Libraries and structural change; Post 5

These are things I keep banging on about: that libraries continue to evoke a powerful sense of promise; that not much more than twenty years ago the promise of libraries was fairly readily identified with a more or less stable set of practices but since then the relationship between promise and practice has become uncertain.

In the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis many municipal governments across Britain and the United States, having adopted austerity policies (either in accord with the constraints or requirements imposed by state or national governments or by their own volition) sought savings in cutting public library funding. Invariably communities responded with a depth of feeling conveying  the enormous value of public libraries perhaps more powerfully and incontrovertibly than anything else.

Park Slope kids protesting against budget cuts outside their library in May 2013, accompanied by the President & CEO of the Brooklyn Public Library, Linda E. Johnson. Picture credit: Brooklyn Public Library

What exactly is taken away when a community loses its library? I’m always struck by the story of children in a part of Brooklyn, New York City, encircling their library, holding hands; one small, poignant response to a massive cut to the Brooklyn Public Library in the 2013-14 New York City budget – nearly $30 million or over 30% of the library’s operating budget.

New York City’s administration had been attempting to impose deep cuts on all three of New York City’s library systems since 2008. Cuts incorporated in annual City budgets were always wound back in the legislative process, but always only partially. Funding to the Brooklyn Public Library had already decreased 19% over five years when the 2013-14 City budget was brought down.

Within weeks of children encircling the Park Slope branch of the Brooklyn Public Library New Yorkers elected a mayor with quite different policies to his predecessor and quite a different take on the value of public libraries. Library funding was restored and, recently, has even been increased. But such a happy ending is exceptional. Elsewhere public libraries have not fared so well. In Britain 1,000 (over 20%) have been forced to close since 2009.

Cuts to public library funding are usually advocated on the basis that the rise of new technologies and the availability of alternative sources of information have diminished the need for public libraries. Any idea that the need for a surviving part of the much reduced structure of public provision is diminishing may appeal to some. More opaquely, ambivalence towards the democratic values foundational to the institution of the public library – mass enlightenment, the democratisation of intellectual freedom and so on – may constitute another ulterior motive for casting doubt on the future of public libraries. But notwithstanding ulterior motives, it does seem that such doubts are harboured ever more widely, even if only unconsciously or with the barest consideration. Thus evidence that public libraries are thriving in many parts of the world is increasingly likely to come as a surprise. Certainly it surprises me.

While looking into cuts to public libraries in the United States I came across a 2013 report by the Pew Research Center, Library Services in the Digital Age. At first I took it to be just another celebration of the virtualisation of library services but it turned out to be the findings of empirical research into whether or not public libraries are maintaining a place in the lives of Americans, in what is undeniably a digital age.

According to the Pew report, 59% of Americans aged 16 and older had visited a public library or had used online public library services within the previous twelve months. Of that cohort 52% said that over the last five years their use had not changed, 26% said their use had increased and only 22% said their use had decreased. 91% of Americans ages 16 and older say public libraries are important to their communities and 76% say libraries are important to them and their families.

Other findings of this research are equally surprising, at least to me:

  • 80% of Americans aged 16 years and older say that borrowing books is a “very important” service libraries provide.
  • 80% say reference librarians are a “very important” service of libraries

Evidence that in some difficult-to-ignore parts of the world – like the United States – public libraries are thriving and that traditional attributes of a library – books for instance, or librarians – continue to be valued may be surprising. But perhaps this only highlights the fact that some ideas are impervious to evidence, as does the way the enduring need for public libraries is denied in justifying crippling cuts even to thriving library services. Take the Brooklyn Public Library: Use increased over each of the seven years it faced crippling cuts. Is it possible for something to be needed less but used more?

A legacy of the recent Speak Up For The Branches campaign. Picture credit: Brooklyn Public Library

It’s not all that remarkable to believe things in the face of contradictory evidence. What’s more remarkable is believing contradictory things – for instance, deeply valuing your own public library – perhaps even enough to stand around it holding hands if it was ever threatened – but simultaneously believing that public libraries face inevitable decline. It’s a pity that the Pew survey didn’t include the question, “Do you think that public libraries have a future?” If I was asked this question I would reflexively say, “No, because the rise of new technologies and the availability of alternative sources of information is making them redundant”. But however robotically I would say this, I would say it with sorrow, and also a sense of confusion for feeling somehow compelled to say it, without knowing why.

How miserable it is to cherish something while simultaneously feeling resigned to its loss – because of the remorseless march of structural change or because ‘discretionary’ public services like libraries have become luxuries that communities can’t afford, or for some other unfathomable reason.

I showed a draft of this post to a colleague a week or two ago. She said it was OK, if a little gloomy. I delayed doing anything with it while I agonised about her remark. For sure I’m talking about a certain type of gloominess, but that’s not necessarily the same thing as being gloomy.

It’s a wonderful word: gloom. Say it to yourself and you might find yourself laughing with relief. Gloom, of course, is a protective carapace around a vibrant promise. But the thing about a promise is that it’s its own affirmation. It shines on in the face of hostile circumstances, even in spite of gloom.

No doubt the cruel ritual of being dangled over an abyss every year for the past five years caused gloom within the Brooklyn Public Library. But that’s not what you see when you look at its website, or back through its Facebook page or peruse the public record of its trials and tribulations. Something else shines through – something vital, irrepressible, incontrovertible – definitely reason to be cheerful.

Do libraries continue to be necessary to fulfilment of the promise of libraries? Much flows from the answer to this demanding question; demanding because before you can legitimately answer it you have to really deeply grasp what the promise is; you have to grasp what actually happens in public libraries – myriad small miracles every day. I’ll explore these matters further in my next few posts. Watch out for them; every two weeks, for a while.

This video, part of a campaign to extend the opening hours of New York public libraries has some wonderful moments.

It’s Ekka time! What are your memories?

The Ekka has arrived and is in full swing, inspiring us to look back at the history of this unique event that holds a special place in the hearts of Queenslanders from both city and country.

I’ve always been intrigued by a photograph of my grandparents at the Ekka in 1954, dressed in their fine clothes, complete with hats, gloves and what looks suspiciously like fur. As a child I had difficulty reconciling this with my own Ekka experiences – when we wore jeans and t-shirts, and pulled on our jumpers to ward off the chilly August air as we settled into the grandstand for the evening’s entertainment in the main arena.

Well dressed couple at the Brisbane Exhibition in 1954.

My grandparents at the Ekka, 1954.

In a quest to find out how much the Ekka really has changed since it started in 1876, I’ve been delving into SLQ’s treasure trove of books, articles and photographs. Interestingly, while the pavilion buildings, fashion, cars, farm equipment and showbags have changed over the years, the Ekka’s purpose, exhibitions and activities remain largely the same. The animal exhibits and judging, agricultural displays, craft and cooking competitions, woodchopping, the Grand Parade, arena entertainment, fashion parades and exhibits of the latest gadgets and food are still all as popular as ever. Sideshow Alley remains a favourite attraction for kids of all ages, and dagwood dogs, fairy floss and the famous strawberry ice-creams have all been available for decades.

Stud cattle judging at the Brisbane Exhibition, 1948. State Library of Queensland.

Stud cattle judging at the Brisbane Exhibition, 1948. State Library of Queensland.

The 1875 charter of the National Agricultural and Industrial Association of Queensland was to promote and encourage Queensland’s agricultural and industrial development, and to provide a unique opportunity for country and city people to join together in celebrating Queensland life. The hugely successful “Intercolonial Exhibition” that began in 1876 was granted a royal warrant from His Majesty King George V in 1921, becoming the Royal Exhibition. Queenslanders’ adoption of the term “Ekka” indicates our affection for the show, which has been cancelled just twice – in 1919 due to the Spanish Influenza epidemic, and in 1942 during wartime, when the showgrounds were being used to assemble troops.

Winner of the woodchopping competition at the Brisbane Exhibition, 1907. State Library of Queensland. T. Dawson posing with his axe and a chopped log in the arena.

Winner of the woodchopping competition at the Brisbane Exhibition, 1907. State Library of Queensland.

The first showbags, handed out to visitors in 1876, were free bags of coal. Complimentary samples of food, drink and household products were originally seen by companies as an advertising opportunity. While free samples and tastings are still available, showbags have become merchandise themselves, and are certainly many children’s focus when planning a trip to the Ekka. Of course showbags can keep the spirit of the Ekka alive for days after a visit, as their contents are savoured or played with. I remember trying to spin out the Polly Waffles and Sunnyboys for as long as possible!

What special Ekka experiences do you remember? SLQ would love you to share your memories of the Ekka on Historypin. Find out how to at

Relaxing at the Brisbane Exhibition, 1947. State Library of Queensland. Showgoer soaks his feet in a bucket of water and pours himself a glass of beer.

Relaxing at the Brisbane Exhibition, 1947. State Library of Queensland.

It’s time to celebrate fashion

Mercedes-Benz Fashion Festival

Brisbane’s beautifully refurbished City Hall is gearing up to host the iconic Mercedes-Benz Fashion Festival from 24-29 August. The annual festival is now in its ninth year, supporting Queensland’s fashion industry by providing local designers with an opportunity to showcase their work. The fabulous runway shows and other events are timed to coincide with the arrival of the Spring/Summer stock in stores, enabling inspired consumers to purchase desired pieces straight away, rather than having to wait a season for them to arrive.

The festival highlights Australian fashion, including local and emerging designers, exhibiting the best new designs and trends to consumers, industry insiders and the media. Each year the online and media buzz created by the festival translates to sales, while the festival itself boosts the local economy through its employment of more than 300 people.

Find out more at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Festival’s website

Fur fashions being modelled at the Carlton Hotel, Brisbane, 1936. State Library of Queensland.

Fur fashions being modelled at the Carlton Hotel, Brisbane, 1936. State Library of Queensland.

Mercedes-Benz Fashion Festival lecture

State Library of Queensland is playing its own part in the festival, hosting the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Festival lecture, Luxury and Fashion, on 26 August. Dr Nadia Buick, the fashion curator and co-director of The Fashion Archives, will examine what luxury actually means in today’s society, and discuss luxury fashion culture with an esteemed panel of experts.

Book your ticket to this free event now.

Berg Fashion Library

The Berg Fashion Library is an award-winning electronic resource available to SLQ members on our premises and offsite. It provides comprehensive information and images on clothes and fashion from around the world throughout history. The Berg Fashion Library includes the Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion, The Dictionary of Fashion History, an A-Z of Fashion and nearly 80 full text fashion e-books. You can also explore a colour image bank with over 7,000 images from some of the world’s leading fashion collections, such as the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute collection. This is a fascinating and valuable resource for students and professionals in the fields of fashion and textiles, as well as those interested in anthropology, art history, cultural studies and sociology.

Access the Berg Fashion Library through SLQ’s One Search, by searching “Berg Fashion Library” or viewing the alphabetical list of databases.

countdown to EKKA

It’s that time of year again and the countdown to EKKA is on! The Royal Queensland Show (Ekka) is Queensland’s largest annual event. Held over ten days each August, the Brisbane Exhibition showcases life and achievements in the Sunshine State, bringing visitors from all across Queensland and Australia to Brisbane.

Two young girls enjoying themselves at the RNA Show Brisbane 1946

The Royal National Agricultural and Industrial Association of Queensland (RNA) runs the Ekka on behalf of the community. Remarkably, the first Exhibition in 1876 attracted 16,000 visitors on the first day and 34,000 overall when the city’s population was only 20,600. Today the EKKA attracts over 400,000 visitors annually. It is Queensland’s largest and most iconic event generating through the Show alone, over $160 million to the economy. Presented at its original birthplace, the Brisbane Showgrounds, the Ekka showcases its unique tradition and heritage by bringing the city and country together for a once a year get-together. The RNA recruits nationally and internationally recognised experts for each competition area to ensure the highest standard of judging.

In 2012, the RNA was inducted into the Queensland Business Leaders Hall of Fame.

Watch the digital story here.


Multicultural resources

State Library of Queensland provides free access to many multicultural online resources – helping Queenslanders stay in touch with their cultures, family, friends and current information from around the world.

SLQ strives to enrich the lives of all Queenslanders and creatively engage people with information, knowledge and community. Queensland is one of the world’s most culturally diverse populations, and we celebrate this diversity through events, exhibitions and by providing online resources that inform, involve and assist people throughout the state.

Our multicultural resources webpage can be viewed in 81 languages – enabling people to find local public libraries in Queensland, library collections in languages other than English, and to access online newspapers and radio from around the globe.

Victor Ilechukwu. Photograph by Dean Saffron.

Victor Ilechukwu. Photograph by Dean Saffron.

Newspapers and radio

Library Press Display provides access to current newspapers from over 1,000 countries in 57 languages. These papers can be selected by country, title and language, are available for 60 days, and are keyword searchable. The online display looks exactly the same as the paper version, showing the original full colour layout. This excellent resource is available onsite and offsite for SLQ members, and is a great way to keep up with news from other places.

The Paperboy links to 12,155 newspapers and ePapers from around the world.

Radio-locator is a radio station search engine, providing links to over 13,900 webpages and over 9,100 audio streams from radio stations globally.

Multilingual adult learning resources

The Lerni website provides introductory computer training and links to adult education courses throughout Australia. Lerni is available in English, Arabic, Assyrian, Burmese, Dari, Dinka, Farsi, Karen, Somali, Swahili and Tamil. This is a really useful site for all Australians who want to gain new skills and get involved in their communities.

Ka Maeva Cook Island dance group. Photograph by Reuben Stafford.

Ka Maeva Cook Island dance group. Photograph by Reuben Stafford.

Shared stories from multicultural communities

SLQ also collects resources that reflect Queensland’s diverse population. Enjoy the current showcase of stories from three multicultural festivals that have been captured through photo essays and oral histories. These wonderful stories from the Australian-Italian Festival, the Queensland Pacific Unity Festival and Africa Day celebrations highlight the engagement of multicultural communities throughout Queensland. You can also view the entire digital collection of these fascinating stories.

Visit our Multicultural Resources webpage for more information about available resources.


Mario Torrisi with his award for 'Recognition of outstanding Voluntary Service' and the passenger list for incoming passengers to Townsville on the 28/5/1955. Photograph by Sarah Scragg.

Mario Torrisi with his award for 'Recognition of outstanding Voluntary Service' and the passenger list for incoming passengers to Townsville on the 28/5/1955. Photograph by Sarah Scragg.

Hot Modernism

Our exciting new Hot Modernism exhibition takes us back to the era of post-war development in Queensland, when fresh design ideas took hold and changed the architectural landscape of our state.

For many of us, the images and displays in the exhibition conjure up memories of a prosperous and exciting period of growth in Queensland’s history. My memories of the Gold Coast in the 1970s include the development of state-of-the-art high rise buildings, such as Apollo and Iluka, and the iconic Pink Poodle Motel on the Gold Coast Highway. I also have fond recollections of childhood visits to Highgate Hill’s apartment building, Torbreck, where my great aunt was one of the first residents. SLQ’s exhibition looks at the stories behind this building and many other iconic structures and homes of Queensland’s mid-century period. Many of the University of Queensland’s landmark buildings also feature in the exhibition – no doubt the Central Library (now Duhig North), JD Storey Administration Building, Union College and the Hartley Teakle Building hold special significance for many UQ alumni.

Torbreck, a new concept in modern living, a pamphlet produced by developers Reid Murray

Torbreck, a new concept in modern living. John Oxley Library.

With the exhibition piquing interest in Queensland’s modernist architecture, it is worth taking a look at the Digital Archive of Queensland Architecture. This archive provides fascinating information on designers, design history and projects, currently focussing on the period from 1945 to 1975. Stunning photographs and line drawings, as well as in-depth articles, examine building projects and issues of the period. Information is also arranged under lists of architects, firms, structures and building typologies, making it easy to retrieve information and images relevant to your particular interests. One of the most intriguing parts of the archive is the large collection of digital stories – interviews with prominent Queensland architects sharing their stories and recollections. These recordings of digital histories form an invaluable reference and offer fascinating insights into this vital and formative part of Queensland’s history and development.

View the Digital Archive of Queensland Architecture.

The Hot Modernism exhibition runs until 12 October.


Have your say!

State Library of Queensland is developing a fresh plan for the future. SLQ2020 will be a five year plan which will set a high level direction for State Library to ensure our programs and services meet the needs of all Queenslanders.

Community involvement is an important part of our planning process and we want to hear from you — our clients, our stakeholders and members of the community. We invite you to get involved in helping shape and improve our forward planning.


Have your say on SLQ2020

To stimulate your thoughts have a read of the SLQ2020 discussion paper.

You can submit your response by:

  • Commenting on this blog post
  • Answering the questions online here 
  • Emailing us at
  • Joining the conversation on Twitter (#SLQ2020)
  • Commenting on Facebook (#SLQ2020)
  • Writing to us at:  SLQ2020 (People and Planning), PO Box 3488, South Brisbane QLD 4101, Australia

Please provide your feedback by 1 August 2014.

Next steps
Your feedback will be considered along with other information gathered in a variety of ways to inform the development of the new plan. A draft of SLQ’s new Strategic Plan will be available by December 2014 for further comment and the plan for 2015–2020 released by 1 July 2015.

Stay healthy this winter – Use reliable health information

It’s that time of year again when winter coughs, colds and ‘flu set in, and we turn our minds to finding ways to beat the bugs and stay healthy. Many of us also seek information about protecting our general health, conditions affecting our family or friends, or our risk factors for major health problems in the future.

When we want health and medical information, we have a tendency to jump online and read whatever information pops up – often from unreliable sources, public forums or organisations and groups with financial or other unknown motivations. For those of us without medical training, it can be difficult to discern what information and advice is credible or useful.

It is just as quick, and far more productive, to use reliable online tools, such as the health and medicine databases available through State Library of Queensland’s One Search catalogue.

Women wearing surgical masks during the influenza epidemic, Brisbane, 1919.

Women wearing surgical masks during the influenza epidemic, Brisbane, 1919. John Oxley Library.

The Health & Wellness Resource Center is a helpful starting point for consumers, and is accessible here at the library or offsite, enabling you to search and read health-related information in the privacy of your own home.

In this database, you can easily search diseases, conditions or symptoms to find plain language basic or comprehensive information regarding:

  • definitions
  • demographics
  • descriptions
  • risk factors
  • causes
  • symptoms
  • key terms
  • diagnosis
  • treatment (including medical, surgical and alternative treatments), and
  • prevention.

You can choose to view results from a variety of sources, such as books and fact sheets, magazines and journals, pamphlets, videos, media and recent worldwide news reports. The Drugs tab links to material on drugs relevant to your search results, collating information from the trusted Physicians’ Desk Reference Guides to prescription and over-the-counter medications.

Articles can be saved to a marked list for use throughout your session, and can be printed, downloaded or emailed.

The database’s homepage provides links to dependable medical websites containing information on health and medical issues, including:

  • allergies and asthma
  • anatomy
  • arthritis
  • cancer
  • cardiac information
  • diabetes
  • mental health
  • nutrition
  • paediatric health, and
  • seniors’ health.

Health calculators and risk assessment tools are available under the Health Assessment tab, enabling you to check your risk factors for various diseases, and take greater control of your health.

The homepage also highlights health topics in the news, providing a fascinating bulletin of world health headlines and information that is updated every eight hours. One fascinating article I came across was entitled “Dads who do housework may spur daughters to aim high” – helpful research to back me up at home!

While not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional advice, The Health & Wellness Resource Center is useful if you’re looking for specific or general health information, and is also a fascinating source of current health and medical news. The reliable information is easy to navigate and understand.

To access this database, search “Health & Wellness Resource Center” in SLQ’s One Search (or view the full list of health and medicine databases, or the alphabetical listing of databases) and log in using your SLQ membership details. If you are not already a member, you can join online.


Family history indexes – Find your elusive ancestor

Do you have an ancestor who is evading your search, or is little more than a name and a place, time or occupation?

State Library of Queensland has indexed onsite resources that make it easier for you to find your family member if they were a convict, Indigenous Australian, soldier or miner.

Richard Giltrow Boer War soldier ca. 1902. John Oxley Library.

Richard Giltrow Boer War soldier ca. 1902. John Oxley Library.

Our indexes include:

Convict Transportation Registers 1787-1867

The British Convict Transportation Registers 1787-1867 database has been compiled from British Home Office records, which are available on microfilm at all Australian State Libraries. It contains details for over 123,000 of the estimated 160,000 convicts transported to Australia in the 18th and 19th centuries, including names, term of years, transport ships and more. This can be a good starting point for our significant convict collection.

Visit the British Convict Transportation Registers 1787-1867.

Tindale Genealogical Collection Name Index 1928-late 1960s

The Tindale Genealogical Collection is a great tool to use when researching Aboriginal family history.  From 1928 until the late 1960s, anthropologist Norman Tindale produced maps of the various Indigenous tribal groups of Australia, and photographed and recorded information about people in Aboriginal communities across the country. SLQ holds copies of his research that relates to the Queensland Aboriginal communities of Yarrabah, Cherbourg, Mona Mona, Palm Island, Woorabinda, Bentinck Island, Doomadgee and Mornington Island, and the New South Wales communities at Boggabilla and Woodenbong. Information includes photographs and other material, including a large number of family trees, and cultural, tribal and language information.

We have also created an online index of names recorded in the genealogies. Although anyone can search the index, there are restrictions on who can access the full family tree information and photographs, as much of the information is private or sensitive.

Find more information on the Tindale Genealogical Collection.

South African (Boer) War Index 1899-1902

During the South African (Boer) War 1899-1902, The Queenslander weekly newspaper included thumbnail images of soldiers participating in the war. This index contains these photographs and information about Queensland troops.

Queensland Mining Accidents Index 1882-1945

The Queensland Mining Accidents Index provides information about mining accidents published annually in the Queensland Legislative Assembly Votes and Proceedings (later known as Queensland Parliamentary Papers) from 1882 to 1945.

Information found using this index can be followed up in the newspapers of the time.

Tin miners near Stanthorpe ca. 1872. John Oxley Library.

Tin miners near Stanthorpe ca. 1872. John Oxley Library.

To search these indexes, go to our One Search catalogue homepage and select Family History Indexes under Quick Links. You can then search the indexes individually (for example, if you know your relative was a convict or served in the Boer War), or you can search all of the indexes together. You may discover that your relative was involved in a mining accident as well as serving in the Boer War.

For these and other family history indexes, which are searchable separately, take a look at our Family History Info Guides. Our online catalogue, databases and collection of useful websites for family historians can help you expand your findings.


Golf Queensland celebrates its centenary

This month, Golf Queensland celebrates 100 years of administering amateur golf in Queensland.

To celebrate this milestone, Golf Queensland and State Library of Queensland have collaborated to develop a Flickr gallery, a showcase of current and past golf clubs on Historypin, and an online presence for golf clubs in Wikipedia.

The centenary is a great opportunity to promote golf in Queensland while preserving the past. It is hoped that all member clubs will follow suit and collect, digitise, and describe their memorabilia for golfing generations to come.

Learn more about Golf Queensland’s history.

Group of four unidentified golfers, each carrying a golf club.

Queensland ladies golf team 1951. Back row left to right: Enid Havritz, J. Percy, Kathy Hannay Front row left to right: Joan Fletcher, Hilma Taylor, Joan Freedman (Description supplied with photograph.)

Women golfers add up their score cards 1938