Opportunity knocks

Opportunity knocks
A year with the Friends of the National Library of Australia Incorporated
14 December 2016

For many of us December is a time to reflect on the year that was.  For me 2016 has been a stimulating and engaging experience working as Executive Officer for the Friends of the National Library of Australia for a 12 month secondment. 

So, how do the Friends of the NLA achieve their mission to support and promote the National Library of Australia and its exceptional collections and resources? I’m glad you asked.

The Friends Committee comprises 16 members in total, including the Library’s Director General, two other National Library staff members in addition to the Executive Officer and up to 12 elected Ordinary Committee Members.  Each member brings with them their own ideas and a wealth of experience, from careers in teaching, public service, the legal profession as well as small business professionals.

The Committee meets every two months when wide ranging topics are discussed such as:

  • deliberating worthwhile projects to support the Library in creating access to the collection (under the guidance of National Library management)
  • benefits for members
  • engagement of members through events and communication
  • marketing strategies.

2016 Friends highlights

Among this year’s Friends events was the Harold White Lecture presented by one of Australia’s favourite authors Di Morrissey.  The podcast is now available to listen to at your leisure. Di touches on many and varied topics including libraries, the dreams of children, the strong characters portrayed in her novels and cherishing Australian cultural awareness.

Di Morrissey with Robyn Oates 

August featured the reading of an original play written by this year’s Friends Creative Arts Fellow, Micharne Cloughley. Micharne spent several weeks at the Library researching the oral history recordings of Hazel de Berg, which culminated in a reading of My Strong Female Ego to an appreciative audience in the Library’s theatre.  This podcast is also available. 

Micharne Cloughley sitting at her desk in the Fellows Room at the NLA, surrounded by a gigantic jig-saw puzzle of paper extracts, pasted around the walls to create an imaginary dialogue, selected from recordings of pioneering Australian women. An effervescent, intense and deep exploration of a vast and rich repository of interviews.

Each year the Friends presents an exclusive ‘white glove’ evening for members, where material is lovingly selected and displayed by curators and Library staff to showcase the richness of the Library’s collections. This year’s event featured material from the Library’s Prompt Collection.  The material displayed included dazzling performing arts posters and theatre programs from a bygone era, with a sprinkle of the modern day as well.  


A selection of Barry Humphries ephemera from the Prompt Collection

Curator Dr Nathan Woolley wowed members with his intricate knowledge of Chinese culture during the Friends exclusive viewing of the Library’s exhibition, Celestial Empire: Life in China, 1644-1911.

One of my favourites in the exhibition was this hand-painted picture illustrating the marriage of a Turen (local person) to a Han man (a Chinese settler) in Guiyan province. Traditionally, the wedding procession stops at many houses along the way where wine and food are enjoyed in abundance. The corresponding Chinese calligraphic text is telling the story of the minority ethnic groups living in frontier regions singing field songs and beating drums loudly.

Miao Album (Qian miao tu), 19th century, National Library of Australia, nla.obj-76773213

The illustration is just one of many belonging to the Miao Album. The whole collection has been digitised and is available through Trove. The album contains valuable information for anthropologists, geographers, and historians, and is coveted by art collectors for their beautiful imagery. 

Friends inject funds for digitisation project

Anne-Marie Schwirtlich AM will retire from the role of Director-General in March 2017. As a farewell gift the Friends Committee has donated $10,000 to digitise the papers of Jessie Street (Australian suffragette, feminist and human rights campaigner). The collection of papers consists of diaries, letters and oral history recordings which are in high demand. 

Portrait of Jessie Street [193-] nla.obj-136682724 

This is another example of how the Friends support the work of the National Library and provides access to information for future generations. 

Why I support the Friends of the NLA

I have been extremely fortunate having been employed in the library sector for 34 years - yes, even prior to the internet! I became a member of the Friends of the NLA in 2013 realising that this is one way I could give back to the Library.  Working with the Friends Committee appealed to my core values around supporting and promoting the National Library and its great, and sometimes hidden, collection material. With help from the Friends, hidden gems such as the recordings in the Hazel de Berg Oral History Collection have been able to shine and have taken centre stage even if for one night only. Who knows what else could be discovered and or created using a spark of imagination and the Library’s vast collection?

Want to join the Friends and support your National Library?  It’s kind of like ‘crowd funding’ only with immediate benefits.

Feature image: Detail of door-knocker at Ellenthorpe Hall, Ross, Tasmania, ca. 1970 nla.obj-151871384