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Jean Primrose Whyte




is endowed with a great strength of character and possesses outstanding qualities of leadership1

Now began Jean’s distinguished career in librarianship, but, as Jean said, ‘I was a librarian by accident simply because I couldn’t afford to go to the university, so I went into the library in order to sneak down to the university at night and do my degree’.2 There were several ‘accidents’ which led to, and subsequently punctuated, Jean’s early career in librarianship. Throughout the chapter I will refer to these as ‘accidents’, although in some places ‘opportunity’, ‘serendipity’, or ‘fortunate combinations of circumstances’ would be closer to the mark. These fortunate accidents led to a lifelong syndrome that Jean referred to as ‘library mania’.3

Jean’s first fortunate accident was that her father and step-mother wanted her to return to Yadlamalka, whereas Jean wanted to go to University so that she could ‘reform the world (in my last year at school I had become an ardent supporter of World Federal Union) but the family could not afford to send me, nor did they believe in university careers for girls, besides I was a useful stockman’.4 So, needing to support herself while she studied, Jean looked for a job in Adelaide, preferring to work close to the University so that she did not need to travel far between work and study.

Another fortunate accident: ‘after weeks of fruitless searching’,5 Jean found work at the Public Library of South Australia (PLSA) in North Terrace, near the University of Adelaide, where she wanted to study.6 The Colony of South Australia was established in August 1834, and in the same month books were collected for the Colony by the South Australian Literary and Scientific Association. The first collection of books was sent to South Australia in 1836, and a library was set up in Adelaide. Various locations and names followed until the PLSA (later renamed the State Library of South Australia) was formed in 1884. When Jean arrived the PLSA was South Australia’s only free library service, as the government used the existence of South Australian Institutes’ libraries – which required paid membership but could not cater for the growing need for library services – as an excuse for not creating suburban and regional free library services (these were the libraries of the same South Australian Institutes in which Alexander Macully had lectured). The PLSA had a Reference Library, Children’s Library, Country Lending Service, the Adelaide Lending Service, Research Service, a Youth Lending Service and Archives. It was under-staffed and under-resourced, and its collections were too small for the number of users – for example the Children’s Library had 14,000 ‘specially selected volumes’ to lend to 15,000 borrowers, issuing almost 200,000 items annually.7 Within weeks of beginning her first library job Jean had made up her mind to be a librarian.8

Jean made the most of the proximity of the PLSA to the University of Adelaide. After years of part-time study she graduated Bachelor of Arts with first-class honours in English Language and Literature in 1952 and was awarded the John Howard Clarke prize for first place in English Literature – ‘I think that I have made amends for an unimpressive scholastic record as a school-girl’ she said.9 Jean’s graduation ceremony was held in Bonython Hall at the University of Adelaide, on Wednesday, April 2nd, 1952 at 3 pm. Jean is listed under ‘Scholars and prizemen for 1951’.10 It was reported that

Wide interest will be taken in the announcement that Miss Jean P. Whyte has gained a BA honors degree in English Language and Literature at the University of Adelaide and has been recommended for the John Howard Clark [sic] prize.

His [sic] sister Phyllis was second in the same examination.

They are daughters of Mr. Prim Whyte, ex-manager of Yadlamalka station Port Augusta, now of Unley Park. Their mother was a daughter of Professor Macully, formerly of Brighton; their step-mother is too.

Miss Jean Whyte is a member of the Public Library staff.11

In commenting on Jean’s achievement Harrison Bryan wrote that ‘honours degrees are difficult enough to secure with full-time study, that only workaholics can manage them part-time and that only brilliant workaholics can collect first class honours under such conditions’.12

At the same time as she studied for her degree Jean studied for her librarianship qualifications, being one of the first group of candidates to sit for the Australian Institute of Librarians’ Preliminary Examinations in 1944.13 She completed the Qualifying Certificate in Librarianship (later renamed ‘Registration Examinations’) in 1946. Jean wrote that these examinations were not easy, which convinced her ‘that it is a professional examination of a high standard – which is as it should be’.14 The subjects which Jean passed were:15

Preliminary Examination, 1944


The Catalogue, shelf list and accession record. Elementary cataloguing excluding subject cataloguing.


Elementary shelf classification, subject cataloguing and book numbers.


Library routine, order work, circulation and reference work.


The Book, the library and the reader.

Qualifying Examination

Section 1, 1945:


Advanced cataloguing, excluding subject cataloguing: theoretical.


Advanced cataloguing, excluding subject cataloguing: practical.


Classification and subject cataloguing: theoretical.


Classification and subject cataloguing: practical.

Section II, 1946:


Book selection, reference work, relations with readers, readers’ advising.


Organisation of knowledge and aids to research.

Jean was soon working back after ‘normal’ hours, four or five nights each week,16 her usual hours being from 9.15 a.m. to 9.30 p.m., as well as Saturday mornings, and she prepared lectures in her own time.17 Jean noted that ‘My university work, like my study for the library examinations, was mostly done between 8.00 p.m. and 1.00 a.m. There is no surer way of learning to concentrate than the knowledge that there will be no time for re-reading’.18

Another fortunate accident: women had been discouraged from being cadet librarians at the PLSA, but as so many young men were away at World War II the PLSA changed its policy in order to employ women (in some departments the head was the sole male employee), in the process saving money by employing women at the lower rate of clerk rather than that of library assistant.19 One of these clerks was Jean, who began work in June 1942 in the Country Lending Service, which sent boxes of books to rural areas,20 to schools, and, during the War, to soldiers stationed in South Australia and the Northern Territory. The Service grew quickly and was too successful for the ‘temporary’ accommodation (which they occupied for 20 years), for the budget, for staff and for the available resources.21 Jean’s work included ‘typing labels for book-parcels, sorting cards and putting away books’.22

During her years at the PLSA Jean was to move to the Reference Library, where she began by reshelving used materials and staffing the information desk; to the Adelaide Lending Service, where she was second in charge; to two branch libraries – she catalogued both the South Australian Department of Mines Library23 (where she became Officer in Charge in 1949) and the Botanic Gardens Library (in 1952); then to librarian in charge of Government Departmental Libraries. She returned to the Reference Department, where she became a Senior Assistant before becoming Staff Training Officer in 1955.24 Jean said: ‘I started wrapping up parcels of books for the country service and progressed to choosing them. In the 15 years I was there I did just about everything and caught library mania well before finishing my degree’.25

One of the happiest accidents during Jean’s time at the PLSA was the presence there of George Pitt, who inspired Jean in her career. Their friendship, which was to continue until the end of Pitt’s life, was based on ‘our love of our work, especially what we have helped to create together’.26 Pitt had begun his career at the PLSA in 1906, when he was 15 years old, and stayed for his working life. He became the state’s first Archivist and later Principal Librarian (the equivalent of the modern State Librarian), and soon after beginning the latter appointment went to look at libraries in Great Britain and the United States, writing to Jean throughout this tour, addressing her as ‘Miss Whyte’ and signing as ‘The Boss’. The letters were predominantly about library matters, and many threads which can be traced through the rest of Jean’s life first appear here: her interest in all aspects of librarianship and archives, concerns about her health, involvement with the Institute, followed by its successor, the Library Association of Australia (LAA), long working hours, and more and more work.

Pitt had taken charge of the Adelaide Lending Service when it opened in 1946. The two friends prepared for the opening by spending their evenings together cataloguing after Jean ‘discovered’ cataloguing and studied it after work.27 The timing of the Lending Service’s opening was also serendipitous: Jean had had three years’ experience at the PLSA, had worked with Pitt in the preparation and had taken up the number three position (which was actually second in charge, as that position was unfilled), and, on Pitt’s recommendation, she was formally appointed to second in charge of the Adelaide Lending Service in 1948,28 a notable step, as the two top positions were reserved for men.

The Service occupied much of their correspondence during Pitt’s overseas trip: ‘What an exacting mistress the ALS has been, and how much pleasure she has given us!’29 He praised Jean:

I shall always remember your enthusiasm, your wish to understand everything and to have a hand in it, your wonderfully quiet insight in to the heart of problems, and above all your strong loyalty. It always did me good to see you – intelligent, quick, and alive to what was best for the Service.30

The Adelaide Lending Service grew so quickly it was ‘the young giant in a strait jacket’,31 its lunch-hour rush like ‘Woolworth’s on a bargain day’.32 This led to the publication of a newspaper article which was possibly the first public recognition of Jean’s work:

New Australians are showing keen interest in the recent establishment of the foreign library in the lending section of the Public Library, North Terrace, where Miss Jean Whyte an Honors English student at the Adelaide University, is in charge.

Miss Whyte, who is buyer of literature for the lending library, will begin her leave today and while in Melbourne will seek sources for further purchases of foreign books to suit the many New Australians who call at the library daily. There were eight borrowers last September compared with 446 last month.

The lending section had about 300 books in foreign languages covering German, Russian, Finnish, French, Lithuanian, Estonian and Ukrainian, with more to come, Miss Wyte [sic] said.33

Another fortunate accident: being asked to teach librarianship. Pitt, recognizing Jean’s talent, asked her to teach PLSA cadet librarians (librarianship at this time was usually taught in the workplace, and Pitt himself had taught Jean). Jean began teaching in 1948: ‘After my first lecture I realized that I had found the work that I wanted to do. I was not a good lecturer or teacher – but I wanted to be a good teacher more than anything else’.34

There is a description of her role in the PLSA’s staff journal, unsigned but without doubt written by Jean herself, in which the Staff Training Officer’s job of selecting and inducting staff is compared with that of overseer on a sheep station drafting sheep. The Staff Training Officer had to choose the best potential librarians (or lambs), then put them through a Basic Training Program; the survivors were sent to different departments (paddocks), and they later returned to the Staff Training Officer, who introduced them to ‘the routines, responsibilities and ideals of librarianship’.35

Jean described her duties as

Giving lectures and conducting seminars covering the following subjects as set out in Syllabus of the Library Association of Australia: Preliminary Course on Books & Libraries. Preliminary Course on Acquisition & Preparation of Books. Registration courses on Cataloguing and Classification; theory & practise. Registration courses on the administration, provision, processes and services of Reference Libraries and of Lending Libraries, and of Special Libraries. Registration course on the History and Purposes of Libraries. Registration course on the production, publication, history and care of books. Registration course on Library Work with Children [i.e. all subjects except Archives].

Planning and conducting a Basic training Course for new members of staff. Interviewing applicants for positions in the library and recommending appointments. Advising on, and checking on, in-service training in the departments. Selecting books in the field of Literature and Librarianship for reference and lending services.

Preparation of administrative reports on the organization of the library and the establishment of local public libraries.36

Jean taught an introductory course for cadet librarians, which she saw as a way to select people who would become ‘real librarians’ and to give them ‘basic skills, understandings, and attitudes’.37 She taught all courses for the Institute’s Preliminary Examinations and Qualifying Certificate in Librarianship,38 her favourite subjects being ‘Book production, publication, history & care’ and ‘History & purposes of libraries’.39 She considered that keeping up with and teaching so many subjects was ‘an almost incredible load’.40 She was thorough, preparing new lectures even in subjects she had taught many times. An undated newspaper clipping says that she had 93 students,41 which would have included all the PLSA recruits, as well as most librarians preparing for Registration Examinations in South Australia with the exception of teacher librarians. She was pleased with her students: ‘I doubt that they can be a better bunch than the 1958 and 1959 group here’,42 and librarians Jean had trained were sought by other libraries.43 One of Jean’s innovations was to set up an exhibition – one of a number she organized at the PLSA – of developments in librarianship, as an aid to her teaching.

In contrast to her high opinion of the standard of examinations at the time, she was worried about the standard of teaching, and when she was leaving the PLSA she thought that she was deserting teaching when she was needed – the examination papers she was working on ‘are a constant reminder that it may be wrong to run out on teaching when the Australian standard is so very low’.44

Teaching librarianship was the subject of one of Jean’s earliest published essays: ‘In-service training or library schools’. In this article she described in-service training as ‘a programme of training determined and controlled by a specific library to train its own staff’, whereas ‘library schools’ taught librarianship, whether they were independent, attached to libraries or in universities, usually preparing students for qualifications awarded by a national association. She was already an advocate for librarianship to be taught in universities, arguing that students would be independent of their teachers, that the teachers would be set apart to be thinkers who would advance librarianship, and that the school would be part of the wider academic world of universities. She also considered a question which is now far removed from twenty-first-century academia:

the pertinent question is not, ‘if we put faculties of librarianship into our universities, will they harm the English department, or the Engineering school?’ The pertinent question is ‘Will they benefit the practice and the profession of librarianship?’ … My ideal system for the education of librarians is graduation from a university graduate course in librarianship … but we are a long way from realizing such a system.45

Jean was twenty-one years from realizing that dream. The other part of Jean’s position as Staff Training Officer was staff selection, and her ability to select staff became one of her most admired qualities, but, she said,

I’m a bad selector of staff – one of the young female graduates who I thought that I’d recruited to start next Tuesday has just walked in to announce that she is going into the convent instead. The worst of it is that I’ve often said that the best cure for our staff turnover problems would be to turn the library into a convent & have all the girls dedicated to a single life: Grrrrr.46

Following Pitt’s retirement in 1955 Hedley Brideson became Principal Librarian. Brideson had been head of the PLSA’s successful Research Service. Jean did not like ‘Heddles’ (a view shared by many of the staff):47 ‘no morals, only politics’.48 Carl Bridge, author of the history of the PLSA – while noting the singlemindedness which later would lead Brideson to his downfall – is kinder, writing of Brideson’s energy, entrepreneurship and enthusiasm.49 Jean, by now a senior staff member, considered that everything that she accomplished was against what he wanted and loathed defending his views – which she did not agree with – to the staff.

An example of their conflict was in Jean’s role of staff selection: Brideson, a social climber, wanted the daughters of wealthy parents, privately educated young women wanting to fill in time between school and marriage, on the staff. Jean, wanting to create a balance, deliberately chose staff who were male, state-school educated and/or working class. It is ironic that Brideson wanted women of Jean’s social standing despite Jean being such an irritant, but although she may have irritated him she was very useful for doing such distasteful work as sackings, and he would have respected her intellect, her many abilities and her management of her huge workload.50

Brideson took the ‘no morals, only politics’ line when the South Australian government, under pressure to establish local public libraries, legislated to develop regional public libraries. Jean was given the task of setting up the first, in suburban Elizabeth, in 1957, and the experience was clearly important to her, as she was to recall this event in her retirement speech 30 years later.51 When the library was ready to be opened Brideson made his first visit ‘to say that he had seen it’.52 Brideson was also the recipient of a cautionary message from the then Premier of South Australia, Sir Thomas Playford, advising him that a member of the PLSA staff, George Buick, was in the Public Gallery of Parliament during discussion of the first Act to subsidize public libraries. Brideson cautioned the male staff against attending the parliamentary sessions, because it might ruin their careers. Jean said ‘isn’t it a good thing I don’t have a career to think of’.53

Both Brideson and Jean were involved with the Institute, which was to become a dominant factor in Jean’s career – she was to say the most important factor – as membership gave her the opportunity to discuss professional issues.54 She attended her first Institute meeting on October 8th, 194255 and continued to attend meetings of both the Institute and its successor, the LAA, throughout her career. She described being one of four library assistants who went to see Pitt, then the State Archivist, to complain about the local Branch, which the four thought spent too much time discussing or going on library visits and not enough on what they considered to be the ‘serious’ issues of librarianship, such as cataloguing and classification. They wanted a new association. Pitt, instead of rejecting them, suggested that they take over running the Branch themselves, as the current members had been running it since 1937.56 By 1948 Jean was President of the South Australian Branch and the other three were committee members. Jean climbed the Institute ladder in two-year steps: 1942, she joined the PLSA; 1944, she passed her Preliminary Examinations; 1946, she completed her Qualifying Certificate in Librarianship; and by 1948 she was South Australian President. By this time she was second in charge at the Adelaide Lending Service, lecturing in librarianship and 25 years old.

Jean joined her first Institute committee (in 1946)57 and various LAA sections, such as the Children’s Libraries Section (SA), the Special Libraries Section (SA) and the SA Branch Library Promotion Committee.58 She was on a committee to promote setting up a public library in Nuriootpa59 (which was part of the push to develop free libraries in South Australia)60 and chaired a sub-committee set up ‘to investigate problems of professional education … the acquisition and circulation of information on librarianship; the compilation of bibliographies on specific library problems; and what help can be given to students studying for the L.A.A. examinations’.61 She chaired a discussion group for students preparing for the Qualifying Examination,62 began her long membership of the Board of Examination and Certification (and its successors)63 and became an examiner.

Jean became a member of the LAA Committee on Cataloguing, Classification and Bibliography, set up to consider and improve procedures.64 She also joined the Committee on Publications (and was Chairman 1956–1958), which was set up to advise the LAA on publication matters. These committees gave her a national profile, which would have been important to Jean, as she wanted to move from the PLSA.

Jean joined the Institute’s SA Branch Committee in 1951 (Cynthia Paltridge, who studied with Jean and was top student in the state,65 was elected president;66 she was also at Jean’s retirement party) and represented South Australia on the LAA Federal Council.67 Her presidency of the Branch came in 1948, after she had been Vice-President in 1947. She was again Branch President in 1956 and 1957 (by now the Institute had become the LAA). During her presidency speakers at Branch meetings included her friends and her interests, such as poetry and censorship.68 Her 1949 Presidential message quite remarkably sets out aims and themes which continued throughout her career: education for librarianship, the Board of Examination and Certification, the importance of libraries in providing information to the community, and freedom of information (as the reverse of censorship).69

Jean attended Institute and LAA Conferences, beginning with the Institute’s Hobart Conference in 1946. She also gave papers and workshops, appeared in the newspapers on behalf of the LAA and the PLSA and was interviewed on ABC radio.70 She was Chair of the 1957 Adelaide LAA Conference Committee (her friend Ray Olding was Secretary). The Conference included a reception for about 250 people,71 where Jean’s interest in wine makes its first appearance: ‘Dine with fine wines in Adelaide in August’ beckons the conference advertisement.72 At the conference Jean presented a paper on recruitment and a seminar on ‘Education for librarianship’.73 The Australian Library Journal (ALJ) reported that it was ‘one of the best attended sessions of the Conference … It would perhaps be not unfair to say that a number of people who attended did so because of a misunderstanding as to the subject of the seminar’; then the report congratulated two men on their method of catalogue-card reproduction.74

Jean also contributed much to ALJ, including articles, book reviews and poetry. I suspect, too, that Jean was Branch correspondent for ALJ, as there is a great deal more news while Jean was active in the Branch (perhaps the Branch was more active?) than there was while she was away. So it probably surprised no-one when in October 1958 she was appointed Honorary Editor of the ALJ, to assume her position in January 1959.75 And, by this time, no-one was surprised that Jean would take up such a time-consuming position in addition to her already heavy workload.

Jean’s interest in, and output of, writing on librarianship had now taken off. It included an interest in library history, and, during her second term as President, Jean composed the remarkable ‘A word from Callimachus’, written in verse, which was both her first published article on library history and her second presidential address.76

Another fortunate accident came in the form of Professor E.H. Behymer of Bethany College, West Virginia, who visited Australia to conduct a series of seminars for the LAA and who encouraged Jean to study in the United States.77 Jean thanked Behymer, saying that without his help she would never have left Australia.78 She said that she wanted to study so that she could teach librarianship, as she believed that Australia needed ‘more professionally trained people’.79 Jean studied at the Graduate Library School (GLS) at the University of Chicago – then the most distinguished school of librarianship in the United States – believing that the United States provided the best form of education for librarianship and that the best school was the GLS, a view she held throughout her career.80 Her study was made possible by a Travel Grant which included her airfares to and from the United States, a University of Chicago Fellowship, and an American Association of University Women Fellowship, which was awarded ‘to help women of outstanding ability who may be expected to do constructive work on returning to their own country’, providing for expenses, living costs, university fees, some travel and a stipend of US$600 (it appears that Jean was the only Fellow appointed to the school that year),81 which meant that she did not need to work, although ‘as I have done both my University course and my LAA course in my spare time after working at least forty hours per week I am quite accustomed to doing both things’.82

Jean’s referees included Roma Mitchell, who said that Jean ‘is endowed with a great strength of character and possesses outstanding qualities of leadership’;83 Alec Ramsay, General Manager of the South Australian Housing Trust, who said that Jean’s determination and energy for librarianship were tempered by outside interests, making her a more rounded personality;84 and George Pitt, who said that

Miss Whyte is outstanding as the most brilliant and versatile officer on the staff of this library. She is alert, intelligent and impressionable. She has independence of character, thinks clearly, and has the power of penetrating quickly to the core of problems …85

Jean’s thesis for the AM (Master of Arts) was entitled ‘Education for librarianship in the United States and in Australia: a comparison’, which was designed

to make a comparative study of the organization and content of education for librarianship in Australia and the United States in terms of some of the major factors which may be assumed to influence the organization and content of such education, with the purpose of providing data pertinent to the following question:- ‘can Australian education for librarianship benefit from the lessons learned in the United States during seventy-five years of education for librarianship; or are conditions in Australia sufficiently different from those in the United States to make the transfer of American methods inapplicable?’86

Jean studied both countries’ approach to education for librarianship, relating the ways the programs differed to the structure of education and of librarianship in the two countries. She looked at the two countries’ different structures of tertiary education, the types of libraries students were preparing to work in, the influence of professional organizations on library education, and the structure and content of education for librarianship, concluding with an evaluation of the possibility of adapting American methods of education for librarianship to Australian conditions.87

Jean visited 14 library schools in the United States, where she found that their students were graduates, that many schools specialized in teaching different librarianship for specific types of libraries, and that schools had high academic standards. She was impressed similarly by their teaching methods, which concentrated on seminars and discussions, with the approach ‘general rather than specific’. This was in marked contrast to what she considered to be the low standard of education for librarianship in Australia, where few librarians were university graduates, where there was no ‘real library school’,88 and where the standards in most areas of librarianship were low. She praised the GLS: the availability of appropriate courses, good teachers and teaching methods, high standards and professional approach, saying that ‘I have complete confidence in the content of the curriculum, in the methods of teaching and in the faculty who teach both as teachers and as librarians’.89 She was impressed by the libraries she used, the accessibility of the materials, the emphasis on research, the interest in student work shown by the University and the hospitality she received.90 Her findings were to influence her views for the rest of her career.

Not surprisingly, Jean was a ‘star student’.91 Her subjects were Academic library (Fussler); Library work with children and young people (Hayes); Library surveys and library planning (Carnovsky); Library history (Winger); Problems in the bibliographical organization of knowledge (Egan); Communication and libraries (Asheim); Survey of library literature (Carnovsky); and Organization and administration of technical services (Dawson).92 She received A’s in all subjects except for a B in Library history – remarkable, because Jean was so interested in library history (perhaps the subject was library history in general and the history of American libraries,93 whereas Jean’s interest was specifically Australian library history). She audited another eight courses,94 visited many branches of the American Association of University Women, attended the meetings of various library associations and other groups, and travelled in the United States. She also attended an American Library Association Convention, with 5,000 participants – enormous by Australian standards (would there have been 5000 librarians in Australia in 1955?).

Jean graduated in absentia, as the graduation ceremony followed her return to Australia.95 She had spent 20 months in the United States,96 returning via England and Switzerland – ‘I’ve always been keen on alps, any alp, it doesn’t matter how big or small’, she said97 (it begs the question where she might have seen alps before leaving Australia, certainly not in South Australia, although she enjoyed visits to the Flinders Ranges).98

Jean returned from Chicago to resume her usual activities: her busyness with the LAA, a second term as President of the South Australian Branch of the LAA, the development of regional public libraries in South Australia, the exasperating Brideson. But she was unsettled: ‘the problem that I have been acutely aware of since I returned home is professional loneliness. For this reason the idea of going back to U.S.A. has been very attractive and it’s taken all the toughness of my grim Scotch Presbyterian ancestors to keep a conscience about working for Australian librarianship. Also of course it’s only too easy to develop a swollen head’.99 And ‘Almost everything that I’ve accomplished here, since I returned from U.S.A. & found the new robes didn’t sit as comfortably as the old, I’ve managed to do in spite of the whole senior staff. And I’ve had having to defend him [Brideson] & approve his policies in staff-room and social gatherings’.100After her return from the United States, Jean stayed another three years at the PLSA.

Then came the fortunate accident which would lead Jean to the next step in her life: Hedley Brideson chose not to attend a seminar (Jean claimed that Brideson did not want to interrupt his summer holidays),101 and so sent Jean in his stead: the seminar became known as the Metcalf Seminar after the guest speaker, Dr Keyes D. Metcalf, who had recently retired from his position as Director of Harvard University Libraries. The seminar was organized by Harold White, Librarian of the Commonwealth National Library (now the National Library of Australia (NLA), Canberra), and held at that institution. The 28 seminarians were the leading librarians from all Australian states; five were women, and five were from New Zealand. Harrison Bryan, a fellow seminarian, wrote later that the membership looked like a Who was who of Australian librarianship.102

Metcalf’s letter – which begins ‘Dear Seminarians’ – sets out the aims of the seminar as discussing objectives, administration and policies rather than ‘techniques’. The ambitious outline of the seminar looks like a library degree in nine days. The main subjects were:

i.   The Building of Library Collections and Problems relating to their use

a.  Acquisition problems

b.  Cataloguing problems [including ‘Work that doesn’t stay done’]

c.  The use of collections

ii.  Library personnel

iii. Space problems

iv.  Planning for the future.103

Jean, in hindsight, saw the seminar as a milestone in Australian librarianship, the first meeting of librarians of major libraries in Australia ‘sitting down talking about common problems without arguing with each other too much’, resulting in improvements to the development of librarianship in Australia and a proposal that a study of Australia’s library resources be undertaken – a study subsequently published as the Tauber Report in 1961.104

Whereas the other seminarians were leaders in the profession Jean saw herself as an observer, the only person who had no power to make changes.105 But she was an active participant, with Metcalf (whom she had met in the United States) commenting: ‘well I always enjoy having an argument with you, Jean’.106 The seminar gave her an opportunity to discuss the big issues with leaders of the profession and, more importantly, for them to see her.107

The importance of the Metcalf Seminar for Jean was that it was there that she met Andrew Osborn and so moved to the next stage of her career. And perhaps the last of the fortunate accidents at the PLSA – Jean’s dislike of ‘Heddles’ – made it easier for her to leave (I wonder whether Brideson’s decision to send Jean to the seminar and the glowing reference he wrote for her were signs that he wanted to be rid of her).

Yes, these were accidents – serendipity may be a better description – but Jean took advantage of each one.

Acknowledging Jean’s accidental entry into the librarianship profession Neil Radford said:

How fortunate we as a profession are that, back in 1941 [sic], when looking for work close to the University of Adelaide, she sought a job in the Public Library of SA and not in the adjacent art gallery or the museum! She would have been a great success in those institutions, too, but Australian librarianship would have been much the poorer.108



1   Roma Mitchell to American Association of University Women, October 31st, 1952. NLA: MS 9616.

2   Transcript of a conversation between Jean Whyte and Geoffrey Alley, 1981. MON 1059: 2000/68/5. The transcript has been written with little regard for punctuation, and is quoted as is.

3   ‘Doubling the number’. Canberra Times, September 28th, 1972.

4   Jean Whyte to the Secretary, American Association of University Women, 1952. NLA: MS 9616.

5   Ibid.

6   A fortunate accident for Jean, but good planning had made the two institutions neighbours.

7   H.C. Brideson. ‘The Public Library of South Australia’, 1957, 62.

8   Jean Whyte to the Secretary, American Association of University Women, 1952. NLA: MS 9616.

9   Ibid.

10  ‘The University of Adelaide’. [Newspaper clipping], n.d. NLA: MS 9616.

11  ‘Clever woman’. [Newspaper clipping], n.d. SLSA: PRG 1335/1.

12  Harrison Bryan. ‘Jean Primrose Whyte’. ALJ 38 (1) 1989, 7.

13  Australian Institute of Librarians. South Australian Branch. Quarterly Bulletin 1, 1944, [14]. The Australian Institute of Librarians, which I refer to as ‘The Institute’, should not be confused with the South Australian Institutes.

14  Jean Whyte to the Secretary, American Association of University Women, 1952. NLA: MS 9616. Jean still held this view in ‘The Accreditation of Courses in Librarianship’, 1974, 593–608.

15  [LAA Certificate], September 17th, 1952. NLA: MS 9616.

16  Interview: Ray Olding, 2008.

17  Jean Whyte to Andrew Osborn, January 27th, 1959. SU: M 465; Jean Whyte to Andrew Osborn, January 14th, 1959. SU: M 465.

18  Jean Whyte to the Secretary, American Association of University Women, 1952. NLA: MS 9616.

19  Carl Bridge. A Trunk Full of Books, 1986, 156.

20  ‘Rural’ meant more than seven miles from the Adelaide Post Office (Carl Bridge. A Trunk Full of Books, 1986, 153).

21  The Lending Service, ‘a deliberate move against the subscription-based Adelaide Circulation Library[,] was a great success’ (Harrison Bryan. ‘Jean Primrose Whyte’. ALJ 38 (1) 1989, 8).

22  Jean Whyte to the Secretary, American Association of University Women, 1952. NLA: MS 9616.

23  Referred to variously as the Department of Mines and Geology, the Department of Mines and Industry and the South Australian Mines Department.

24  Jean Whyte. ‘Position application and curriculum vitae’, 1959. NLA: MS 9616; Jean Whyte. ‘Curriculum vitae’, 1974. NLA: MS 9616.

25  ‘Doubling the number’. Canberra Times, September 28th, 1972.

26  G. H. Pitt to Jean Whyte, April 20th, 1948. SLSA: PRG 1335/3–4.

27  Jean Whyte to the Secretary, American Association of University Women, 1952 NLA: MS 9616.

28  Ibid. Jean said that she was ‘Second-in-charge’ from 1946 (Jean Whyte. ‘Curriculum vitae’, [1972?]. NLA: MS 9616), which is correct in that there was no-one in that position, so she was effectively second in charge, but the appointment was not formalized until 1948.

29  G. H. Pitt to Jean Whyte, April 20th, 1948. SLSA: PRG 1335/3–4.

30  Ibid.

31  Carl Bridge. A Trunk Full of Books, 1986, 174.

32  South Australia. State Records Office. Page 34/79 GRG 26 Series List 10/11 page 25. Monthly and annual reports of Adelaide Lending Service 1946–69. Series 11, No. 9.

33  ‘To help New Australians’. [Newspaper clipping], n.d. SLSA: PRG 1335/1.

34  Jean Whyte to the Secretary, American Association of University Women, 1952. NLA: MS 9616.

35  [Jean Whyte?] ‘Know your department – Staff Training Officer’. Foggy Dew 2 (3) 1957, 8.

36  Jean Whyte. ‘Position application and curriculum vitae’, 1959. NLA: MS 9616.

37  [Jean Whyte?]. ‘Know your department – Staff Training Officer’. Foggy Dew 2 (3) 1957, 8.

38  Libraries Board of South Australia. ‘Annual Report of the Libraries Board of South Australia, 1st July, 1957, to 30th June, 1958’, 1958, 9.

39  Jean Whyte to Andrew Osborn, January 17th, 1959. SU: M 465.

40  [Jean Whyte?]. ‘Know your department – Staff Training Officer’. Foggy Dew 2 (3) 1957, 8.

41  ‘Books – all types – are exhibits at show’. [Newspaper clipping], n.d. SLSA: PRG 1335/2.

42  Jean Whyte to Andrew Osborn, January 2nd, 1959. SU: M 465.

43  Interview: Michael Talbot, 2008.

44  Jean Whyte to Andrew Osborn, January 2nd, 1959. SU: M 465.

45  Jean Whyte. ‘In-service training or library schools’. ALJ 5 (1) 1956, 3–4.

46  Jean Whyte to Andrew Osborn, January 21st, 1959. SU: M 465.

47  Interview: Ray Olding, 2008.

48  Jean Whyte to Andrew Osborn, January 14th, 1959. SU: M 465.

49  Carl Bridge. A Trunk Full of Books, 1986, 200.

50  Interview: Ray Olding, 2008.

51  Jean Whyte. ‘Retirement Reminiscences’, 1988. NLA: MS 9616.

52  Jean Whyte to Andrew Osborn, February 8th, 1959. SU: M 465.

53  A story handed down by State Library of South Australia staff, parts of which were related by different interviewees (Interview: Michael Talbot, 2005; Interview: Ray Olding, 2008).

54  Jean Whyte and David J. Jones. Uniting a Profession, 2007, 2.

55  Australian Institute of Librarians. South Australian Branch. Minute Book. October 8, 1937–December 17, 1952. SLSA: SRG 109 Series 2, Vols. 1–7.

56  Jean Whyte and David J. Jones. Uniting a Profession, 2007, 2.

57  Australian Institute of Librarians. South Australian Branch. Quarterly Bulletin 7, 1946, [1].

58  Jean Whyte. ‘Positive application and curriculum vitae’, 1959. NLA: MS 9616.

59  ‘Branches’. ALJ 2 (2) 1953, 38–42.

60  ‘Branches’. ALJ 2 (3) 1953, 72.

61  ‘Branches’. ALJ 1 (6) 1952, 139.

62  ‘Officers and councillors, 1953’. ALJ 2 (1) 1953, 2.

63  [Board of Examination]. ‘Executive Officers, representative councillors, Board of Examination’. ALJ 5 (1) 1956, 22. I use ‘Board of Examination’ regardless of the precise title at any particular time during Jean’s membership.

64  Jean Whyte. ‘Position application and curriculum vitae’, 1959. NLA: MS 9616.

65  Australian Institute of Librarians. South Australian Branch. ‘Congratulations’. Quarterly Bulletin 1, 1944, [14].

66  ‘Branches’. ALJ 1 (4) 1952, 90–92.

67  Jean Whyte. ‘Curriculum vitae’, [1972?]. NLA: MS 9616.

68  Australian Institute of Librarians. South Australian Branch. Minute Book. October 8, 1937–December 17, 1952. SLSA: SRG 109 Series 2, Vols. 1–7.

69  Jean Whyte. ‘Presidential message’. Australian Institute of Librarians. South Australian Branch. Quarterly Bulletin, 10, 1949.

70  ‘Branches’. ALJ 2 (2) 1953, 38–42; ‘Branches’. ALJ 2 (3) 1953, 72; ‘Branches’. ALJ 2 (4) 1953, 107.

71  ‘250 at library party’. [Newspaper clipping], n.d. SLSA: PRG 1335/1.

72  [Advertisement]. ALJ 6 (1) 1957, 11.

73  Jean Whyte. The Recruitment of Librarians, [1959?].

74  ‘Library Association of Australia. Ninth Annual Conference’. ALJ 6 (4) 1957, 150.

75  ‘Editorship of the journal’. ALJ 7 (4) 1958, 118.

76  Jean Whyte. ‘A word from Callimachus’. ALJ 6 (3) 1957, 95–100. Reproduced in Appendix 1.

77  My finances did not stretch to overseas visits, so the Chicago and, later, Canada sections are written from information available in Australia.

78  Jean Whyte. ‘Education for Librarianship in the United States and in Australia, 1956’. NLA: MS 9616.

79  Jean Whyte to the Secretary, American Association of University Women, 1952. NLA: MS 9616.

80  ‘Late start, but Jean Whyte has the last word’. Monash Reporter, 9–88, 1988.

81  ‘Valuable grant for study in U.S.’. Advertiser [SA], March 18th, 1953, 11; University of Chicago. Fellowship appointments for the academic year 1954–55. NLA: MS 9616.

82  Jean Whyte to the Dean, Graduate Library School, University of Chicago, Illinois, June 18th, 1952. NLA: MS 9616.

83  Roma Mitchell to American Association of University Women, October 31st, 1952. NLA: MS 9616.

84  A.M. Ramsay to American Association of University Women, November 3rd, 1952. NLA: MS 9616.

85  G.H. Pitt to Committee on Fellowships and Scholarships, University of Chicago. September 5th, 1952. NLA: MS 9616. ‘Impressionable’ appears to have had a positive meaning.

86  Jean Whyte. ‘A Proposal for a Master’s Thesis’, 1954. NLA: MS 9616.

87  Ibid.

88  Transcript of a conversation between Jean Whyte and Geoffrey Alley, 1981. MON 1059: 2000/68/5.

89  Jean Whyte. ‘Second Report to American Association of University Women’, 1954. NLA: MS 9616.

90  ‘SA librarian studies training in American library schools’. Advertiser [SA], May 31st, 1955, 16.

91  Harrison Bryan. ‘Jean Primrose Whyte’. ALJ 38 (1) 1989, 8.

92  Jean Whyte. ‘Position application and curriculum vitae’, 1959. NLA: MS 9616.

93  Jean Whyte. ‘Making history’, 1985, 135.

94  Jean Whyte. ‘Position application and curriculum vitae’, 1959. NLA: MS 9616.

95  Jean Whyte to Lester Asheim, August 9th, 1956. NLA: MS 9616.

96  ‘Branches and Sections’. ALJ 4 (3) 1955, 115.

97  ‘Books – all types – are exhibits at show’. [Newspaper clipping], n.d. SLSA: PRG 1335/2.

98  Interview: Ray Olding, 2008.

99  Jean Whyte to Andrew Osborn, January 2nd, 1959. SU: M 465. One of the GLS staff, Ruth Strout, offered to look for a teaching position for Jean in the United States: ‘certainly before Dec. 1958 I should have answered “yes – I want to come back to U.S.” – but now the answer is unhesitatingly “No”. I’ve found the job I want’ (Jean Whyte to Andrew Osborn, February 14th, 1959. SU: M 465).

100  Jean Whyte to Andrew Osborn, January 14th, 1959. SU: M 465.

101 Transcript of a conversation between Jean Whyte and Geoffrey Alley, 1981. MON 1059: 2000/68/5.

102 Harrison Bryan. ‘The Metcalf seminar – 25 years on’. ALJ 33 (1) 1984, 32.

103 Commonwealth National Library. ‘Advanced Library Seminar. Papers’, 1958. NLA: MS 9616.

104 Transcript of a conversation between Jean Whyte and Geoffrey Alley, 1981. MON 1059: 2000/68/5; Harrison Bryan. ‘The Metcalf seminar – 25 years on’. ALJ 33 (1) 1984, 32–35.

105 Transcript of a conversation between Jean Whyte and Geoffrey Alley, 1981. MON 1059: 2000/68/5.

106 Harrison Bryan. ‘Jean Primrose Whyte’. ALJ 38 (1) 1989, 9.

107 Transcript of a conversation between Jean Whyte and Geoffrey Alley, 1981. MON 1059: 2000/68/5.

108 Neil A. Radford. ‘Obituaries. Jean Primrose Whyte AM’, [2003].

Jean Primrose Whyte

   by Coralie Elsenore Janis Jenkin