// you’re reading...


– Page 8

On the many rows of books ascending the walls of the O'Donovan Collection of the Queensland Parliamentary Library, Brisbane, you see hardbacks from Victorian times, with titles like The Martyrdom of an Empress; and Diary of H.M. the Shah of Persia during his Tour Through Europe in A.D. 1873; The History of Java by Thomas Stamford Raffles; and Summer Cruising in the South Seas.An antiquarian book collector's dream, the collection, amassed from 1874 to 1902 by the then librarian Denis O'Donovan, is heritage listed, and heritage listed for its location. I interviewed librarian Carol-Ann Stinson.

READER’S VOICE: What duties do you have at the O’Donovan collection?

CAROL STINSON: The collection has been ignored for many years, so a lot of my time is spent getting to know the collection and making it more accessible by mapping it, and knowing how to use the catalogue. Then when other staff are looking for information particularly historical, I can highlight what sort of items can be found in the collection.

RV What are some of your favorites from the collection?

CS: It is very difficult for me to pick out individual items, because I treat the books as part of a collection and see the beauty and significance of the collection as a whole. But if you force me to – I love the books that have hand painted plates such as “The Eruption of Krakatoa, and Subsequent Phenomena: Report of the Krakatoa Committee of the Royal Society” Edited by G.J. Symons. London: Trubner & Co 1888.
And the exploration books, especially the Polor Explorations. …I really like the stories of exploration and I am curious when I see a name that spikes some memory from school history lessons. If somebody asked me who Flinders was I would say yes, I know him, didn’t he sail around Australia? But then I start to read what he and his crew really did and how they did it and the encounters they had. And then you start to think about the aboriginal population that had been living here for many thousands of years beforehand and how they moved around the country, and I get totally lost in another world..

RV: Describe the O’Donovan room.

CS: I am sure most people have seen “My fair Lady” or read Pygmalion. The library looks and feels exactly like the Professor’s library. Books from the floor to the ceiling, and on every wall, with beautiful leather chairs to sit in and read. Surprisingly, the library was open to the public for the first 10 years or so. However, in Brisbane like in many cities, the parliament and the House of the Governor, and other high society clubs and mansions, were all built close together and formed a sort of, what I call, “snob” precinct, and it is difficult to actually picture an average man of the street wandering in and finding something to read. I think is would have been mainly the parliamentarians and other leaders in the community.

RV: How many books listed in O’Donovan’s catalogue have gone missing over the years since Victorian times, and what might have happened to them?

CS: We don’t actually know as yet what is missing but I am always surprised by how much is not missing when you know how the collection has been treated over the years.

RV: Can you tell the story of how the room came to be Heritage listed and what that means?

CS: Over the years the library has been very concerned by the push in governments generally to privatise everything and put a value on everything, so that if it was ever necessary to balance the budget they could offer something for sale. As governments can and do change regularly, it was very important that the collection have some protection from this type of whim. The heritage listing means that the government of the day cannot break up the collection. It is seen as having heritage value as a collection situated in the parliament.

RV: Is there a catalogue of all the books in the library that the public can view?

CS: There is a catalogue. Mr O’Donovan’s catalogue is incredibly detailed and is the only access to the collection. I believe the catalogue is available at the State Library of Queensland.

RV: What sort of books do you like to read?

CS: Me, I have a bit of a short concentration span so I tend to read lots of journal articles, or lots of books at once, because I get bored with long drawn out things. Currently I am reading an Australian fiction called “The Songmaster” by Di Morrissey, published in 1997. A book by the name of “On Top of the World”, sorry I can’t remember the editor’s name, but it is fabulous. It is the stories of five women who explored the Himalayas in the late 18th Century.

And by my bed or in the car I always have a few copies of the Geographical Magazine, and a few of the Weekend Magazines from The Australian (newspaper). And an Australian magazine that started a year or two ago called Image and Data Manager. It is full of great information about records management and stories of who is doing what with new technologies.

Next issue: A New York artist who has been described as the greatest practitioner of comics in the world today.