Newsletter No. 53 (December 2008)

Tribute to Enid Gibson

Susan Prentice

[This is the speech made by Susan at the EALRGA event on 15 May 2008 at the Menzies Library of the Australian National University]

I first met Enid at the end of 1968 after Jack Graneek who was University Librarian at the time offered me the choice of a job in cataloguing or one in Asian Studies in the Chinese collection. With some trepidation, I opted for the latter and he took me upstairs in this building and introduced me to Enid. For me it was a life-changing decision and one which I have never regretted. It led to a career in East Asian librarianship which was, in a word, enthralling. It was always interesting, often very exciting and sometimes extremely challenging and the fascination grew. I personally owe a great deal to Enid. I therefore feel honoured and privileged to have the opportunity, on behalf of the East Asian Library Resources Group of Australia, to pay tribute to Enid's enormous contribution to the field of Asian Studies librarianship in general and East Asian Librarianship in particular.

Throughout her career Enid was justifiably widely respected and admired not just by those of us who had the pleasure to work for her and by colleagues across the ANU Library, but also more widely in librarianship in Canberra, not just in Canberra but more widely across Australia, not just in Australia but also internationally. She was also widely respected and admired by the academic community not just across the ANU campus, not just in the field of Asian Studies but also in other fields. And she was widely admired and respected not just by Asianists in Canberra, but also across Australia and internationally. She realised the importance of establishing contacts and maintaining close relationships with colleagues, locally, nationally and internationally and embraced opportunities to visit collections and discuss issues of mutual interest with colleagues, whenever such opportunities arose.

The wide regard in which Enid was held made it possible for her to achieve much that may not have been possible for others. She was therefore able to play a crucial role in the development of Asian studies librarianship in Australia for the benefit of the academic and research community that it served, from quite modest beginnings to international standing and recognition. She laid the foundations of what we have today and created a climate in which Asian Studies librarianship could flourish and develop. And develop it did. When Enid retired from the ANU Library, in April 1984, there were 28 staff devoted to Asian Studies collections, some full-time, some part time and a collection of more than 220,000 volumes. In addition, various specialist interest groups and associations had been established, of which EALRGA was one.

Importantly, Enid had a vision of what was required to move Asian Studies librarianship from its backwater status, from the margins to a position in which it was possible to influence the field of librarianship more broadly. She trod a rocky and, often, lonely road. Not everybody shared her vision of area librarianship, for example, or of the value, indeed need for Area librarians. Nor was everybody able to appreciate fully the importance of Asia to Australia's long-term prosperity and security and thus also the importance of Asian collections in contributing to an understanding of the region. Nevertheless, she persevered and overcame many obstacles and enjoyed a host of achievements during her career.

Enid's achievements are far too numerous to mention them all so I will just highlight a few. She was an early member of the International Association of Orientalist Librarians (IAOL) and founding editor of its Newsletter from 1971 to 1975. She was Secretary of the Planning Committee for the Library Seminars at the 28th International Congress of Orientalists held in Canberra 6-12 January 1971 which brought together an impressive number of distinguished librarians from around the world. Largely through her role as an office bearer of IAOL she raised awareness of Asian collections and Asian librarianship amongst colleagues internationally. She initiated surveys of collections in Australia which led to the development and strengthening of the collections and services they offered. One example is the visit of Cecil Hobbs then Head of the Southern Asian Section of the Orientalia Division of the Library of Congress to the ANU as a consultant from October 1972 to May 1973 which led to the development of the Southeast Asian collection at the ANU Library.

Enid was active in the establishment not only of EALRGA but also of the Southeast Asian Research Materials Group (SEARMG) at the Biennial conference of the LAA in August 1971. The first newsletters of the group were edited by Enid's staff and distributed by the Asian Studies library Staff at the ANU.

In addition, Enid played an important role in the establishment of the Asian Studies Association of Australia and was a member of the Working Committee set up after an initial meeting decided to establish such an association in January 1975. She was also on the subcommittee set up to establish the Constitution of the Association. And she made numerous important and substantial submissions to enquiries into Asian Studies in Australia.

Of course, Enid had her own works published and promoted and encouraged the work of others in the field, including those of her own staff in the ANU library, via for example, a publication series on Asian Studies at the ANU which she also actively promoted. She organised and contributed to many seminars, workshops and conferences. One important example was the Conference on International Cooperation in Chinese Bibliographical Automation which was held in the ANU Library from 29 August to 1 September 1982 and brought together for the first time representatives from both the mainland and Taiwan as well as Hong Kong and international representatives from Britain, Europe and North America. She also edited and published the papers from the conference. Enid organised many exhibitions, small ones and large, including an exhibition of Australian Publishing on Asia, called Australia's Asian Future also held at the ANU, in fact here in this room from August to September 1979. She also encouraged and supported both local and international cooperation and it was while she was Head of the Asian Studies Division in the ANU Library that the ANU received its first two exchange librarians from China in 1981, a program which continued until the mid-1990s and which reaped many rewards for the ANU library, and for the Australia --wide community of Asian scholars and, specifically, of course for East Asian Librarianship.

I could go on, but I will leave it there and hope that I have at least begun to do justice to Enid's major contribution. It remains for me only to say thank you to Enid, to thank all of you for coming to share in this occasion and to present Enid with a small token to remind her of our appreciation for her contribution. Books, of course, because in spite of all the wonders of the digital age, when it comes down to it, probably all librarians prefer a good book, or, in this case two.

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