Library mutilation madness (Chronicles of State Library of Queensland)

There’s nothing more frustrating when leafing through a library book to discover some selfish person has removed pages, rendering part of the work unreadable. For book lovers and librarians alike, this is nothing short of intolerable, anti-social behavior, but surely our grandparents and great grandparents were above this sort of thing….weren’t they?

Public Library of Queensland (later known as State Library of Queensland), William Street, Brisbane, 1931. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 185381

Public Library of Queensland (later known as State Library of Queensland), William Street, Brisbane, 1931. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 185381

Sadly, this is not the case as proved in an old black scrapbook in State Library’s original materials collection. The scrapbook (OM79-78) contains the Public Library Provisional Committee Minutes from 1895 to 1896 after which follow numerous news-clippings from 1902 to 1935, detailing some of the trials and tribulations of State Library of Queensland (then the Public Library of Queensland).

State Library of Queenslands reading room, William Street, Brisbane 1902. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 16387

State Library of Queenslands reading room, William Street, Brisbane 1902. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 16387

Among the clippings in the scrapbook are several cases of book, newspaper or magazine mutilations, which make for interesting reading, and at the time probably raised the anger level of the librarians to apoplectic.

Newspaper clipping from OM79-78. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Newspaper clipping from OM79-78. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

In 1904, the Brisbane newspaper The Telegraph reported the rise of mutilations among the Public Library collections, with over “40 volumes” attacked. After careful investigation it was soon discovered that a frequent young library patron was the culprit. The young man had a penchant for removing pictures of royalty, as well as an interest in torpedo boats. However “the culprit expressed his penitence for having committed the offence, and by reason of his youth and apparent friendlessness, he was allowed to escape with a caution and some sound advice”.

It appears he was one of the lucky ones…

In another clipping from the Brisbane Telegraph newspaper on November 3, 1934, Henry Percy Watt, a salesman from Albion was caught red handed after tearing out a page from the Hobart Mercury newspaper at the Public Library. Watt plead guilty to a charge of willfully and unlawfully damaging a newspaper, the property of the Queensland Government. Watt was fined 10 shillings (equivalent of $47 in 2016) , in default of 48 hours imprisonment – with 14 days to pay. Although Watt was contrite and said it was his first time, librarians were left fuming. “Officials of the library had been caused annoyance and inconvenience by persons taking parts of papers and in some cases chapters had been torn from valuable books”.

Newspaper clipping from OM79-78. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Newspaper clipping from OM79-78. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Another case occurred within a few days of the above mentioned. Labourer William Benno was apprehended tearing pages out of a newspaper and a journal. When sentencing Benno, the police magistrate admonished the vandal – “It seems such a mean thing to do a thing like this. Although the amount of the damage is small I have got to mete out punishment as a deterrent to others”. Benno was fined £1 (equivalent of $94 in 2016), in default of 48 hours imprisonment.

Readers in the State Library of Queensland, 1934. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 12991

Readers in the State Library of Queensland, 1934. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 12991

Chief Librarian, W.H.Brown lamented that it was impossible to stop book mutilations – “We haven’t got sufficient staff to stand over everyone who is reading”, he said.

Myles Sinnamon – Project Coordinator, State Library of Queensland