WW1 for librarians

IWW poster, 1916

IWW poster, 1916

With the anniversary of the start of the First World War looming, there is sure to be demand in public libraries for information to complete school assignments or otherwise to commemorate the events and in particular the soldiers who fought and died.

While it is fine to remember and honour the service of those who went to fight, it is even more important to remember, commemorate and celebrate those who refused to fight.

In Australia there were a range of political and social institutions who were opposed to the war and who jointly defeated government attempts to introduce conscription.

Below are listed a few sources to assist those working in public libraries to provide their users with a range of useful resources. It is only a very small sample, there are hundreds more sources for the enterprising librarian to find.

Australian Dictionary of Biography  – Tom Barker – http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/barker-tom-5131

Australian Dictionary of Biography – Vida Goldstein – http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/goldstein-vida-jane-6418

Australian War Memorial – Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–1918 – Volume XI – Australia during the War (7th edition, 1941) – https://www.awm.gov.au/histories/first_world_war/AWMOHWW1/AIF/Vol11/

Australian Women’s Register – Women’s Peace Army – http://www.womenaustralia.info/biogs/AWE0542b.htm

Bobbie Oliver, Peacemongers: Conscientious Objectors to Military Service in Australia, 1911-1945, ISBN:  9781863681841

eMelbourne – Anti-War and Peace Movements – http://www.emelbourne.net.au/biogs/EM00071b.htm

Honest History

IWW – Tom Barker – http://www.iww.org/history/biography/TomBarker/1

John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library – WW1 & Anti-Conscription campaigns – http://john.curtin.edu.au/education/tlf/anti_conscription.html

Joy Damousi and Marilyn Lake, Eds., Gender and War : Australians at War in the Twentieth Century : Studies in Australian History,  CUP, ISBN: 9780521457101

National Archives of Australia – Conscription referendums, 1916 and 1917 – Fact sheet 161 –  http://www.naa.gov.au/collection/fact-sheets/fs161.aspx

National Film and Sound Archive – educational resources – World War 1 and the Conscription Referenda – http://dl.nfsa.gov.au/module/336/

National Library of Australia – TROVE – Direct Action (journal of the IWW) – http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/title/507

National Library of Australia – TROVE – Women’s Peace Army –  http://trove.nla.gov.au/people/728075?c=people

National Library of Australia – TROVE Search “Conscientious Objector “(date range 1914-1919)

Queensland State Archives – Conscripted to serve – http://www.archives.qld.gov.au/Researchers/Exhibitions/QldFirsts/26-50/Pages/31.aspx

State Library of New South Wales – Recruitment and conscription – http://guides.sl.nsw.gov.au/content.php?pid=489033&sid=4348340

State Library of Victoria – Arguments over Conscription – http://ergo.slv.vic.gov.au/explore-history/australia-wwi/home-wwi/arguments-over-conscription

Verity Burgmann, Revolutionary Industrial Unionism : The Industrial Workers of the World in Australia, CUP, ISBN: 9780521476980

Wikipedia – Frank Tudor – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Tudor

Wikipedia – War Precautions Act 1914 – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_Precautions_Act_1914

Wikipedia – World War I conscription in Australia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_I_conscription_in_Australia

Women’s Peace Army  – Manifesto – http://www.marxists.org/history/australia/1916/woman-manifesto.htm


The war was destructive for Australia as a nation which lost not only around 60 000 of its young men, with many more thousands left wounded, deranged, shell-shocked and damaged in countless ways, but lost also a sense of itself as a confident, independent, global pioneer in creating an advanced democracy that drew the eyes of all the world to the new Commonwealth. Instead, Australia succumbed in the end to the demand for loyalty, the demonisation of reformers and the revitalisation of the forces of imperialism.

One hundred years on, Australia has seemingly become the militarist nation Higgins warned about in his essay ‘Australian ideals’. Rather than celebrate the world-first democratic achievements forged by women and men in the founding years of our nationhood, the years that made Australia distinctive and renowned, we are told that World War I, in which Australians fought for the British Empire, was the supreme creative event for the nation. – Marilyn Lake (http://honesthistory.net.au/wp/lake-marilyn-fractured-nation/)


Election responses to ALIA

The major parties were asked to respond to 10 questions from ALIA on library and information matters.

Their responses are below.

From the ALP – no

From the Greens – yes

From the Liberals – refused to answer

Use your vote wisely, library folk

Hawke Review

Bit late because of holidays, but look the Hawke  FOI Review has come out, with a handy new practice guide.

The Review has sought to retain the free public access provisions in regards to application fees, personal information, and the initial 5 hours of processing.


We will look forward to see whether any new government implements the recommendations.


Federal Election 2013

During the last (2010) federal election, ALIA sent each of the parties a set of 10 questions seeking their views on library related issues, such as digitisation, funding, the NBN, school librarians etc. The parties responses are still available at: http://www.alia.org.au/election2010/
The Greens unsurprisingly responded well and agreed generally with ALIA’s policy directions. The Coalition agreed with many but said that economic imperatives prevented them from making any new spending commitments. The Labor response however, was laughable and seemed to have been written by a child intern. Even though, at that time, the ALP had a very good story to tell of building very many new school libraries and of developing fantastic open government initiatives its response was stunningly bad and one of the questions was even answered solely by recourse to plagiarism. See this earlier post.
This coming election, we will await again the library and information related policies from political parties. Hopefully this time, some of them will treat the questions and the sector with more interest.

Freedom of Information

Since the changes in Australian Freedom of Information legislation (see below) took effect on 1 November 2010 the number of FOI requests to Australian federal government agencies has grown overall by 48%. Different government agencies have been recording variant figures, with some agencies having requests up by over 70% while others figures are down or stable.

Prior to the change in legislation, FOI requests were on a continuing downward trend from an already low base rate, which is one reason the changes were brought in.
People were not able to access the information they wanted or needed, due to cost, excessive exemptions which limited access rights and a general culture of non-disclosure by agencies and their FOI staff.

FOI staff traditionally looked at FOI requests not with a view on how to support access and transparency, but to determine how to use the law not to disclose.

The change in legislation reversed this, it instructed FOI staff to assist people seeking information, it made initial requests free and it reduced the exemptions and made them have to be judged against a general public interest test, which determines that “access must generally be given to a conditionally exempt document  unless it would be contrary to the public interest”.

The change in legislation seemingly has worked and more people are able to access government information. Other facets of law or government policy changes are also assisting as agencies are also now directed to publish their corporate documents online, put their data sets up on data.gov.au, and move to open copyright licences.

But is information access being made to everyone?

The number of FOI requests by individuals is stable or declining (depending on who you ask). These individuals represent the “information poor” or the average person who generally does not have the knowledge or expertise to be able to know what information is available or to navigate the FOI process.

Where there is a significant rise in FOI usage is by the “information rich” that is people in the  news media, legal profession and academic arena who know of the legislative changes and are able to benefit from them.

All large media organisations (TV stations and newspapers) now employ staff whose job it is to produce and manage FOI requests. These staff on behalf of journalists, or it can be by the journalist themselves, regularly send requests to government agencies seeking access to information. There have been multiple instances of this source of information in major news stories of the last few months. This is a good and valid use of FOI disclosure in the public interest. However some FOI staff are unhappy due to the workload as many of the FOI requests are what are known as trawling exercises, whereby large amounts of information are requested because the journalist a) may not know exactly what they are looking for or, b) want to hide exactly what they are looking for within a greater information set.

Another user group is academics who know what information the government holds and now have a chance to access it to support their research.

The other large scale use is by lawyers. The ‘discovery process’ whereby information and documents are gathered for a case, used to be an expensive and long process. Now however, an FOI request to an agency which may have nothing to do with a case except via some regulatory action, or may actually be a party to a dispute can be used to find and organise and deliver large amounts of information. Some FOI staff are unhappy about this as they feel they are doing work for a commercial entity, which that entity should be paying for.

It is possible for government agencies to charge for handling some FOI requests and for providing some information, however this is set at a rate that would not actually cover costs. This low rate was designed so as not to put off potential applications from poorer individuals. In some cases also the fees can be waived outright. There is a growing demand from some FOI staff in Commonwealth agencies for changes to the legislation. They wish to be able to charge enhanced fees to commercial entities such as media and legal organisations. There are also some staff who do not agree with the new policy of disclosure and some government agencies that are also uncomfortable, for example, The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet released in July its FOI Guidance Notes which although seemingly endorsing access, could also be seen as existing to show staff how best not to disclose.

What we are seeing therefore as we come to the end of the first full year of the new legislation is that those who know how to use the system and have prior knowledge are able to better access information.

These people and organisations, whether commercial or not, have every right to use the legislation and receive the services of the agency and their staff (as public servants) to meet their information needs. It would be a serious mistake to change the legislation due to the complaints of some staff who are being asked to work harder (it would be better to instruct agencies to employ more staff).

The major problem therefore is not that some people or organisations are using the system too liberally, but that information poor individuals are not using the system enough.

It is to be hoped that in the next year that the Australian Information Commissioner takes upon itself as a priority the education and promotion of the pathways to government information.

It is also hoped that the Commissioner ignores the attempts to to try to shut down the access we now grant, and supports expanding FOI services.

Freedom of Information Act 


(1)  The objects of this Act are to give the Australian community access to information held by the Government of the Commonwealth or the Government of Norfolk Island, by:

(a)  requiring agencies to publish the information; and

(b)  providing for a right of access to documents.

(2)  The Parliament intends, by these objects, to promote Australia’s representative democracy by contributing towards the following:

(a)  increasing public participation in Government processes, with a view to promoting better‑informed decision‑making;

(b)  increasing scrutiny, discussion, comment and review of the Government’s activities.

(3)  The Parliament also intends, by these objects, to increase recognition that information held by the Government is to be managed for public purposes, and is a national resource.

(4)  The Parliament also intends that functions and powers given by this Act are to be performed and exercised, as far as possible, to facilitate and promote public access to information, promptly and at the lowest reasonable cost.


FoI charges are going to be reviewed, with a view presumably to cut costs and levy fees on applicants: http://www.ministerhomeaffairs.gov.au/www/ministers/oconnor.nsf/Page/MediaReleases_2011_FourthQuarter_7October2011-FOIchargesregimetobereviewed

Hopefully it will be recognised that although transparency may cost more to manage, it is a cost that the information holders should undertake, and not information seekers.