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Jean Primrose Whyte



She was ALJ1

Jean told the story of her editorship of ALJ in this article, published in 1972:2

Jean Whyte

IN JANUARY 1959 I wrote my first editorial in my first issue of the Australian Library Journal: twenty-five editorials and seventy three issues later I wrote my last. I had edited the Journal from volume 8 to volume 19 and in that time it had grown from a quarterly to a bi-monthly and finally to an eleven issues per year publication. Of the 4,517 pages that had been published by the end of 1970 I was responsible for 3,354.

When I became editor in 1959 I had never edited anything. I had only the vaguest idea of what a galley-proof was, and I even thought that pasting-up an issue would be interesting. Those who persuaded me to take the job said that it would be easy and would give me good experience in such things as proof reading! It certainly provided plenty of experience.

What were the major difficulties that I encountered during my stint as editor?

The somewhat unoriginal answer is ‘How to get copy good enough to publish’. As the years went by I found that increasingly I could decide what to publish, but for at least half of those twelve years there really was no choice. I published what I had.

One of the regular features of the Australian Library Journal in 1959 was the Examiners’ Reports on the LAA examinations. They took up a great deal of space, and solved the problem of copy for one of the four issues each year. In the early days of the Association, when most of the Journal’s readers were probably students and when professional librarianship in Australia was at a fairly unsophisticated level, the comments of examiners of the kind that stated over and over again – ‘The general standard was not high’; ‘Candidates do too little work’; ‘The role of the State Library was not well understood’ – may have helped to improve the standard of librarianship, but by 1960 they would hardly improve the image of Australian librarianship in the eyes of an international audience and they had become tedious for all but the candidates concerned. In 1961 the reports ceased to be published in the Journal.

One of my continuing problems was the fact that some groups of librarians seldom submitted articles while others were quite prolific. In some states writing for the Journal was almost unheard of, and librarians in universities contributed more actively than any other group. In such circumstances what does an editor do? Should I have published anything submitted on, say, school libraries because it was all there was? Should I have rejected otherwise acceptable copy from university librarians just because it was from university librarians? I was criticized for publishing too many articles from university librarians, too many articles from South Australia, too many articles on automation, and even for publishing too many obituaries. The critics ignored the one most important fact that if you do not publish what you have, you do not publish anything. In fact, I rejected about twenty per cent of the articles submitted and returned another ten per cent for alterations.

When the Journal increased its frequency from a quarterly to a bi-monthly and then to a monthly (minus one issue) I heard that some readers thought that in fact the articles had become shorter and less scholarly on both occasions. Looking back now, I do not think that there was any substance in the charge. In fact, the average length of the articles that I published remained remarkably consistent at between five and six pages, increasing slightly in the last four years. It was easier to produce special issues once there were eleven issues per year but there were few of these, only some regular ones on government publications, one on law librarianship and one on orientalist librarianship. Throughout my editorship I produced special Conference issues of the Journal.

I have not counted the names of the contributors but I have little hope that the number of members who wrote for the Australian Library Journal represented a higher percentage of the membership than when Harrison Bryan was editor. In fact, the present editor’s policy is probably the only way of ensuring contributions from a larger group. During my editorship I think that the people who contributed the most material to the Australian Library Journal were Janet Hine (for contributions and index), Harrison Bryan, an ex-editor (Caveat Editor Laurentius Fulvus), Russell Cope, D.H. Borchardt and G.A.J. Farmer. This is, I should add, a quantitative judgement.

From 1959 to 1965 the Australian Library Journal retained the format that had been established from its beginning. Occasionally someone at a Council Meeting would talk about the possibility of altering the design but it was considered too expensive and difficult. When in 1965 I was given a chance to redesign the Journal I was delighted. From 1966 to 1969 the Australian Library Journal reflected my idea of the appropriate presentation for a professional journal. In achieving this I had a great deal of help from Mr D.R. Hall. Of course we had to be careful of costs, we had to be economical of space and paper, and every now and again there were mistakes in layouts that shouted at me from the printed page – too late to be corrected. In designing the 1966 Journal we set out to produce a publication which would be a professional journal and would convey the fact that it was concerned with books and print. Its effects were to depend on the layout, on the spacing of letters and the harmonious arrangement of type. At that time in Sydney there was little choice in typefaces and we were determined that the total Journal must be printed in one face: but we were fortunate in being able to find a printer who had Bembo which was my first preference.

The story of the re-designing of the Journal is too long to recount in detail. Perhaps some idea of the difference between today and those more amateur days can be conveyed by the fact that the lettering for the cover of the Australian Library Journal from 1966 to 1969 was worked out by the Editor over one weekend in eighteen hours of work on the Piscator Press in the Library of the University of Sydney.

Misprints – the fear of missing them! Misprints – the shame of them! They go with every editor, and they are the things that librarians notice and comment upon most frequently. It is my opinion that the editor of the Australian Library Journal could issue a Stop Press copy warning that all the materials in our libraries were about to dinistegrate or that the reading of books was about to be prohibited on pian of death and that the only response would be from members pointing out that he had misspelt disintegrate and pain.

My own copies of the Journal have the misprints that I discovered noted and there were certainly some that may have sent some editors into the harbour or to the tranquilizer bottles. A heading for Recent Referent Books, the ‘September, 1968’ running head reading ‘October, 1968’, the omission of an author’s name and even ‘Quarterly’ misspelt on a cover: certainly the Journal was under-edited and I did not then believe that it could be otherwise. There was not enough time to read all the proofs more than once. It took about thirty-two hours of editorial time to produce each issue of the Journal.

Today the editorial policy of the Australian Library Journal is published in the Handbook of the Library Association of Australia. This policy was first adopted by the Council of the Association in 1968. Certainly it may be said that the Association’s Journal has no other objectives than those of the Association, but editors have a habit of thinking about these objects and their translation into cold or hot print in the pages of the Journal.

The first editor’s policy was expressed on the first printed page of volume 1, number 1, under the title ‘Over to Us’, and Harrison Bryan has quoted some of his words. In 1954 Harrison Bryan, the second editor, meditated on his duties:

To go no further, the Journal must reflect the constitution and objects of the Association whose organ it is. On the one hand, it must concern itself with the professional competence of librarians in this country. To this end, clearly, it should offer space for professional articles of high standard …

Being a working librarian, my natural bias is towards more articles of a professional nature, any present unbalance, I think, tends to react against them. I think too, that there is scope for a type of material that so far has not figured prominently in our columns and which must appeal to all classes of our membership. I refer to reports from particular libraries, and especially of course the larger ones, of notable developments, including, particularly, valuable acquisitions …’1

In 1959 I began my period of editorship with an editorial expressing the objects of the Journal as I saw them. My definition of objects is not very different from that of Harrison Bryan and the only new note is expressed in the final paragraph:

‘Finally this Australian Library Journal belongs to the librarians of Australia. It is their record of ideas and achievements and it is the medium through which Australia’s place in international librarianship must be judged …’2

Looking back over the twelve years as editor of the Australian Library Journal I see my own professional preoccupations in the editorials that I wrote. The subjects that they covered included the need for pre-publication cataloguing, the need to compile bibliographies, the value of LAA Conferences and of the Australian Library Journal itself: but the subject most frequently dealt with were education for librarianship, the nation’s library resources and the importance of supplying library materials on all subjects to all the people.

The only issue of the Journal that ever brought real comment from its readers was that of June 1964. In publishing it I had decided that I had to do what I could to arouse members of the Library Association of Australia to take a stand against censorship. In August of that year the Statement on Freedom to Read became Association policy.

It is, I suppose, some indication of my conservatism that I would not now repudiate the views that I expressed in those editorials. I still believe:

There are a hundred articles that could be written for this Journal. The members of the Library Association of Australia have enlisted in the struggle against ignorance but not as soldiers to be commended and led, rather as explorers to discover new routes through the desert, or as scientists to find better ways of combating the disease.3

Harrison Bryan has mentioned the difficulty of publishing regular features in the Journal. I, too, wanted to establish the ‘Australian Library Scene’ and the ‘Diary of forthcoming meetings’, but with little success. I regard the regular features that I did publish as among the most successful articles to appear. Janet Hine’s witty and perceptive reviews of Australian reference books, Russell Cope’s reports on government publications, Laurie Brown’s looks at the ‘Public Library Scene’ and Geoffrey Farmer’s ‘Notes on Australian book design’ were all features that people read. Margaret Lundie was a book review editor who was so successful that I had to ration the amount of space that the reviews could have.

I remember reading the first Australian Library Journal. I remember the excitement with which we greeted it and how pleased we were at this evidence of growth of the profession. Years later I looked critically at its production and was appalled by the mixture of types. Most of the text was in Benedictine, some of the headings in Garamond, sans-serif, bold and italics were used almost at random. But it was our Journal and the words were more important than the clothes they wore. (In this computer-ridden age many may wonder that I would even notice such minor details as type faces!).

Since then there have been many changes, many experiments that failed, some that succeeded. If it is to serve the profession well the Journal should change in design and in content. I am a spasmodic believer in the notion that one good custom may corrupt the world.

They were busy years. There was never any question about what to do with my weekends. There were many crises, many urgent and after-hours meetings with the printer, and, fortunately for my sanity, there were always professional colleagues ready to help. Every time that I cut up the galleys for pasting I thought of resigning, every time that the latest issue arrived on my desk I decided that it was a job worth doing.

One of the depressing reflections is that the reality fell so far short of the vision: the performance was so much less than the ideal. But thinking and saying is always so much easier than doing.


1   ‘Banana benders all’, Australian Library Journal 3(2) : 41, April 1954.

2   Whyte, J. ‘Editorial’, Australian Library Journal 8(1) : 2, January 1959.

3   Whyte, J. ‘Editorial’, Australian Library Journal 9(3) : 164, October 1960.


1   Interview: Harrison Bryan, 2005.

2   Jean Whyte. ‘Twenty-one years of the Australian Library Journal: Jean Whyte’. ALJ 21 (6) 1972, 234–236.

Jean Primrose Whyte

   by Coralie Elsenore Janis Jenkin