of the shelved collection.

In the Catalogue of the Works in the Launceston Mechanics' Institute and Public Library (1906) as a subset of Reference Room Section D Australia and Polynesia, a separate listing of 37 titles was arranged under the heading Polynesia (pp18-19). This was the first catalogue in which this subject category had been separately listed. 

 Detail from an illustration in Seamann's Viti (1862)

A survey conducted in September 2014 aimed to discover how many of the titles listed remained in the surviving part of the LMI collection, and where they were located.

Of the 37 listed titles, 33 were located. Ten of these are in the Launceston LINC Local Studies Collection, and 23 have been transferred to FOLMI. Another is listed on the State Library's catalogue as being held in Launceston, but was not found on the shelves. Thus only three items of the 34 appear to have been lost from the collection since 1906.

Such a high survival rate (89%) needs to be considered as a factor of the subject  category – Polynesia - one likely to be of enduring interest to a limited readership and having historical value through links with the history of Australian exploration and settlement. Additionally the location of the books in the Reference Room in 1906 suggests they were not available for loan.

The survey however reflects the value of having such strong provenance records to assist in the interpretation of the collection.

The main period of collection development in this subject area appears to have been the 1880s when travel titles by C F Gordon Cumming, Mrs Edgeworth David, Rev W W Gill and Frederick Moss were all added. However some titles are of earlier date, including early editions of Melville's  Omoo and Typee, Rev George Turner's Nineteen Years in Polynesia (1861), and botanist Berthold Seemann's Viti (1862) an interesting account of a Government mission to Fiji in 1860-1 led by Colonel William Smythe which was tasked to investigate cession of the islands to Britain.This last appears to have been donated to the collection by a teacher at the Launceston Grammar School, Mr Hedstrom.