Australian library wars of 1970 revisited

I read with some surprise an article – Fleming’s vision: the first computer for Australian libraries – in the current November/December 2013 issue of InCite written by Ian McCallum of Libraries Alive!

Of the many interesting features of the article are the following quotes:

Inevitably he stepped on some toes. The ‘elders of the Australian Advisory Council on Bibliographic Services (AACOBS) ‘ were wary of this newcomer with his background in management as the art of the possible rather than collection development and bibliography….  p.20

What a superb irony! The cold-shouldered ‘non-librarian’ shifted the National Library, and by example, other major libraries, into the red-hot world of information technology. Fleming’s understanding of technology in the future of libraries was much more professionally acute than the views of the ‘concerned librarians’ . p.21

Now I would have thought that people writing for a library journal would have some more regard to the fact that librarians would naturally support librarianship as a profession.

McCallum writes about librarian’s opposition to Allan Fleming’s becoming the senior librarian of Australia in 1970 as though somehow it was a bad thing. In fact those opposed to his elevation within the Concerned Librarians Group were sensible, correct and some of best librarians of the day. Any attempt to make out they were anything less is ill-judged. Those upset at the appointment were rightly concerned that instead of any of the highly qualified librarians in Australia getting the job, it was instead delivered as a gift from a politician to an unqualified but clubable ex-spy who’d been in the army and gone to the right school.

As to the further claim in the article that Allan Fleming was some sort of computer visionary who brought computers to the NLA, well really.

Major libraries worldwide were already of course getting computers, and the NLA would have gotten them whomsoever was in charge at the time. And in fact the first major Australian library to computerise their holdings was the U Syd Library run by the exceptional Harrison Bryan. The same Harrison Bryan (a later DG NLA) who didn’t get the position in 1970 because it went to Fleming.

Before and during Fleming’s time in libraries, there was a group of librarians running Australian libraries of a calibre not before or since seen. These librarians including Bryan, Whyte, Sharr, Horton, Balnaves and Pat and Ted Flowers wrote well and often, were respected in their fields and by the wider academic community and were also respected enough to be routinely asked to serve in a range of capacities by governments and organisations who recognised their knowledge and skills. Fleming no matter how benevolent he was does not deserve to be in their company.

Addendum, this attack on ‘concerned librarians’ also now appears in the latest issue of the Australian Library Journal – extraordinary!