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Jean Primrose Whyte




I know of no woman in Australia who could a fill a high administrative position in a library with such ability and distinction as Miss Whyte1

In 1959 Miss Jean Whyte, BA (Hons), AM (Chicago), moved to the position of Assistant Librarian in charge of Public Services at the University of Sydney Library. At the same time she became Editor of ALJ.2 Each position was demanding.

Jean’s move to University of Sydney Library, known as the Fisher,3 was a career change from public to academic libraries. Jean said:

I changed my career, or my professional direction a bit at the Metcalf Seminar mostly because I met Andrew Osborn and realised that Sydney University would be a good place to go to. It certainly sounded interesting … 4

The months after the Metcalf Seminar were a rollercoaster ride for Jean – high-speed, emotional, exhilarating: she moved to Sydney less than ten weeks after meeting Osborn, the University of Sydney Librarian, who had wanted her to work with him immediately. They corresponded frequently during this period, but whereas Osborn’s letters to Jean were enthusiastic but formal, such as ‘I am tremendously keen on getting you here’,5 Jean was besotted with Osborn:

I don’t know that I have ever wanted to do anything as much as I want to go to Fisher. I’m half afraid to be as happy as I am.

I only hope that I don’t let you down, Andrew. Please remember that I really don’t know so much about librarianship – but that I care a great deal about it and that I want to learn and that I don’t mind how long or how hard I work.6


I seem to be living on your letters at present – & they make me very certain of two things. Firstly that if you were running a library in Greenland I would want to go there (&I hate the cold) & secondly that I’ll have to go like hell if I’m not to disappoint you.7

Jean’s letters were long and effusive, including poetry and personal details, and ending with ‘goodnight’. She was full of evangelical zeal for her new position and the future of the Fisher – as I read her letters I was listening to the radio and heard, appropriately,

I will not cease from mental fight,

Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,

Till we have built Jerusalem

In England’s green and pleasant land.

(The frenetic activity of Jean and Osborn was more like building the Tower of Babel).

Jean had met Andrew Osborn, then aged 56, soon after he took up his appointment as Librarian of the University of Sydney, having returned to Australia after thirty years in the United States. They shared ‘library mania’ with a United States bias, which both linked and isolated them – Jean called it ‘professional loneliness’,8 a feeling shared by Osborn, who, finding Australian libraries far below the standard of university libraries in the United States, was full of energy and new ideas. Harrison Bryan referred to Osborn as ‘the man for the hour’,9 ‘dragging the country’s largest and oldest university library firmly into the 20th century’10 (in 1959).

Osborn had recruited Jean because he needed new staff who shared his enthusiasm, in order to implement his ideas and to help overcome the resistance to change shown by the Library’s many long-term staff members. He created a new staff structure, ‘giving the place a face lifting before term time next year’ (i.e. 1959).11 The position of Assistant Librarian in charge of Public Services (later to be renamed Readers’ Services Librarian), one of five Assistant Librarians, on the third tier of the library hierarchy, reported to be ‘the third highest job open to librarians in Australia’,12 was advertised, but no interviews were held: four people looked at the applicants’ names and ‘unanimously and without hesitation passed [Jean’s] name on to the Senate [of the University of Sydney]’.13 They would have been foolish not to. Jean’s references were glowing, including Hedley Brideson’s ‘I consider Miss Whyte to be the most versatile and brilliant officer on my staff … I know of no woman in Australia who could fill a high administrative position in a library with such ability and distinction’.14

Not just the references, but also the referees were impressive: Mr. W.A. Cowan, Librarian, Barr Smith Library, University of Adelaide; Professor W.G.K. Duncan, Department of History and Political Science, University of Adelaide, past President of the LAA in South Australia; and two state librarians, her friend George Pitt (now retired) and Hedley Brideson.

Jean’s main worry was the medical examination which was required before she could take up the new position: ‘I hate, fear, and generally disapprove of medical examinations. It isn’t made any better by the fact that the Dr. can’t see me until February 18th – which means that I have time to develop some incurable disease between now and then’.15 The medical check calmed her fears (but only her immediate fears – she always worried about her health). Jean then moved to Sydney in February 1959, flying there on the TAA cannon-ball.16 She was excited by the move, wanted to begin work the day she arrived in Sydney, and wanted temporary accommodation while she looked for a flat so that she did not need to stay with her Sydney relatives (or buy Alka-Seltzer). Baggins the cat, who lived with Jean in Adelaide, moved to Sydney with her; otherwise this would have been a lonely time, her first move interstate, far from family and friends. Prim had died shortly before the Metcalf Seminar, trunk calls and air fares were more expensive than they are now, forty years later, she would have known few people in Sydney, and the friendship with Osborn quickly cooled.

Jean had moved to the oldest university in Australia, founded in 1850. Thomas Fisher, a bootmaker and property investor without formal education, left a bequest of £30,000 in his will in 1884 for a library. The Fisher Library, opened in 1909, was the first purpose-built university library in Australia.17 Jean went to the University while this building was still being used:

The main library, generally referred to as ‘The Fisher’, is housed in an extremely beautiful building in the middle period Gothic style which took six years to build and was finished in 1908.

The present Fisher building consists of a Reading Room [now MacLaurin Hall] one hundred and twenty-two feet long with an open timbered roof of cedar, (its walls being covered to a height of seven feet with carved cedar panelling), a bookstack of glass and steel which is seven stories high, two smaller reading rooms, one again beautifully panelled and with a cedar roof, and various other rooms. The entrance stair case, which is of stone as is the whole building, is very handsome with elaborate carving and the roof is of fan tracery. The windows here are of stained glass. The whole exterior of the building is richly ornamented with carvings of gargoyles and other decorations. The main Reading Room was originally designed to accommodate two hundred and fifty readers and had no books in it, the library being set up as a closed access library … The present Fisher building with many makeshifts of recent times, has served the University Library for fifty years, but it is now totally inadequate in accommodation for both books and readers …18

Jean began work at the University of Sydney in February, 1959. Her work is a story of coping with ‘books, buildings and bodies, or alternatively … stock, stacks and staff’.19 Jean’s story is also the story of the Library, where she was at the forefront of coping with the demands of ‘the great decade for Australian university libraries’.20 Here she ‘developed reader services to a level that set a new standard for Australian university libraries’.21 As I read of Jean’s work the words ‘problem’ and ‘challenge’ often appeared. I see the words as two different ways of dealing with issues – naming something as a ‘problem’ may be used as an excuse to leave it sitting in the ‘too hard basket’, whereas a ‘challenge’ points to the intention to deal with an issue. Jean saw challenges rather than insoluble problems: the changes in librarianship and technology, the changes in tertiary education and the library’s buildings, all provided challenges; we will see how she dealt with them.

‘The great decade for Australian university libraries’:22 Jean’s time at Sydney University coincided with a time of enormous change and development in the Library, at the University and in tertiary education throughout Australia. Many of the changes were due to the increase in student numbers as post-war baby-boomers reached tertiary education – Sydney University’s student population doubled in size between 1953 (7,366) and 1962 (14,907)23 – leading to ‘too few books and too few seats’, a lack of post-graduate study materials, inadequate budgets, insufficient research collections, and further pressure on the libraries due to changing methods of undergraduate education which required more extensive use of libraries.24 Jean wrote that

At the end of the 1950s university libraries were in cramped buildings, their collections were growing and the readers were crowding in their doors. Ten years later most of these libraries were occupying new buildings or extensions, their staffs in the reader services departments had grown far faster than anyone would have predicted a decade earlier, and they had a strong missionary belief that every student at the university needed to use the library. The 1960s were indeed the great decade for Australian university libraries.25

University libraries were much smaller than they are now, as Andrew Osborn wrote in 1959: ‘if you were to take all the books and periodicals in all the universities and university colleges in Australia, you would be able to create just one large library and not a particularly large library at that’.26 Some reminders of the differences in university libraries at this time come from Jean’s article ‘Direct service to readers’, such as the ‘tradition that for generations had regarded the use or non-use of the library by students as of little interest to librarians … Before the Second World War Australian university libraries were relatively quiet places in which members of the academic staff expected and received preferential treatment, and where students queued up for the few books that were kept in reserve behind the desk … After the Second World War when returned servicemen began to flood into the universities the pace of life in the libraries changed forever … direct supervision could no longer be the first task of the librarians’! Jean summed up the situation at the University of Sydney: it ‘was trying vainly to cope with a population explosion of undergraduates and the Library was hopelessly inadequate both in space and in collections’.27

Service to academics was seen to be the main role of the Library: academic staff were given preferential treatment and unlimited – and sometimes the only – access to materials, while students were supervised in their use of materials. At the Fisher Library a stack pass, available to academics and honours students, but not to undergraduate students, allowed the holder to enter the stacks, behind a large Queensland cedar desk, and get materials they needed. Osborn removed the desk to allow open access to the bookstack by undergraduates, which was seen as ‘almost revolutionary’.28 His egalitarianism, not surprisingly, worsened his relationship with academic staff, who wanted to retain their privileges.

Andrew Osborn left the University of Sydney in 1961. He had had problems with the University administration prior to Jean’s appointment, when he had been at the University for just six months:29 ‘he had a profound conviction of his own infallibility and this led him, on the one hand, to an impatience with financial constraints and, on the other, to a reluctance to conciliate, in any way, those whom he was all too ready to identify as imposing bureaucratic obstructions in his way’.30 He was replaced by another Metcalf seminarian, who became Jean’s lifelong friend, Harrison Bryan – ‘Congratulations and our sympathy’ wrote Frank Rogers to Harrison Bryan.31

The new building was planned by Osborn, but it was during Bryan’s term that it was opened. Bryan subtitled his essay on the ‘new’ Fisher Library ‘an inheritor’s impressions’, perhaps a way of saying that he was not responsible for the building’s design. Bryan began by referring to libraries being designed by librarians close to their retirement, thus bringing ‘the perpetuation in concrete of prejudices accumulated in a lifetime of professional frustration and of an inflexible unreceptiveness to new ideas’. Although giving assurances that this was not the case with the Fisher, Bryan credited the building’s planning to his predecessor, with some words on the ‘general satisfaction’ of the building, before launching into the building’s faults and failures, ending ambiguously: ‘The new Fisher is in a very real sense a librarian’s library’ (a reference to the librarian who designed it just before his retirement?).32 Jean spoke of the new building at her retirement, remembering ‘looking at the sap dripping from the dying trees that had been up-rooted to make way for the great new Fisher Library and thinking that we must see that our services are indeed worth this desecration’.33

As the ‘new’ Fisher opened in sections, Jean’s staff faced the challenging and disruptive process of moving the collections. The entire collection was moved to the Undergraduate Wing during the 1962–1963 long vacation, and in 1966 and subsequent years the research collections were moved into the newly built Research Library wing, described as the largest single move by a library in Australia, with the exception of the NLA.34

Not only a new building but new technology was catching up with the Fisher. An example of the rapid changes in libraries which Jean was dealing with was the automation of library services, which began with the introduction of the first photocopying machines in an Australian university (1963 for staff, 1964 for students; more soon arrived). The arrival of the photocopier brought with it questions of copyright, which Jean wrote about in ‘Copyright Law in Australia’, including the legal history of copyright and its implications for librarians.35

Soon the photocopiers were joined by telex machines, punched cards, a mechanized loan system and a Xerox copier for reproducing catalogue cards (the first in Australia).36 New forms of automation brought many challenges for Jean, such as the difficulties of introducing new technology to students and staff, resistance to automation, costs, training, repairs, copyright law, problematic ‘advances’ (and being watched by other librarians), and lack of dedicated technical support staff and systems librarians. Harrison Bryan described the changes as ‘changing in mid-stream from what was the best horse available at the time to a completely untried animal, and only an imitation animal at that’.37 In his report ‘University of Sydney Library. Library Automation Programme’ Bryan wrote that

The Library pioneered in Australia the large scale use of unit-record equipment for routine library processes, with the installation of the modified Brooklyn College circulation system in 1964.

In progressing towards actual computer application to library processes and services, the Library has displayed well justified caution …

In 1966 the Library produced the preliminary edition of a computer-printed catalogue of the Undergraduate library … the first substantial computer-produced catalogue produced by an Australian library.38

Automation was used for the circulation system, and preliminary work on a Union List of Serials was undertaken, with automation providing printouts such as reference lists, bibliographies, catalogues, shelf-list updates, dissemination of information, accession lists, current awareness, etc. Staff tried different forms of automation to introduce students to the Library: ‘tours are regarded as supplementing the library’s television presentation … the old picture of one soft-voiced librarian trailing around the building followed by a string of fifty to eighty students is avoided’.39 Jean used old ‘technology’ – poetry and print – to air her thoughts on new technology:


Once it was only words, in memory stored,
Recited and retold to younger men –
And so the legends and the poems lived.
Then on the sands of Asia, and the banks
Of Nile men learnt to write –
And so the record passed to men unborn.
The ages passed. Men made an alphabet,
And Chinese wood-blocks, and at last in Mainz
The type of Gutenberg meant books for all.
Five hundred years have added photographs,
And motion-pictures and recorded sound,
As mortals strive against oblivion.
And we, who keep those records from the dark,
Collect and catalogue, preserve, arrange
Their letters, poems, pictures, songs and books
To help their sons and grandsons understand –
At last can leave to them not just the words,
Not just the voice, but all the image of the man.
Turn the machine and watch your grandfather –
Or see the statesman speak and hear his words
Not just the poem, but the poet too.
And in a hundred years will all men leave
A videotape as record that they lived?
And will we class it genealogy?40


Jean recognized and employed new technology, seeing it as a natural development in librarianship and as a way of preserving the past: ‘I think the computer is in libraries to stay and it’s important and I think we take it over rather than it takes us over’.41 The term ‘a necessary evil’ may have been appropriate, as Jean found it difficult to cope with herself, sometimes taking an administrative rather than ‘hands-on’ role, and often questioning:

In the last few months a machine called the document-shredder has appeared on the market. The advertisements for this machine claimed that ‘In go confidential papers. Out comes unreadable packing material. Just press the button and office records are instantly reduced to 1/16″ strips’. This machine is an enemy. As librarians we must enlist the historians, the sociologists, the scholars and all who think that the true history of man’s social, business and political activities should be recorded, in the army of those who seek to destroy the document-shredder.42

The new technology – audiovisual, microform, computers, hardware, materials and training – had to be paid for in a time of high inflation: the cost of books and periodicals was rising by about 10 per cent per year.43 As the library grew more librarians were employed, including the first Systems Librarian (a woman):44 recruiting and training new staff added to Jean’s workload and to the Library budget. Not only the Library but the University itself in 1967 was in dire financial straits, but there were more and more students who made ever-increasing use of the Library, and although library use increased by approximately ten times in ten years there was an increase of only two and a quarter times in staff.45 Jean was dealing with a massive increase in library use, but without sufficient staff and funds to match the increases.

Adding to Jean’s workload was the frustration caused by decisions made by the Library Advisory Committee (LAC), which was, I think, more than a problem or a challenge, more like a chronic headache. The Librarian reported to the LAC, whose members included ‘the Professors’ as an entire body, as well as holders of academic administrative positions: the Chancellor, the Deputy Chancellor, the Vice-Chancellor, etc. It was a cumbersome committee, lacking knowledge of the rapidly changing world of librarianship and expertise in library management. The LAC resisted change and was unable to deal with library issues, so, while the LAC dithered, the Librarian managed the Library without reference to it.46 The LAC endlessly deliberated the problem of staff overdue loans, without progress, at almost every meeting during the thirteen years Jean was at the University, and no action had been taken by the time she left. The problem was that some staff members ‘borrowed’ material permanently, as staff were not limited in the number of items which they could borrow or the length of time they could hold them, nor were they fined when they did not return materials.47 The problem had existed for more than half a century: J. Le Gay Brereton, appointed as Assistant Librarian in 1902,

was perfectly capable of drawing attention to the library sins of the very professors who had appointed him and who had indeed dominated the library for at least forty years … a librarian attempting to establish himself and his library against the Divine Right of Professors … [A report in 1935] showed ‘at least 30,000 library books are at all times in their possession.48

Jean was involved in the issue, but there is no evidence that she was able to do anything contrary to the will of the LAC. Her department sent more than 1,300 overdue notices to staff in three months in 1969: growing numbers of students needed materials, and the library lacked funds to buy more resources. One of the staff members Jean ‘spoke to’ about this matter was Wallace Kirsop, who was to become Jean’s friend at Monash. He said that he borrowed books in his own name because his students were unable to get the books they needed.49 Some ‘borrowed’ materials were added to departmental collections, which proliferated in both size and number, bringing for Jean the usual problems associated with multiple collections such as distance from the Library (some off-campus), duplicate copies, access, costs, security, etc. The Library began to consolidate the departmental collections into branch libraries,50 but there were still 55 departmental and branch libraries when they came under Jean’s control in 1966.51

Not just staff: students too were not returning materials, though students could be fined, so, on Jean’s recommendation, library fines for students were raised (according to a poem Jean raised the fines to fund the ‘new’ Fisher).52 The students were riled, as they had not been consulted, so they conducted ‘sit-ins’ in the Library after closing hours. Discussions between staff and students resolved to continue the increased fines and increase student consultation, but unfortunately the LAC did not learn from this how to resolve the staff loans problem.53

The LAC sometimes discussed the problem of excess noise in the new building, a problem for them, a challenge for Jean: Professor Jocelyn said ‘that the removal of the catalogue from the reference area would eliminate one source of disturbance. The Acting Librarian [Jean Whyte] said that she believed that it would not be a reference area if the catalogue were removed. She said that one difficulty was that the reference area was too small’.54 Not surprisingly, Jean used to talk about the infuriating nature of academics in their dealings with Fisher.55

Some of Jean’s biggest challenges came from the increase in the collection’s size: the number of books in the catalogue almost doubled in Osborn’s four years – from 400,000 volumes in 1958 to 776,548 in 196256 – causing substantial cataloguing arrears (some acquisitions from Osborn’s time remain uncatalogued today).57 Harrison Bryan became a ‘closet cataloguer’ – he was reported to have catalogued more than 4,000 items in 1969 – ‘the price we paid for Andrew Osborn’.58 The books included bequests which were often made through Osborn’s personal contacts, including ‘36 volumes including autographed editions of the works of Charles R. Jury donated by Jean Whyte’.59 In his last letter to Jean, Osborn wrote: ‘I’m still buying books to give to Fisher Library. By now I’ve given 40,000 books to Fisher’.60 Despite this growth and the introduction of purchasing multiple copies of required texts, undergraduates still lacked materials and so resorted to using the Public Library of New South Wales, creating problems between the two institutions.61

Much of Jean’s workload was caused by the Library’s success: in 1963 the ‘new’ Fisher was used four times as heavily in one term as Old Fisher had been in the corresponding period in the previous year;62 in 1964 the daily attendance at the Library had risen to 13,000 (with only 16,000 students);63 in 1965 attendances rose by 27 per cent and borrowing by 47 per cent;64 in 1966 information searches rose by almost 50 per cent;65 in 1967 the Library acquired its one millionth volume, the first university library in Australia to reach this figure; by 1969 borrowing had risen 248 per cent and library operations increased 45 per cent in five years.66 By 1972 a report on the Reader Services Unit showed that the Fisher was the largest university library in Australia, with 1,325,411 volumes (the University of Adelaide was second with 471,457), and the highest lender, with 540,923 loans per annum (almost twice as many as the next highest, Macquarie University). These statistics do not include the branch libraries, numbers of which fluctuated.67

Harrison Bryan compared the University of Sydney statistics with those of the University of Michigan Undergraduate Library,

which is generally regarded as the most conspicuously successful undergraduate library operation in the world … on the face of it at least, a Sydney student body of something more than half of the size of that at Michigan borrowed more than 90% of the number of books borrowed at Michigan, from a collection only slightly more than half of the size of that at Michigan; and certainly used the Library much more intensively, both in terms of number of visits and, notably, in terms of book use therein; this despite the fact that the library at Sydney was open only 80 per cent of the time that Michigan’s was open … the reader service area continued to provide the most dramatic demonstration of the mass of the Library’s operations and of the degree to which improved facilities have wrought a revolution in student reading habits.68

In 1966 the staff structure was reorganized into two: Jean was appointed Librarian in Charge of Reader Services, and Owen Slight Librarian in Charge of Technical Services, a structure which was again changed in 1971, when Jean became Associate Librarian (Reader Services) and Owen Slight the Associate Librarian (Administrative and Technical Services).69 Jean’s responsibilities now included all reader services in the Fisher, Undergraduate, Research and Rare Book libraries.

Jean’s rise to the second level hinged on transferring one of the long-term staff members, Beatrice Wines, to the position of Associate Librarian. Miss Wines ‘largely personified the Fisher Library’70 – an appropriate comment, as at the time of Jean’s appointment Miss Wines and the Fisher Library had been around for a long time and now found themselves in outdated clothing which they had no desire to change.71 Osborn moved Wines from Officer-in-Charge of Reference and Issue72 to Associate Librarian, but Wines realized that her promotion was to make way for Jean, and she made life difficult for her. Not only Miss Wines: ‘I fear that she [Jean] was not greatly beloved of the Fisher ladies. She was younger, she did not come from Sydney and she had … impatience with pretension – and perhaps with other things too’, said Harrison Bryan.73 Jean worked through the challenges imposed by Miss Wines and other staff as she worked through the other challenges of Sydney University.74

Jean was involved in work outside her given role at the Library, including setting up the Friends of Fisher Library, the Rare Book Collection and hand-printing at the Piscator Press. And she continued her involvement in the LAA. Although most of her time was taken up in editing ALJ, she also attended NSW branch meetings (and arranged dinners between work and the meetings to encourage others to attend), and she became a member of the NSW Branch Council.75 She chaired a group to discuss the new Registration syllabus and the possibility of an LAA section for tutors and lecturers76 and convened the Interlibrary Loans Committee, set up to revise and improve the loans procedures.77 She attended LAA conferences, chaired sessions, presented papers, and was a member of the 1971 Conference Committee. At this conference three papers were given on the recent University of Sydney loans survey, including a paper given by Jean which was to become a classic in Australian library literature: ‘Who uses a University Library – why and to what effect?’78 Harrison Bryan described this Conference as the first opportunity ‘to show off Fisher and its services and a series of papers organized (and contributed to) by Jean was an occasion to demonstrate the extent of the reader services revolution that had occurred’.79

Jean still lectured for the LAA, teaching cataloguing, reference work and the production publication, history & care of books, and she was an examiner for LAA Registration examinations in cataloguing & classification in theory & practice, History & purposes of libraries, and the History & comparative study of libraries & librarianship.80 She also continued her membership of the Board of Examination. She and Harrison Bryan each chaired the Board at various times, which led to a curious incident. Bryan was the University Librarian, while Jean was a member of the Library staff at the time she was Chair, so that their place in the pecking order was reversed at Board meetings. Perhaps this niggled Bryan:

The Librarian regrets that last week’s LIB [Librarian’s Information Bulletin] did not appear. If I have to have a scapegoat it is the Board of Examination of the Library Association of Australia which held an emergency meeting under Miss Whyte’s chairmanship on Tuesday. Board members met again on Wednesday and the tumult and the shouting can hardly be held to have died yet.81

Another librarianship activity was an overseas trip, during which Jean presented a paper entitled ‘The Availability of Scientific Information in Australia: working paper presented to the Conference of Directors of Scientific Information Centres in the Asian-Pacific Region, June 10–14, 1963, Hong Kong’.82 We may pass this over quickly, as the practice of academics giving papers at overseas conferences is now not uncommon, but Harrison Bryan wrote at the time: ‘I think I can speak for you all in offering our congratulations to Miss Whyte on being invited to address this conference. This is an honour which cannot but reflect favourably on the university’.83

Also during her time at the University of Sydney Jean spent a semester as Visiting Professor at the School of Library and Information Science (SLIS) at the University of Western Ontario, London, Canada. The invitation came from Andrew Osborn, who rang Jean at work in Sydney, inviting her to teach for a year, in 1968–1969, the year after the school opened. Jean accepted, but for one semester only, taking leave without pay from the University of Sydney.

Andrew Osborn had spent four years as Professor of Library Science at the School of Library Science at the University of Pittsburgh before moving to SLIS, where he was Foundation Dean. He invited international leaders in librarianship to teach, including another Metcalf seminarian and friend of Jean, Geoffrey Alley, who had recently retired from his position as New Zealand’s National Librarian.

Jean thought SLIS one of the best library schools in North America,84 and the best resourced school she had seen.85 She became convinced that the best way to teach librarianship was through discussion in seminars, the method introduced at SLIS by Osborn. She thought it a good model but later said that ‘I suspect that the model was Andrew’s version of the one that he had experienced at the Harvard [Business] School, and that something had been left out’.86 Jean was also influenced by what she saw was wrong with SLIS: the librarianship students did not mix with students from other faculties or use the university – it was ‘a separate little island set up trying to have a university status’ – although this problem was the same in about eighty per cent of library schools in universities.87 She was also critical of the SLIS library. According to Jock McEldowney,

With the advantage of ‘the largest library school budget anywhere in the world’, [Osborn] quickly built up a ‘demonstration’ library of some 40,000 volumes, which included not only the ‘best’ or accepted books in various fields but others which were not of the same standard, together with examples of poor printing, successive imprints to illustrate developments in production, and so on.88

For Jean the demonstration library was ‘a bad idea I thought. It was also a very messy looking library’;89 and ‘I think that it is very important that library school students learn to use the big library and that you don’t have separate libraries’.90 Jean worked hard at SLIS, enjoying the scenery, but not the cold weather.91 She also spent three months visiting libraries in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom, looking especially at the problems related to the development of reader services.

Osborn did not last long at SLIS. His appointment was not renewed: again he had given questionable leadership to an innovative program – ‘Andrew madder than ever and I am now just amused by the folly and stupidity of it all’, wrote Alley.92

Jean returned to library administration rather than to pursue a career in teaching, despite her interest in education for librarianship. She remained at the University of Sydney until 1972.

What more can we say of Jean’s life during this time? Her life was devoted to the Fisher Library: ‘JPW’ expected everything to be sacrificed to the ‘Holy Grail’, said Joan Barry.93 Jean worked long hours: she wrote that ‘I always thought it unfair that at Sydney University he [Harrison Bryan] was considered efficient for arriving at 7.30 am whereas I was inefficient because I was still around at 7.30 pm’.94 And she could see the Library from her flat on the other side of Sydney Harbour, so she would ring if the Library lights had not been extinguished when they should have been.95

As well as the huge workload at the University, as Editor of ALJ, and her involvement in the LAA, Jean passed the course-work examinations for Master of Arts (Honours) in English Literature in 1961 but did not write the thesis (in South Australia she had planned but not completed a Master of Arts). Although her interest in literature continued throughout her life, she did not attempt any further academic qualification (in literature or otherwise).

Jean had various relationships; her love of animals continued, with Jean writing to Osborn: ‘I think I shall bring my blue-tongue lizard to Sydney. He’s no trouble & just eats beef & eggs. He does look a bit like a tiger snake. (It’s OK I won’t keep him in your library)’.96 The cat, Baggins, whose dinner often waited in the Library fridge, occasionally visited the Library; he would have done so more often except that Harrison Bryan was allergic to cats. She had moved to a series of flats in Kirribilli, North Sydney, and Hunters Hill,97 the last of which, a flat she bought in 1969, was probably her first property purchase. She also bought her first car just before she left Sydney: until that time she had requested lifts, including sometimes thumbing a lift in the chauffeur-driven Mercedes of Bruce Williams, Vice Chancellor of the University of Sydney,98 who had lectured in Economics at the University of Adelaide when she was a student.

The combined talents of Jean and Osborn had benefited Fisher: ‘she was responsible for implementing Andrew Osborn’s vision for a new standard of service for Australian undergraduate students, an innovation so successful that it is now the norm for the country’.99 Jean left the University of Sydney to join the staff of the NLA. At the meeting of the Senate of the University of Sydney on August 8th, 1972, her resignation was accepted, and appreciation of her work minuted:

In recent years the University of Sydney Library has emerged quite clearly as a leader among Australian libraries, in a number of areas. To its permanent pre-eminences of age and size, it has added notably the distinction of being the most heavily used of the Australian University libraries. It is not at all too much to say that in this, thanks in large part of the University’s generous provision of accommodation, staff and funds, the Library has established a new standard for this part of the world and perhaps for other parts as well.

Miss Whyte’s contribution to what has been, in a real sense, a revolution in library use, has been quite central. By her own efforts and by the very enthusiasm she has engendered in her colleagues, she has raised the quantity and level of reader services to the point where, while still properly open to criticism, they are almost unbelievably in advance of any previous achievement in this country. It is very difficult to see how it could have been done without her.

The Chancellor said that her departure was a great loss to the University and a great gain for the National Library of Australia.100

Four other resignations, all from academics, were accepted without comment.



1   H.C. Brideson. [Reference for Jean Whyte]. May 8th, 1956. NLA: MS 9616.

2   Although the editorship was entirely within the time she was at the University of Sydney, I have left the discussion of this until later so as not to interrupt the narrative of Jean’s career.

3   Jean Whyte (and others) note that ‘the University of Sydney Library is not officially the Fisher Library … Fisher is name of the central building’ (Jean Whyte. [Memorandum]. January 7th, 1974).

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

5   Andrew Osborn to Jean Whyte, December 23rd, 1958. SU: M 465.

6   Jean Whyte to Andrew Osborn, January 28th, 1959. SU: M 465.

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

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

9   Harrison Bryan. No Gray Profession, 1994, 50.

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

11  Andrew Osborn to Jean Whyte, December 29th, 1958. SU: M 465.

12  ‘Gets high post’. Advertiser [SA], February 6th, 1959, 20.

13  Andrew Osborn to Jean Whyte, January 28th, 1959. SU: M 465. Jean, in an undated curriculum vitae, possibly prepared as she was leaving the University of Sydney, outlined the responsibilities of her position as Reader Services Librarian:

‘Administration of the department responsible for circulation & reference services, and the shelving and maintenance of the collections.

‘Participation in the detailed planning of the new Fisher Library, under Dr. A.D. Osborn, librarian.

‘Building of the Undergraduate Library.

‘Selection of reference works & bibliographies.

‘Checking the collection for the Tauber Report on Australian Library Resources.

‘Checking the existing bookstock for rare books and segregating these.

‘Helping the Librarian to prepare two reports on the collections.’ (Jean Whyte. ‘Curriculum vitae’, [1972?]. NLA: MS 9616).

14  Brideson, H.C. [Reference for Jean Whyte]. May 8th, 1956. NLA: MS 9616.

15  Jean Whyte to Andrew Osborn, February 18th, 1959. SU: M 465.

16  Jean Whyte to Andrew Osborn, January 28th, 1959. SU: M 465.

17  Harrison Bryan. ‘An Australian Library in the AM’. Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society 55 (3) 1969, 205–227.

18  [Jean Whyte?]. ‘The Fisher Library, University of Sydney’. ALJ 8 (2) 1959, 62–64.

19  Harrison Bryan. ‘Scholars, teachers, students and librarians’. Arts 2 (3) 1963, 174.

20  Jean Whyte. ‘Direct service to readers’, 1977, 284.

21  Imogen Garner. ‘A tribute to our past leaders’, 2004.

22  Jean Whyte. ‘Direct service to readers’, 1977, 284.

23  Harrison Bryan. No Gray Profession, 1994, 49.

24  David Waters. ‘The education explosion’. ALJ 14 (3) 1965, 126–129.

25  Jean Whyte. ‘Direct service to readers’, 1977, 284.

26  Andrew Osborn. ‘The Library Keeper’s Business’. Arts 1 (3) 1959, 176.

27  Jean Whyte. ‘Direct service to readers’, 1977, 286–289.

28  Margaret Lundie. ‘What Jean Whyte meant to the Sydney University Library’. FIB [Fisher Library Officers’ Association Information Bulletin] 8 (2) 1971, 1.

29  ‘You nearly saw me walk out of the place last week’ (Andrew Osborn to Jean Whyte, February 10th, 1959. SU: M 465).

30  Harrison Bryan. No Gray Profession, 1994, 50. ‘It was difficult not to sound sweetly reasonable after Andrew!’ (Ibid, 48).

31  Ibid, 45. I wonder whether Harrison Bryan received similar letters when he succeeded George Chandler at the NLA?

32  Harrison Bryan. ‘The new Fisher library at the University of Sydney’, ALJ 12 (2) 1963, 67–70.

I think that the building looks out of place: its severe outline clashes with the grandeur and grace of surrounding Sydney-sandstone nineteenth-century university buildings and gardens, which are among Australia’s best examples of Gothic revival architecture. Jean did not agree with my opinion, as she wrote that the new building ‘has been much imitated but seldom surpassed for its combination of functional efficiency and aesthetic appeal’ (Jean Whyte and Neil A. Radford. ‘Obituaries’. The Australian, May 7th, 1997, 14).

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

34  University of Sydney. Library Advisory Committee. ‘Minutes’, June 8th, 1970 and July 13th, 1970. SU Archives; Owen Slight. ‘Sydney University library moves its research collections’. ALJ 16 (6) 1967, 240–244; Neil A. Radford. Personal communication, January 17th, 2005; Neil Radford. Person communication, June 29th, 2009.

35  Jean Whyte. ‘Copyright Law in Australia’, Vestes 8 (1) 1965, 3–9. Harrison Bryan said of the new photocopiers: ‘they were breeding like rabbits in Fisher’ (Harrison Bryan. No Gray Profession, 1994,61).

36  Margaret Lundie. ‘University of Sydney library since the War’. ALJ 20 (6) 1971, 8.

37  Harrison Bryan. ‘Scholars, teachers, students and librarians’. Arts 2 (3) 1963, 182.

38  Harrison Bryan. ‘University of Sydney Library. Library Automation Programme’. Report to Library Advisory Committee, 1972. SU Archives.

39  Jean Whyte. ‘Direct service to readers’, 1977, 285.

40  Jean Whyte. ‘And now the videotape’. ALJ 22 (10) 1973, 400.

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

42  Jean Whyte. ‘The librarian’s task, 1962: an editorial’. ALJ 11 (2) 1962, 55–60.

43  Harrison Bryan. Annual Report of the Librarian, 1971, 8. SU Archives.

44  University of Sydney. Library Committee. ‘Minutes of Annual Meeting’, November 18th, 1968. SU Archives.

45  Harrison Bryan. Annual Report of the Librarian, 1972, [1]. SU Archives.

46  When Harrison Bryan was appointed the Vice Chancellor told him ‘to deal only with him on the vital matters of staff and money and “not to let the Library Committee have anything to do with them”’ (Harrison Bryan. No Gray Profession, 1994, 47).

47  ‘teaching staff … are not limited as to time or number of books … The Fisher Library is designed principally, of course, to meet the needs of the University with its teaching staff of about 700, as well as its 10,000 students’ ([Jean Whyte?]. ‘The Fisher Library, University of Sydney’. ALJ 8 (2) 1959, 62–64).

48  Harrison Bryan. ‘An Australian Library in the AM’. Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society 55 (3) 1969, 212.

49  Interview: Wallace Kirsop, 2008.

50  Margaret Lundie. ‘University of Sydney library since the War’. ALJ 20 (6) 1971, 5.

51  [Jean Whyte?]. ‘The Fisher Library, University of Sydney’. ALJ 8 (2) 1959, 62–64; Neil A. Radford. ‘Student borrowing from a University library’. ALJ 15 (4) 1966, 154–160.

52  John Cummings. ‘A birthday ode for Miss Whyte, in ottava rima’. NLA: MS 9616.

53  Margaret Lundie. ‘University of Sydney library since the War’. ALJ 20 (6) 1971, 8; Harrison Bryan. ‘The Fisher “sit-ins” of April 1967’. Vestes 11 (1) 1968, 153–159.

Harrison Bryan appears to have later changed his mind about this protest, as he spoke of students ‘spoiling for a fight – any fight so long as it was with authority – and we had a series of sit-ins in Fisher. Fortunately, the University Administration managed to divert the activists’ wrath onto itself after the first sit-in and thereafter the sitters were merely using the Library as their battleground but not actually fighting us’ (Harrison Bryan. ‘Jean Primrose Whyte’. ALJ 38 (1) 1989, 11).

54  University of Sydney. Library Advisory Committee. ‘Minutes’, February 14th, 1972. SU Archives. Jean was Acting Librarian in early 1972 for a period of about six weeks.

55  Interview: Denis Richardson, 2006.

56  The latter figures included branch library holdings added to the main catalogue (Margaret Lundie. ‘University of Sydney library since the War’. ALJ 20 (6) 1971, 7).

57  R.L. Cope. ‘The Library Keeper’s business’. AARL 33 (2) 2002.

58  University of Sydney. Library Advisory Committee. ‘Minutes’, February 16th, 1970. SU Archives; Interview: Harrison Bryan, 2005. I thought that 4,000 items was a misprint, that to have catalogued so many books in addition to his other work seemed unlikely, but he assured me that the number was correct; the work was done on Saturdays and early mornings.

59  University of Sydney. Library. Report on the collections, 1959–1960. Sydney: 1961.

60  Andrew Osborn to Jean Whyte, August 22nd, 1993. SU: M 465.

61  The Public Library of New South Wales was later renamed the State Library of New South Wales.

62  Harrison Bryan. ‘Scholars, teachers, students and librarians’. Arts 2 (3) 1963, 174.

63  University of Sydney. Library Advisory Committee. ‘Minutes’, November 16th, 1964. SU Archives.

64  University of Sydney. Library Advisory Committee. ‘Minutes’, November 15th, 1965. SU Archives.

65  Harrison Bryan. Annual Report of the Librarian, 1966, 1. SU Archives.

66  University of Sydney. Library Advisory Committee. ‘Minutes’, June 8th, November 17th, 1969. SU Archives.

67  University of Sydney. Library. ‘Australian University Libraries – Reader Services Unit output – Main Library only 1971’, 1972. SU Archives.

Perhaps the overloaded system was responsible for a serious security problem in the new building: bundles of books were lowered out of windows after dark. This problem was resolved (?) by closing unsupervised rooms earlier (University of Sydney. Library Advisory Committee. ‘Minutes’, September 14th, 1970. SU Archives).

68   Comparison of Michigan and Sydney library usage

Table 3.1 (Harrison Bryan, Annual Report of the Librarian, 1965, 1–2, SU Archives).

69  Margaret Lundie. ‘University of Sydney library since the War’. ALJ 20 (6) 1971, 8; University of Sydney. Library Advisory Committee. ‘Minutes’, November 21st, 1966 and March 8th, 1971. SU Archives.

70  Harrison Bryan. ‘Obituary’ [Beatrice Pilcher Wines]. ALJ 21 (10) 1972, 451–452.

71  Harrison Bryan noted that the University took pride in its Library, but the pride was ‘by no means completely well-based’ (Harrison Bryan. ‘Some comments and an occasional rejoinder’, 1988, 228).

72  ‘a cumbersome title about which we had better do something’ (Andrew Osborn to Jean Whyte, December 23rd, 1958. SU: M 465). Harrison Bryan commented that Osborn had moved Miss Wines to the position ‘in a moment of miscalculation … He had assumed, quite incorrectly, that she would take early retirement’ (Harrison Bryan. No Gray Profession, 1994, 48).

73  Harrison Bryan. No Gray Profession, 1994, 48.

74  While this description of her relationship with Jean is not flattering to Miss Wines, Harrison Bryan wrote in Wines’ obituary ‘her enthusiasm, her overflowing good spirits, her cheerful dedication to the service of the reader all ensured that even those who were exasperated at the time by the Library’s deficiencies, yet remember it later with admiration and affection’ (Harrison Bryan. ‘Obituary’ [Beatrice Pilcher Wines]. ALJ 21 (10) 1972, 451–452).

75  Jean Whyte. ‘Curriculum vitae’, [1964?]. NLA: MS 9616.

76  Library Association of Australia. ‘Library Association of Australia 1961 Conference Programme, August 21st-August 25th’. ALJ 10 (2) 1961, 110–113.

77  Inter-library Loan Committee. ‘Inter-library Loan Committee’. ALJ (4) 1960, 211.

78  Jean Whyte. ‘Who uses a University Library, why and to what effect?’. 1972, 527–537.

79  Harrison Bryan. ‘Jean Primrose Whyte’. ALJ 38 (1) 1989, 11.

80  Jean Whyte. ‘Curriculum vitae’, [1964?]. NLA: MS 9616.

81  Harrison Bryan. Librarian’s Information Bulletin 1 (10) 1963.

82  ‘The Availability of Scientific Information in Australia: working paper presented to the Conference of Directors of Scientific Information Centres in the Asian-Pacific Region, June 10–14, 1963, Hong Kong’. NLA: MS 9616.

83  Harrison Bryan. Librarian’s Information Bulletin 1 (3) 1963.

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

85  Jean Whyte. ‘Some Reminiscences of Geoffrey Alley’, 1995, 3. J. McEldowney Personal Collection, Dunedin, New Zealand.

86  Ibid.

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

88  W.J. McEldowney. Geoffrey Alley, Librarian, 2006, 406.

89  Jean Whyte. ‘Some Reminiscences of Geoffrey Alley’, 1995, 3. J. McEldowney Personal Collection, Dunedin, New Zealand.

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

91  Jean Whyte. ‘Some Reminiscences of Geoffrey Alley’, 1995, 2. J. McEldowney Personal Collection, Dunedin, New Zealand.

92  Geoffrey Alley to Jean Whyte, February 11th, 1969. J. McEldowney Personal Collection, Dunedin, New Zealand.

93  Interview: Joan Barry, 2005.

94  Jean Whyte. [Notes for a speech prepared for a celebration of the conferring of the award of Order of Australia on Harrison Bryan], [1984]. NLA: MS 9616.

95  Interview: Joan Barry, 2005.

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

97  Geoffrey Alley to Jean Whyte, April 16th, 1969. J. McEldowney Personal Collection, Dunedin, New Zealand.

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

99  ‘H.C.L. Anderson Award. Citation for Jean Primrose Whyte, BA, MA, FLAA’, [1987]. NLA: MS 9616.

100 University of Sydney. ‘Minutes of a regular meeting of the Senate of the University of Sydney, August 8th, 1972’. Resolution 72/252. SU Archives.

Jean Primrose Whyte

   by Coralie Elsenore Janis Jenkin