Newsletter No. 53 (December 2008)

Thirtieth Anniversary of the East Asian Library Resources Group of Australia

Andrew Gosling

President of EALRGA 1986-1988, 1997-2003

[This is the complete version of an address presented in summary on 15 May 2008 at the Menzies Library of the Australian National University]

Thank you, Renata, for inviting me to speak this afternoon. We are here for two purposes, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the East Asian Library Resources Group of Australia and also the major contribution of Enid Gibson (Bishop). My topic is the 30th anniversary. Susan Prentice will be talking about Enid, whom I have known for many years and admired for her outstanding work in Asian studies librarianship as well as her delightful personality.

For all those who hate acronyms, and I know librarians are notoriously addicted to them, I promise to avoid their use as far as possible. I think, however, that it will be easier to talk about EALRGA than the East Asian Library Resources Group of Australia.

EALRGA was born here at the Australian National University on Friday 16th September 1977. I cannot give you the exact hour of birth. It was the offspring of an East Asian Library Seminar held that day in the McDonald Room of the Menzies Library, where we are right now. The seminar was the first gathering of librarians in this field from all over the country.

A year later, in November 1978, EALRGA's first newsletter appeared. It was 9 pages long and contained a constitution and list of 21 members. Four of those founding members are here today - Enid Gibson herself, Susan Prentice, Pauline Haldane (Crawcour) and Janice Watkins (Kenny). The constitution listed six goals for the group:
  • to promote the standard of East Asian librarianship in Australia.
  • to encourage discussion and the exchange of information through correspondence, newsletters, conferences and seminars.
  • to serve as a professional body to facilitate contacts with similar organizations in other countries.
  • to contribute towards an understanding of the problems of East Asian library services in libraries at large.
  • to promote the development and effective bibliographic control of East Asian collections in Australia.
  • to recommend programs for improvement of library facilities and services.

    I believe that EALRGA has worked hard to further these aims, particularly the second goal of encouraging discussion and the exchange of information both within the library profession and with users, especially the scholarly community, through the newsletter and conferences.

    Perhaps I should go back a step and make the obvious point that EALRGA's greatest success has been to survive for 30 years. Considering the small number of East Asian librarians in Australia that is a real achievement. EALRGA has depended on a few dedicated librarians, mainly current and former staff of the National Library and the ANU Library, to serve on its committee, to edit the newsletter and to organize seminars. By my count only just over a dozen people have been on the committee during those 30 years. The founding committee consisted of Sidney Wang as Chair, YS Chan as Vice-Chair and Editor and Nikki White as Secretary / Treasurer. Since then others who have served on the committee have included: Beatrice Tam, C.P. Tang, Eiko Sakaguchi, Mayumi Shinozaki, Michelle Hall, Renata Osborne, Susan MacDougall, Susan Prentice, Wan Wong and myself. I apologise if I have inadvertently left anyone out. Three who deserve particular mention, and who formed the committee for many years, are Susan Prentice as President, Susan McDougall as Editor and C.P. Tang as Secretary/ Treasurer.

    Beyond this group EALRGA has depended on its wider membership around Australia and overseas and on the support of senior librarians, particularly at the ANU Library and National Library, notably Enid Gibson and her successors at the ANU, Pauline Haldane, later Marie Sexton and now Amelia McKenzie at the National Library. I have stressed the pivotal role of people from Australia's two leading East Asian libraries, which happen to be in Canberra, but of course many others from across the country have contributed to the newsletter, at seminars and in other ways.

    The most tangible product of EALRGA is its newsletter. For anyone interested in the history and development of East Asian collections and services in Australia it is essential reading. Since 1978 fifty-two issues have appeared. The early newsletters were brief but soon expanded to include longer articles, reports and surveys by librarians and scholars on many topics. Within a decade membership had increased to over 100, including individuals and institutions in Australasia, Asia, Europe and North America. A very modest annual membership fee of $5 continued from 1977 right up to 1993 when it was finally increased to $15. Today there is no fee and anyone can read online all recent and many of the back issues published since 1995 at http://www.ealrga.org.au/newsletter.html. It is hoped to make all the newsletters from 1978 onwards available online soon.

    The group has also been active, alone or in cooperation with others such as the Asia-Pacific Special Interest Group (APSIG), in organizing seminars on East Asian topics at academic and library conferences, including those of the Australian Library and Information Association. Incidentally, APSIG is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. EALRGA held a seminar at the 2nd conference of the Asian Studies Association of Australia in 1978 and has continued to do so at many if not most of its subsequent conferences. In more recent years the group has also held sessions during conferences of the Japanese Studies Association of Australia, the Chinese Studies Association of Australia and the Korean Studies Association of Australasia.

    EALRGA has changed over time. After many years in print its newsletter now appears purely in electronic form. The original name was East Asian Librarians' Group of Australia. In 1986 Susan Prentice and I proposed the current name to make it clear that the group is not just for librarians, but for scholars and all interested in East Asian library matters. To be honest the name change has not made a great difference. In the early days we held postal elections for the committee every 2 years. This was discontinued for practical reasons, as the numbers willing to serve on the committee were limited. I forget exactly when we changed from Chairperson to President but it was during the mid 1980s. Just the other day I was surprised to receive a letter from China addressed to President Andrew Gosling. It is 5 years since I held such a position in EALRGA. In 1997 a Japanese Library Resources Group (JALRGA) was formed within the main EALRGA to focus greater attention on Japanese topics. Since then there has been a Japanese studies librarian on the EALRGA committee, first Eiko Sakaguchi of Monash University, and then Michelle Hall of the University of Melbourne.

    There is much more I could and should say were there time, but I will conclude by wishing EALRGA a belated happy 30th birthday here at the place of its birth, and many more birthdays to come. Thank you.

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