Newsletter No. 53 (December 2008)

Address to EALRGA on the 30th anniversary celebration

Enid Gibson

I'm delighted to join in celebrating the 30th anniversary of EALRGA. I used to think of it as a heroic little band of dedicated and enthusiastic members battling away in their libraries against almost insuperable odds to meet the daunting challenges in this very special field of East Asian librarianship. However, times have changed, and we've heard today about their considerable accomplishments. I'd like to congratulate all those who have carried on the work of EALRGA through mutual support and shared purpose over the years, and may it long continue to aid all those who are striving to foster and develop East Asian collections throughout the country now and in the years ahead. As for my own part in this endeavour (now long past), I feel I was just one of a long line of willing workers who were and are committed to it, and I look back on my experiences in the field with a sense of gratitude for the privilege of being allowed to carve out an intensely interesting career for myself with the help of many others.

When Renata and Susan told me that the committee wished my name to be mentioned in connection with this gathering, I protested that I felt as though I would be doing a bit of a Nellie Melba, having been officially farewelled at the ANU over 20 years ago, but they persuaded me that it would be appropriate, and never fear, I'm not going to burst into song! I'm greatly honoured, of course, to be remembered in this way, and I do thank you all for your kindness and generosity.

I feel that, on the one hand, I was fortunate to have been around at the right time to get in at the right time to get in on the ground floor of the development of East Asian studies and the accompanying need to establish strong library collections to support these studies. The 1950s and 1960s were a time of post-war expansion and growth, blessed with the financial support of governments and foundations, and there was an air of eager expectancy and indeed excitement about the future prospects of this new field. On the other hand, as the first appointee to the library of the former Canberra University College to take charge of the East Asian collection, I was acutely aware of my own deficiencies in knowledge of the materials I was working with and of the problems they raised, and I sometimes wondered how I could ever have thought that I was capable of handling them. The fact was, of course, there was none else around at that time who would have been any better at it than I was, so I just had to get on with it as best I could.

As some of you already know I came to this field of librarianship after having been started on the path of Chinese and Japanese language studies by my former supervising officer at the National Library of Australia where I was working at the time, who was keenly aware of the need for librarians with Asian language skills, and who encouraged me to take up these studies as part of a BA degree. After completing the degree, I was expected to return to the NLA, bringing my skills, such as they were, to be used for the benefit of that institution. As it happened, I was offered a post at the then Canberra University College, and the rest, as they say, is history. I've always been grateful for my years at the National Library - for all that I learned there, for the mentoring I received from its former senior librarians, and for the good relations I later enjoyed with my fellow East Asian librarians there.

But of course, I am most indebted to the ANU and the former CUC for the great opportunities that were afforded me throughout my career to broaden my horizons in ways that I could never have imagined, through study, professional travel, and the stimulus or working with outstanding scholars on the academic staff, as well as students and other users. In particular, I owe a great deal to several senior academic staff who sponsored me to go abroad to do a master's degree in librarianship with an East Asian emphasis at Columbia University and then to visit major collections in the USA and East Asia. I doubt whether such an opportunity would be available today, due to changed conditions in the universities and the greater availability locally of linguistically and professionally qualified staff.

Probably the most satisfying and rewarding aspect of my career at the CUC and later the ANU was the seeking out, appointing and working with a fine group of skilled specialist librarians and support staff, and their enthusiasm and devotion to the tasks we were attempting. The problems were legion, and I don't imagine they're all that different today, but there was a spirit of adventure in dealing with them which was something I greatly valued. We had some pretty colourful characters in our ranks over the years, some of whom exercised great ingenuity in meeting the demands of obtaining materials from countries with difficult conditions or repressive regimes - for example one, who shall be nameless, once dressed in the garb of an official while in a particular country and bought a quantity of publications which were not available for export or even for the general domestic public. He got away with it and was able to carry the books out of the country in his true capacity with no questions asked, and deposit them in the ANU Library where I assume they still are. Others excelled in different ways and sometimes went on to higher posts in academic or related fields. One who is here today was the first Western librarian to be invited to join the staff of the National Library of China on an exchange visit to assist with automated bibliographical control of Chinese material. We invited a number of interesting personalities to join our staff for limited periods from the National Diet Library in Japan and the National Library of China, and this too, was an enriching and satisfying thing for me on a personal level.

Librarianship is nothing if not teamwork, and whatever I may have achieved in this field could not have been done without a tremendous amount of support from many people, and above all from the loyal, talented and highly skilled staff I had the good fortune to gather around me during those years.

I thank you all for your presence here today, and especially for the generous remarks from my former colleague, Susan. I'm proud to have been associated with this great enterprise, and grateful for the many friends and colleagues that have contributed so much to bring it all to pass. I can't attempt to mention them all by name, but I shall never forget them. May I say 'Long live EALRGA' and may you all go on from strength to strength in your worthy endeavours. Thank you.

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