Monday, 26 June 2017

Two things to celebrate in June

First, some exciting news from our cataloguers – our entire collection of serials (over 200 titles) has now been added to Libraries Australia and may be searched on Trove. Included are such rarities as The Repertory of Arts, Manufactures and Agriculture (1802-17), The Scots Mechanics' Magazine and Journal of Arts, Sciences and Literature (1825-26) and a very long run of the Mechanics' Magazine, Museum, Register, Journal and Gazette (1823-55).

Secondly, June marks the bicentennial of the bicycle - In June 1817, German inventor Baron Karl von Drais first tested his laufmaschine (running machine) on the streets of Mannheim.

Far from an overnight sensation, Baron Drais' invention, which was variously called the draisine, the swiftwalker, the hobby horse, and the velocipede, failed to take off in England.

The Mechanics' Magazine took up the Baron's cause in 1832 with a three page feature, including a front cover illustration, and with this explanation to its readers; -

Baron Drais was, we believe, the original inventor of the Velocipede, which made so considerable a figure in this country some fourteen or fifteen years ago. Since his arrival in England, he has been endeavouring to revive the use of it, and insists that it must have been owing to some error in the construction of our English edition of the invention, or great inexpertness in the management of it, that it fell into such general discredit amongst us.
How far his notions on this head are founded on fact, or attributable to the self-delusion natural to all sanguine inventors, we presume not to say (though certainly we have a strong impression on the subject); but civility to an ingenious foreigner demands that we should lay before our readers his own description of his invention in its most improved shape, in order that they may judge for themselves. (Ed. M. M.)

The inventor's own instructions give some sense of the challenges involved in mastering the use of the original bicycle;

After the seat is taken in the manner represented in the prefixed fig. 1, sit with your body rather forward, and lay the hands with outstretched elbows firm upon the balancing board, and try to keep an equilibrium with the machine.

With your hands hold the pole fast wherewith you are enabled to govern your own way at pleasure. This must chiefly be performed with the hands, because the under arm and elbows should remain rested, to enable you to have a fine feeling of keeping your balance.

Putting your feet very lightly down, you are then to make large, but at first rather slow, steps, parallel with the wheels; taking care to turn your heels outwards, so that they do not come under the wheels.

Should you happen to lose your balance, you can generally assist yourself with your feet, or with guiding a little upon the side inclining outwards; but, for turning round, you should guide rather to the inner side, and bear direct towards it.

To acquire perfection in the use of the machine, you should make the first trials upon good paths of a certain breadth within doors.

After considerable practice in balancing and guiding, you may then propel quicker, holding at the same time both feet from the ground, during the time the machine rolls on at full speed.

 Mechanics' Magazine, No 477, September 29, 1832, p. 418.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Partnering with Trove

We are proud to be a content partner with Trove, the National Library's brilliant aggregator of content from libraries, museums, archives, and other organisations big and small.

Just over a year ago our outstanding team of volunteer cataloguers began to contribute records to Libraries Australia so our collection could be more widely accessed and researched. Already 6418 titles have been added. Our aim is to have the whole of our book collection catalogued in the next year.

Trove progressively harvests records from Libraries Australia making our collection fully searchable from their site.

Records in Trove are linked to a National Union Catalogue (NUC) Symbol. NUC Symbols are issued and maintained by the National Library of Australia. Every NUC Symbol is unique and allows Trove to identify the organisation holding the item. A NUC Symbol is added to each incoming record by the Trove harvester. Our NUC symbol is TLMI.

We have now added a Trove search widget to our sidebar so the reader can browse or search our collection. The search parameters have been set up to limit your search to books with our NUC symbol.

If the search box is left blank you will be taken to a complete list of our titles. If a search term is entered the results will include only items held in our collection.

The Trove story - from their site
Trove's origins can be traced back to a project launched by the National Library of Australia in August 2008. Its aim was to build a portal for all of the Library’s online discovery services, including the Register of Australian Archives and Manuscripts, Picture Australia, Libraries Australia, Music Australia, Australia Dancing, PANDORA web archive, ARROW Discovery Service and the Australian Newspapers Beta service.

Today Trove is transformed, growing far beyond its original purpose and becoming many things to many people: a community, a set of services, an aggregation of metadata, and a growing repository of full text digital resources. Trove is a platform on which new knowledge is being built. It is a collaboration between the National Library, Australia's State and Territory libraries and hundreds of cultural and research institutions around Australia, working together to create a legacy of Australia’s knowledge for now and into the future.

Visit the Trove site to learn more about this outstanding service.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017


By-law 7 (1906)
Our library is an artefact of a time when libraries were regarded as stores of books established to facilitate access to knowledge and entertainment.

As libraries become increasingly able to access digital surrogates to meet those same needs many have taken the opportunity to reduce their physical stock, repurpose their spaces, and expand their offering. Their emphasis is increasingly on the creation of social spaces, the facilitation of information literacy and the provision of aids to the navigation of electronic resources.

Retrospective digitisation projects, most famously, Google Books, have the potential to make the contents of any book available anywhere and at any time.

Taken to its logical conclusion, could this mean that reading in the future could rely on the preservation of  single copies of traditional printed books – stored somewhere as an "insurance population" – that all students, researchers, seekers of information and recreational readers could access via a digital surrogate?

Where would such an outcome leave a collection like ours – large in comparison to similar surviving collections, but tiny by global measures?

Our argument has always been that it is the totality of the collection that gives it significance and its principal research value. The LMI collection is primarily of historical significance because it comprises the larger part of the library of a major and enduring mechanics institute in an important regional city, and thus it illuminates the reading habits, information sources and interests of a colonial city, as well as its inter-colonial, British Empire and international connections over a century.
Individual items in the collection provide evidences of subject interest areas, collecting priorities and biases, reading tastes and organising principles.

Some of the research could be undertaken simply by reference to a list of the books in the collection – our series of printed catalogues or accession registers for example.

But a great deal more can only be revealed by the physical item itself. A book can sit on the shelf in a public library and never be read, or it can be heavily used. Inspection of the book can reveal marks of use and handling, evidence of rebinding, details of provenance such as previous owners' inscriptions and booksellers' labels, from which the history of that particular copy may be deduced.

Bibliographers have become increasingly interested in discovering evidence of how the reader interacted with the book and with the text.

There has been a focus on marginalia in recent years as one window to those interactions. The Book Traces project, auspiced by the University of Virginia, seeks out examples of marginalia with this plea;

Thousands of old library books bear fascinating traces of the past. Readers wrote in their books, and left pictures, letters, flowers, locks of hair, and other things between their pages. We need your help identifying them because many are in danger of being discarded as libraries go digital. Books printed between 1820 and 1923 are at particular risk.  Help us prove the value of maintaining rich print collections in our libraries.

Other examples of projects recording marginalia include Arizona State University's Book Traces Project, Annotated Books Online and ThePages Project.

Much of the focus in the study of marginalia to date has been on the privately owned book. One owner, one set of annotations, one response to the book; perhaps intended to be shared with friends, but most commonly as an aide-de-memoir or a record of argument for the reader.(1)

Marginalia in a library book is however quite a different beast. Sometimes it is intended as a signal to the library patron that they have already read the book – a date, an initial or a secret mark left in a particular place. But often it is a kind of informal review – a tick, a word or a comment for the edification of potential readers and indecisive borrowers or even a word of warning to the gullible or the delicate sensibility. And it must also be a triumph of conviction over caution, because the reader would surely know how much the librarian abhors the practice.

And so to an example in our collection noticed recently by an eagle-eyed cataloguer.

The book is Frederick Selous's Sport and Travel; east and west (1900) an account of hunting expeditions in Asia Minor and the Rocky Mountains.(2)  The book is well-worn and has been rebound locally in 1936 using portions of the original cloth pasted on heavy boards. It continued to be borrowed regularly up to 1951.

At the foot of the final page of text is a pasted label, interesting in its own right as evidence of Mudie's business model and probably of the way the book was obtained for the Launceston Mechanics' Institute collection.

Behind the label, and most carefully concealed by it, is the following handwritten gloss;

The author of this book has the reputation of killing more big game than any hunter in Africa. How does he come to write this book, full of blunders, mistakes, & bad shooting. His past experience had taught him nothing. His shooting in Asia Minor ... would have been his finish had he performed likewise in Africa among dangerous game.

Crosshatched in lighter pencil, but still behind the veil of Mudie's label, is a qualified but more positive view;

Probably more careful with the truth than average writers! Less prone to sensationalism.

There is perhaps a degree of diplomacy in the placement of the comments at the end of the work. The writer cannot be said to have prejudiced the new reader, even if he or she felt it necessary to make their opinion known. (3) Or perhaps they did not wish their obtrusion to be easily discovered by librarian? Whatever the reason a need to 'air their knowledge' on the subject was satisfied before the book was returned.

One hundred years on, examples of marginalia are a valuable tool as we research our collection. They are unmistakeable proof that our collection was read, that readers interacted with the books, and in some cases we can even capture the exact tenor of that interaction.


1. In 2016 we purchased for our research collection a copy of H. J. Jackson's "Marginalia; readers writing in books (2001)" at a sale of discarded library books for the bargain price of $2.00. Disappointingly the book appeared to have been little used, and, even more disappointingly, there was not a single annotation in it. While Professor Jackson's principal interest was in privately owned books, it was an interesting speculation on the psychology and motivations of annotators, and above all a celebration of the practice. Her examples reveal great minds, e.g. S T Coleridge, interacting with their copies of important texts.

2. In what was a quite small collection of sporting books (only 132 titles) it is interesting from a modern perspective to analyse the mix of sports represented. Cricket and golf, which dominate today's sports book market in Australia, together account for less than 10% of the total. The great interests of the day were fishing (32 titles) and hunting and shooting (38 titles).

3. Notwithstanding our reviewer's opinion, Frederick Selous was the most celebrated of big-game hunters in Southeast Africa and the inspiration for Rider Haggard's fictional Allan Quatermain, and thus for the film character Indiana Jones.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Find us on Instagram

Our talented volunteer, Nienna Fontana, is developing a gallery of images which highlight the visual appeal of the wonderful Launceston Mechanics' Institute collection - the books, bindings, illustrations, typography, and even the bumps and scuffs gathered over the last two centuries.

You can now enjoy Nienna's superb photographs and follow her as she records her impressions of the collection on Instagram at:

Saturday, 15 April 2017

St John Browne and the Penny Cyclopaedia

One of the earliest tasks in establishing the new Launceston Mechanics' Institute Library was the provision of a Reference Collection for the use of members in the Reading Room. This collection was based largely on donations and so by 1861 it included an eclectic mix of subjects, as shown in this excerpt from the Printed catalogue of that year.

Many of these items remain in the collection today, and one with especially interesting provenance is the Penny Cyclopaedia.

Its accession was recorded thus in the minutes of the 1843 annual meeting of the society; "on loan, for use in the reading-room, the Penny Cyclopaedia, 21 vols., from St. John E. Browne, Esq."  Every volume was permanently inscribed with the owner's name on the flyleaf.

The Penny Cyclopaedia, which was produced for the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, was published by Charles Knight the publisher of the Penny Magazine. Twenty-seven volumes and three supplements were published from 1828 to 1843. The Society's object was to publish inexpensive texts for an expanding reading public, with a particular emphasis on self-education; a perfect fit with the aims and ideals of a Mechanics' Institute.

Clearly, since we still have the set of books, the original owner did not exercise his right to reclaim his loan. So what is known about the donor, St John E. Browne?

He was a younger brother of Rev William Henry Browne, who was rector of St John's Church, Launceston from 1828 to 1868. St John must have soon followed his brother to VDL as he first comes to notice in Launceston in 1831 as the operator of a private school. The brothers' relationship is succinctly characterised by Gill Morris; - "hapless and impecunious [St John] certainly tried his brother's patience, energy and pocket as much as his position of influence within government circles."(1)

A few entries from Rev Browne's journal will serve to illustrate;

5 June 1837 ... "Lectured Mr Wales & Mr Turner for their conduct in trying to provoke my Brother to a Duel."

29 January 1842 ..."Wrote several letters, visited sick etc. also engaged getting letters for St John from Bankers & to assist him against the persecution of his superior."

2 November 1844 ... "Wrote several letters, also for St John again in trouble with postmaster Genl ..."

In parallel with the "persecution of his superior" St John faced the slings and arrows of public opinion via the columns of the local newspapers, where correspondents repeatedly drew attention to the shortcomings of the post office and his management.

Somehow, doubtless with his brother's assistance, St John survived in his tenure as Post Master at Launceston until his retirement on a government pension.

The Launceston Examiner announced his retirement with characteristic delicacy;

Mr. St. John E. Browne, Postmaster at Launceston, has forwarded an application, accompanied by medical certificates, asking permission to retire on allowance. This request, made in consequence of failing health, has, we understand, been assented to by the Executive. Mr. Browne will, therefore, cease to hold office at the close of the year: it is presumed he will be succeeded by Mr. Wm. Windeatt. Such is the programme for the 1st of January, 1861. We do not care to institute any comparisons, or to say a word calculated to wound the most sensitive; but we cannot resist the conviction that the arrangements thus briefly sketched, will be acceptable to the public and beneficial to the service. (2)

St John returned to England, and, despite his "failing health", survived until 1880.

At some point after his departure a user of the Mechanics' Institute Reading Room must have taken down Volume Nine of the Penny Cyclopaedia from the shelves, and, noticing St John's inscription, decided to add a sketch of the man for posterity; - faintly pencilled below the signature is the observation that "He left behind him a character stained by avarice, harshness and deception."

It is a reminder, in the age of increasing dependence on the digital surrogate, of the value of libraries in preserving what David Pearson has described as "museums of marginalia". Our volume of the Penny Cyclopaedia has preserved a unique interaction, a moment in time when our anonymous reader felt a spontaneous need to put a deeply held personal view 'on the record.'

1. Browne, W. H., His record is on high : the journal of Reverend William Henry Browne, LLD, of St John's Church, Launceston, Van Diemen's Land, 23 May 1830 - 19 February 1845 / edited by Gill Morris. Launceston, Tasmania : Gill Morris, 2013. p 13.

2. LAUNCESTON EXAMINER. Saturday, December 1, 1860. P2.