Newsletter No. 52 (December 2007)

From Chained Books to CJK: the Early 1990s
(My Life at the National Library of Australia, Part 4)

Andrew Gosling

Former Chief Librarian (1985-2003)
Asian Collections, National Library of Australia

This fourth piece about my three decades at the National Library covers 1991 to 1995. The first article on my early years at the Library was published in the EALRGA Newsletter, January 2004. Part 2, on my time in Indonesia and return to Orientalia, appeared in the August 2005 issue. Part 3, about my first five years as Chief Librarian, East Asia, is in the June 2006 newsletter.

This installment actually begins with an interval from work. In 1991, after 18 years at the Library, I decided to take 5 months on long-service leave. For much of this time I travelled in Europe. As well as other museums, galleries and libraries, I called in at the British Library’s then recently combined India Office Library and East Asian Collection. This was housed at 197 Blackfriars Road in a building described to me as being one of the ugliest in the whole of London. The staff were all most friendly and I met Annabel Gallop, their Southeast Asian librarian and Yu-Ying Brown who was busy preparing an exhibition on Engelbert Kaempfer and Japan. While staying with relatives near Newmarket I visited Cambridge University Library (another ugly building though close to several beautiful ones). There I met Charles Aylmer, Head of the Chinese Collection and Noboru Koyama of the Japanese Collection who kindly showed me around the East Asian holdings.

My most memorable library visit took place while I was staying with another uncle and aunt on their farm in Herefordshire. One day after helping with potato harvesting and cutting broccoli on the farm I helped my aunt take 20 boxes of broccoli to the Hereford produce market. We then visited Hereford Cathedral to see the famous chained library which dates back to the eighth century. Just as we entered the building the choir started singing as if on cue. The early books are chained to bookcases. Many modern librarians must secretly envy the medieval monks who could chain up their collection in this way.

This was a period of considerable change in the staffing of Asian Collections. Fumika Clifford retired in December 1990 after 17 years in the Japanese Unit. Fumika had started in Orientalia at almost exactly the same time as me, in November 1973. Fumika always showed cheerfulness and good humour. She had some excellent expressions. For example she enjoyed the Library Christmas parties at which she liked to dance with “the big belly men” as she called them. On the serious side she was an expert with the old Chinese and Japanese typewriters, now museum pieces. While I was on long service leave in 1991, Nikki White moved to Cataloguing. Nikki had been in the section since 1974. As head of the Japanese Unit she had enormous energy and was very effective in making the Japanese collection accessible online. Nikki was also active in the early stages of automation for East Asian script materials. During February 1992 Ching Sun joined the Chinese Unit and Phuong Tonthat the Japanese Unit. In February 1993 Ilse Soegito, Chief Librarian, South and Southeast Asia, retired after 20 years at the Library, including 1972 to 1979 as Indonesian Acquisition Librarian, in Jakarta. I greatly missed Ilse’s advice and support. In May 1994 we were sorry to learn of the death of George Yuan, who was in Orientalia from 1964 to 1979. In November 1994 CP Tang was promoted to a position with the National CJK Project. During the same month we mourned the loss of Saroj Mahanty, who had retired from Asian Collections in 1991. In January 1995 Phuong Tonthat moved to Newspapers and was replaced by Seiko Walker. In mid-1995 a separate Indonesian Unit was established in Asian Collections, with Tieke Atikah as its head. Ching Sun acted as her back-up initially, until the appointment of Ralph Sanderson in January 1996.

My own duties expanded during this period. I had been Chief Librarian, East Asia since late 1985, overseeing the Library’s Chinese, Japanese and Korean Units. As mentioned Ilse Soegito retired early in 1993. In the same year the Indonesian Acquisition Office, which had been downgraded when I left Jakarta in mid-1983, was fully restored and upgraded. Amelia McKenzie was appointed as Regional Officer, Asia, based in Indonesia. Starting in 1993 I became Chief Librarian, Asia with responsibility not only for the East Asian collections and services but also the Thai Unit, headed by Lek McFadden and later the new Indonesian Unit as well.

There were several staff placements from East Asian libraries. Keiko Harada arrived on secondment from the National Diet Library in June 1992 to succeed Kaoru Nakajima. From late 1992 Cao Baohui of the National Library of China spent a year in Asian Collections on a Chinese online cataloguing training project, supported by the Australia-China Council. In late 1994, two cataloguers, Mrs Lim and Mrs Noh of the National Assembly Library, South Korea, spent a month in the Library. A senior librarian from the National Central Library, Seoul, Mr Dong-Chul Kim spent six months in the section from January 1995. Minoru Inahama succeeded Keiko Harada in June 1995. Minoru was the 13th and as it turned out the last librarian on secondment from the National Diet Library since the scheme started in 1965.

In mid-1992 Mr Tomio Kawazoe of the National Diet Library, who was on secondment to Orientalia when I first joined the Library in 1973-74, revisited Canberra with his wife. We had a pleasant reunion of staff with whom he had worked. Another most successful Asian Collections reunion in September 1993 marked the 25th anniversary of the opening of the National Library building. Forty current and former staff of the area attended the buffet lunch. To mark the actual anniversary date there was also an Open Day on 15 August that year.

There were major staff changes in other Australian East Asian Collections. Lily Hu, East Asian Librarian at the University of Melbourne since 1968 left for Hong Kong in 1990 and was succeeded by Bick-har Yeung, who remains there to the present. Monash University Library was expanding its Asian language services at this time. For example in October 1992 their newly appointed Korean librarian, Jung-Sim Kim spent some time in Asian Collections at the National Library. Monash also appointed Dennis Kishere as Chinese Librarian and Eiko Sakaguchi (who had been at the University of Melbourne Library) as Japanese Librarian. Malika Xayasy became Chinese and Thai librarian at Macquarie University. Y.S.Chan retired after a long career at ANU Library (1972-1993). David Lu, who had been a Chinese librarian at ANU for many years, as well as being a well-respected artist and calligrapher, died in June 1993.

Overseas visits included an Australian library delegation to China and Japan in May 1991. This was led by the then Director-General of the National Library Warren Horton and included the current Director-General Jan Fullerton. A return Chinese delegation two years later was led by Professor Du Ke. Eric Wainwright, Deputy Director-General visited Korean libraries in June 1992.

During this period there were increased efforts to improve coverage of the National Library’s East Asian holdings on the Australian Bibliographic Network (ABN), the then national system. In March 1991 I was able to report that we were controlling all current Chinese acquisitions on ABN. The same year a major retrospective conversion by AMARC of the Japanese monograph catalogue was completed, adding 23,000 romanised Japanese bibliographic records and holdings to ABN.

In the previous installment I wrote about the beginning of an exciting boom for Asian studies in Australia during the late 1980s. I also outlined the 1988-89 Ingleson and 1990 Ross reports which included the first major examinations of Australia’s Asian library resources in many years. During the early 1990s there were several important steps towards greater collaboration in this field.

In May 1991 a National Roundtable on Libraries and Asia was organised at the National Library in order to consider a national strategy to further the recommendations stemming from Ingleson and Ross. This and the subsequent Second National Roundtable in March 1995 and Third National Roundtable in February 1995 were important in informing librarians and academics of developments and building consensus for collaborative action to improve Asian collections and services nationally. For more on these and related activities see the references below and my “Australian experiences with coordinating Asian collections: issues and achievements” (www.nla.gov.au/nla/staffpaper/agosling2.html).

Following the First Roundtable a grant was made by the Commonwealth for a study on national resource sharing for Asian library collections. Part of this funding was allocated to a consultancy to investigate a nationally available shareable library system for Chinese, Japanese and Korean (CJK) script materials. In addition a survey of Asian library resources and research trends was undertaken jointly by the National Library and ANU Library. George Miller, Senior Librarian for Southeast Asia at the ANU and I jointly interviewed some eighty academics and librarians in Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth concerning trends and priorities for Asian library resources nationally.

Probably the strongest wish of academics and librarians interviewed was for improved access to Asian resources in Australia and overseas. In particular there was strong support for a national system of Asian studies library grants for postgraduate students to use the major collections especially at the National Library and ANU in Canberra.

Interviewing a diverse range of scholars, librarians and others had its funny moments. I remember we asked one eminent professor about cooperation between his centre and other Asian studies researchers at his own university. He retorted “What ! With those drunks and layabouts ?” Another leading scholar joked that he expected to read in the newspapers any day that colleagues at one university renowned for its self-promotion had been arrested for false pretences. During that period many Australian universities were setting up Asian studies programs often from scratch. I think it was the same professor who asked us to define a centre for Asian studies, answering his own question “a door with Centre for Asian studies” written on it.

Fortunately George and I got on well, and still do. It was tiring work especially at hilly campuses such as Flinders University in Adelaide and the University of New South Wales, where we seemed to be climbing up and down steps all the time. I also remember in Brisbane sinking gratefully into the hotel swimming pool at the end of a long day.

As mentioned above during the survey there was strong support for a national system of Asian studies library grants for use of the major collections especially at the National Library and ANU in Canberra. The Second Roundtable in 1993 supported this. In 1994 and 1995 the Commonwealth education department funded the Asian Studies Library Award (ASLA) scheme, which was administered by the Asian Studies Association of Australia. Twenty-nine awards were taken up in 1994 and twenty-six in 1995. Although modest, these awards met with positive responses from recipients and their supervisors. Unfortunately, despite ASAA approaches, the department did not fund the scheme beyond 1995. This was a great pity as it was a practical way of improving access to the major Asian research collections in Canberra for young scholars across Australia.

A national system for automated cataloguing of Asian scripts was strongly recommended in the Ingleson and Ross Reports and the First Roundtable. After the latter meeting, Australian Research Council funding was obtained in 1991 for a feasibility study, which was completed the following year. In 1993 more extensive funding was granted to identify and implement a suitable system and a request for tender issued late that year. In September 1994 Innovative Interfaces was chosen as preferred tenderer for the core software. The core software was installed in 1995.

The National CJK Service, implemented in June 1996, was a major achievement of collaborative work by Australian libraries. I will cover this further in the next part of the series. A number of National Library staff were honoured by the Library for their part in its development, including the original CJK project team, headed by Linda Groom, with C.P. Tang, Yumiko Tsuji and Murthy Manchella, as well as Marie Sexton, Director of Asian Collections. At the start of the project Linda worked from Asian Collections. I was greatly impressed by her ability, drive and keen sense of humour, not to mention the huge sandwiches she munched all day.

Many others also played a major role in CJK’s success. Two I would like to single out are Eric Wainwright, then Deputy Director-General at the National Library and Chooi-Hon Ho, who headed Monash University Library’s Asian area. Without Eric’s tireless championing of a non-Roman script library system in Australia it is hard to believe CJK would ever have eventuated. I used to take the minutes for the CJK Steering Committee meetings which Eric chaired. He did this with tact but also firmness and single-minded concentration on achieving results. I found that taking the minutes could be challenging. The representative of one leading academic library tended to give an opinion, then say the opposite and finally state something in between. I was also a member of the CJK Technical Committee, which Chooi-Hon chaired. She was able to bring out the different skills and strengths of all the members and develop one of the most harmonious and effective committees I have known.

I also attended the 1990 and 1992 Asian Studies Association of Australia and 1991, 1993 and 1995 Chinese Studies Association of Australia biennial conferences. The papers I gave at the 1991 CSAA conference at the University of Sydney and the 1992 ASAA at the University of New England, Armidale are listed below. The ASAA conference in Armidale, northern New South Wales, was particularly memorable, partly for its location. In mid-winter it was colder than Canberra but the university buildings were heated or rather overheated. Conferences at smaller regional universities seem friendlier than in the big cities. The small plane that took us from Sydney to Armidale seemed to be full of conference people. The local airport was tiny and I recall the pilot had to go into the terminal and queue up with passengers to use the single public phone there. This now seems incredible in the era of mobile phones.

The National Library was cooperating with universities in various ways. In 1994 there was a major push to obtain Australian Research Council funding for a National Information Access to Asian Resources project. This covered bibliographic projects for Chinese, Japanese, Korean and other Asian resources. In the end the only part that obtained any funding was the Japanese section, even though the applications were virtually identical. All the paperwork had to be completed very quickly. I recall working with Professor Colin Mackerras of Griffith University on the Chinese application. The Japanese application then copied the same wording and in places they forgot to change the word “Chinese” to “Japanese”.

Throughout this period there were discussions with ANU on closer cooperation. New collecting and access agreements were drawn up including for Chinese and Korean resources, building on earlier agreements dating back to the 1950s. This was based on detailed consultation with Susan Prentice and her staff. There were also plans to establish a combined National Library and ANU Asian library facility, to be known as the National Asian Information Centre, but this failed to obtain Commonwealth Government financial support.

I have always enjoyed preparing articles and conference papers to help make Australia’s Asian collections and services better known. A list of my writings from this period is included at the end of this article.

In October 1990 the Library began its monthly National Library of Australia News. This continues to the present as a widely distributed and most successful quality publication. It has included many articles on Asian topics by staff and other writers. I have to thank the long-term editor and head of the National Library’s Publications, Dr Paul Hetherington, for encouraging me over many years to write about Asian library topics for this periodical.

My first contribution was an updated guide to the Harold S. Williams Collection called “Westerners in Japan”. It followed a visit to the Library by Mrs Jean Williams, widow of the donor, Harold Williams, and herself a generous donor of additional material about Japan. As part of celebrations marking the 25th anniversary of the National Library building I wrote “Asian Collections at the National Library of Australia : forty years of history” for the August 1993 issue. To date I have had 16 articles on Asian topics published in National Library of Australia News, nearly half of them since retirement, as I now have more time to pursue this interest. All are also on the Library’s website.

My most substantial pieces from this period were contributions to longer collections. “Asian collections and services at the National Library of Australia” formed part of a set of critical essays, Library for the nation, being a special issue of Australian Academic and Research Libraries. “A Journey to Asia” about some of the highlights of the Library’s collections about Asia, was included in The People’s Treasures. This book celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Library building. Some publications from the Harold S. Williams, Braga and other Asian formed collections about which I wrote were included in a 1993 exhibition also called The People’s Treasures. “Reports and roundtables : Australia’s Asian Collections in the 1990s” about developments since the Ingleson report, appeared in Australian Library Review, August 1994, a special issue devoted to Asian library resources in Australia, and edited by George Miller.

In the next article I will cover the later 1990s.


The following are the main conference papers, book chapters and articles I prepared in the period 1991 to 1995.

Chinese library resources in Australia : the changing role of the National Library of Australia. Paper presented at the Chinese Studies Association of Australia, Second Biennial Conference, 1-4 July 1991. (www.nla.gov.au/asian/pub/chin2.html)

A high priority : the National Library of Australia’s Chinese holdings. Voices, 1(3), Spring 1991, pp. 13-15

Asian Collections and Services at the National Library of Australia. In Australian Academic and Research Libraries, 22(4), December 1991, pp. 118-126 (www.nla.gov.au/asian/pub/ascol.html)

Survey of Asian Library Resources and Research Trends 1992. Paper presented at the Asian Studies Association of Australia, 9th Biennial Conference, University of New England, Armidale, NSW, 5-9 July 1992 (www.nla.gov.au/asian/pub/survey.html). Also published in Asian Studies Review, 16(1992), pp. 222-227

Asian library resources in Australia. East Asian Library Resources Group of Australia Newsletter, no. 23, November 1992, pp. 7-11

A Journey to Asia, in The People’s Treasures : collections at the National Library of Australia, edited by John Thompson. Canberra : National Library of Australia, [1993], pp.56-63

Westerners in Japan : the Harold S. Williams Collection. National Library of Australia News, 3(4), January 1993, pp. 11-13 (www.nla.gov.au/asian/form/williams.html)

[Second] National Roundtable on Libraries and Asia. East Asian Library Resources Group of Australia Newsletter, no. 24, May 1993, pp. 14-18

Asian Collections at the National Library of Australia : forty years of history. National Library of Australia News, 3(11), August 1993, pp. 19-21

Reports and roundtables : Australia’s Asian Collections in the 1990s. Australian Library Review, 11(3), August 1994, pp. 327-336

Chinese Studies Association of Australia : Fourth Biennial Conference. East Asian Library Resources Group of Australia Newsletter, no. 30, November 1995, pp.18-20

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