State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 40 Spring 1987


‘Choose your Author as you Would Choose a Friend’*: Circulating Libraries in Melbourne, 1930–1960


In an article in the silver anniversary issue of his book-trade journal, Ideas Dan Thorpe1 surveyed the changes over the last twenty-five years in the trade. He wrote, in part:
In no section … has there been more remarkable development than in the growth of Rental Lending Libraries. The earliest development, that is, the growth from a few large rental libraries in the city centres, with quarterly and yearly subscriptions as their main revenue, to the “3d. per book” rental libraries, wherever there were a few shops together, took place first in Victoria; but it has now so spread to all States that the existence of one or more rental libraries (sometimes four or five) in every shopping centre is now taken for granted.
It is one of the outstanding developments of the past 25 years.2
Thirteen years later, in an editorial in the same journal, Thorpe, looking back over fifty years’ involvement in the book-trade, spoke of his impression of ‘the growth and decline of “commercial” lending libraries in shops’.3
This essay will look at the phenomenon of the circulating library in Melbourne over the thirty year period, 1930–1960, with particular emphasis on the early thirties through to the end of the war years.
Virtually nothing has been written on this subject and the aim of the following is to try to show the considerable influence these libraries as a body had on the distribution and reading of books in Melbourne over a set three decades. The methods used will be a combination of statistical analysis, case studies of seven individual libraries, oral history, and some general assumptions. The conclusions offered will at times be tentative due to the lack both of primary and secondary sources, but the overriding assumption is that the subject does have something to tell us about the histoire du livre. Throughout the text, the terms ‘circulating library’, ‘subscription library’ and ‘commercial lending library’ are interchangeable. For the purposes of this paper they refer to small businesses in the Melbourne suburbs which lent books for a nominated fee. Similar libraries, such as Chaucer's,4 the Book Lover,5 and Mullen's Lending Library,6 operated in the Central Business District, but these will not be discussed here. Nor will subscription libraries attached to an association such as the Victorian Railways Institute Library or the few remaining suburban mechanics’ institutes’ libraries.7


Circulating libraries were first established in Australia early last century. In 1826 a group of gentlemen met at the Sydney Hotel to form the Australian Subscription Library.8 This was later to become the Sydney Free Library, the forerunner of the State Library of New South Wales.9 Other similar libraries followed. In 1841, the Commercial Reading Rooms and Library was established in Sydney with over 1,000 books and two hundred members.10 A mechanics’ institute was founded in Melbourne in 1839 and is still functioning as the Melbourne Athenauem in Collins Street.11 In Hobart, Samuel Tegg opened the Derwent Circulating Library in 1839. He followed this with the Wellington Bridge Stationery Shop and Library in May 1845, which he soon sold to James Walch, beginning the dynasty of J. Walch and Sons.12
These libraries differed in the main from their twentieth-century counterparts in that members usually paid a quarterly, half-yearly or yearly subscription which entitled them to borrow a set number of books or periodicals rather than paying for each separate loan transaction. They were following the pattern of the subscription library in Britain, the leviathan of which was Mudie's Circulating Library.13 Their number in Australia remained relatively low in the nineteenth-century, the major library forces being those associated with the mechanics’ institute movement.14 In 1900, the number of circulating libraries listed for Melbourne in the Sands and McDougall directory15 was 7. Their number then began to steadily increase. By 1930, there were 89 in the Central Business District and suburbs. However, in the next decade their growth can only be described as spectacular.16 By 1935, there were 279, by 1940, 408. This represents a percentage increase of over 400 for the period 1930–1940. Thereafter, their number slowly declined, although remaining over the 300 mark until
1955. By 1974, the last year of issue of the Sands and McDougall directory, they had decreased to about 87.17
The startling growth in the thirties was almost entirely in the suburbs: 61 in 1930 to 387 in 1940. As one might expect, there was a high concentration in the generally middle-class suburbs south-east and east of Melbourne. In 1940, there were 15 in Brighton, 13 in Elsternwick, 14 in Caulfield, 17 in Malvern, 14 in Hawthorn, 10 in Camberwell and 9 in Kew. However, the heaviest densities were in the inner suburbs. In the same year, there were 24 in St. Kilda, 21 in Richmond, 14 in Fitzroy, 16 in Brunswick and 15 in Footscray.
Table One
Circulating libraries in Melbourne, 1900–1974
Listing under ‘Libraries’ in the professions and trades section of the Sands and McDougall directory for Melbourne/Victoria … 1900–1974
Year Number in the C.B.D. Number in the suburbsA Total
1900 5 2 7
1905 7 10 17
1910 10 9 19
1915 14 13 27
1920 15 12 27
1925 24 36 60
1930 28 61 89
1935 33 246 279
1940 21 387 408
1944/45B 21 369 390
1950 13 337 350
1955 11 291 302
1960 6 220 226
1965 5 126 131
1970 3 99 102
1974C 3 84 87
A For a suburb by suburb breakdown for the period 1930–1965, see Appendix Two.
B Biennial directory.
C Last year of issue.
N.B. The totals for 1965, 1970 and 1974 probably include book exchanges as well as circulating libraries.
Although the above analysis of the listings in the Sands and McDougall directories gives a reasonably clear understanding of the numbers and locations of circulating libraries in Melbourne, it does not give the total picture. This is because it does not include the number of newsagents who also ran a lending library as part of their business. This was a common practice, although the number is impossible to assess accurately. In 1940, the peak year for circulating libraries, there were around 425 newsagents in Melbourne.18 If a third of these also ran a library, then the total number of lending libraries in Melbourne rises to over 550; if half of the newsagents also functioned as a library, then the total figure climbs to over 600.19 In addition, there were also many chemists, dry cleaners, florists and the like who had a small library attached to them. The newsagents and these other businesses are important because they affect the total turnover and thus readership figures for the circulating library phenomenon discussed below. It will suffice to note at present that two of the biggest libraries in Melbourne, Stintons in Moonee Ponds and Harris and Wright's in Northcote, both with stocks of over 20,000 books, were also newsagents.


Similar spectacular growth patterns in the number of lending libraries can be found for Sydney,20 and, probably, the other State capitals. In this, Australia was following an English development. John Lane, export manager for the Bodley Head, said during a visit to Australia in 1933:
One of the most interesting features of bookselling in Great Britain today is the enormous number of cheap libraries which have been established throughout the country, in which, for a subscription of 2d a week and no deposit readers can obtain a very good supply of first-class literature… [they] will do much to improve the taste in literature of the industrial classes in England. Already they have mitigated against the sale of the ‘trashy’ penny magazine.21
Nettie Palmer, in England in 1935, was struck by what she described as the ‘phenomenon of the year in London: the twopenny library’. However, she had a lower opinion of their stock than John Lane, describing it as ‘shelves of thrill and heaving sentiment’.22
Several factors appear to have contributed to the growth of the circulating libraries in the 1930s, the most obvious being an opportune blending of supply and demand. This was fuelled by the exceptional circumstances of the depression and its aftermath. The various elements of supply will be discussed first.
The availability of cheap reprints was an important factor. With a supply of durable volumes of fiction at 3/6 and 4/-, a person with limited capital could afford to buy stock, rent premises and establish a business which lent books at 3d a time. The money received would be divided between income, business expenses and purchases of new stock. This was crucial to the success of any lending library. The stock needed to be regularly weeded and added to. To establish a viable business in the above manner would require an initial outlay of around £150 to £250. This would give a stock of about 750 to 1,500 volumes, mainly cheap reprints with about twenty per cent new titles and better quality books. Such numbers,23 the variance being determined by location and strength of opposition (if any), would appear to be the minimum needed to survive.
For the first year, it would be a touch-and-go existence, but the depression created a number of people who were prepared to take the risk and establish a circulating library or acquire an existing one, when normally they would have sought income or employment elsewhere. There were two groups in this category: single women and married couples. For the former, running a small library was their only chance of employment and for some, it kept them on the right side of genteel poverty. The listings in the annual Sands and McDougall directories suggest that a third to a half of the circulating libraries in Melbourne were run by women.24 In a period where the professions were closed to women, running a circulating library would be seen, along with nursing and teaching, as an acceptable occupation for a female.25 Their numbers were swelled by the pressure of the economic circumstances,26 and possibly also by the residue of women whose marriage — either actual or potential — was destroyed on the battlefields of France a decade and a half or so previously.
For a married couple, owning a small business could either be a means of supplementing an income, the wife running the library while the husband worked elsewhere, or simply the only form of income if the husband was out of work. If a couple lived on the premises, which was often the case with two-storey shops in the suburbs, it not only meant a saving of rent but made possible, albeit difficult, for the wife to both run the library and look after children if the husband was away during the day.
At the bottom end of the scale, this form of business would suggest a high rate of failure and this is borne out by available statistics. In Brighton, for example, in the eight years from 1935 to 1942, 26 libraries were established while 18 ceased operation. In Elsternwick, over the same period, 42 commenced business while the same number ceased; in Prahran, 33 began while 26 went out of business.27 Circulating libraries also feature prominently in the businesses for sale notices in the Age and the Argus28 in the 1930s and early 40s. The reasons for failure are fairly obvious: insufficient capital resulting in poor and tired stock, lack of knowledge of books and writers and thus readers’ tastes, and poor marketing. Any one of these factors would have harmed a business; a combination would have made it barely viable; all three would have killed it.
There were, of course, many successful and long-running businesses. Two of the case studies discussed below ran for over thirty years,29 and in the suburbs referred to above, namely, Brighton, Elsternwick and Prahran, there were 15 libraries in the former and 9 in each of the latter that functioned for 10 years or more.30 A library in a busy shopping centre or close to a railway station and with a changing stock of around five thousand books was more likely to prosper than one with a small stock, located in an area of low pedestrian use. This was particularly the case where the library was attached to something larger such as a newsagency, or when it had a sideline such as greeting cards or a dry-cleaning agency.31 The latter gave additional income, while a newsagency guaranteed passing trade.
By the late thirties, the market was reaching saturation point. Although their number appears to have peaked in 1940, an editorial in Ideas in 1937 suggested that there was already an over-supply of circulating libraries. The early thirties had provided many opportunities, but,
now there are few such openings, and in many localities (particularly in Melbourne) there are two and three times as many libraries as can possibly make a good living.
The result is that many libraries are fighting for a bare existence.32
The businesses that did go under provided a cheap method of acquiring stock for a new or established library. Sales of 1,500 or so books plus goodwill (if applicable) for around £50 were common.33 This represents a unit cost of only 1/- per title.
A further method of supply34 was that provided by such firms as the Forward Library Supply, the Variety Library Service and The Readwell Libraries, a subsidiary of Robertson and Mullens. They rented crates of books to individual librarians who then sublet them to their subscribers. After a set period the books would be exchanged for another crate. This method was more suited to small libraries attached

The business label (marginally reduced) of Harris & Wright's Library in Northcote. From a copy pasted on to the back cover of Winifred Birkett's novel Earth's Quality (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1935) now in the J. K. Mior Collection, State Library of Victoria.

to a gift shop, mixed business and the like. It offered the considerable advantage of changing the stock at a cheaper rate than outright purchase. Its disadvantages were that the proprietor could not choose specific titles and the books in the crates would already have a read look rather than the fresh appearance that was important for turnover.
This method of changing the stock also created in itself a further avenue of supply. This is illustrated in a 1937 Robertson and Mullens advertisement in All About Books. Circulating libraries were offered books by three means:
Library withdrawals reconditioned: ‘… splendid stocks of the best titles, part-worn through library use, but put into attractive and serviceable condition’.
Books withdrawn from Mullen's Circulating Library.
Books withdrawn from the Readwell Library Services offered at as low as £7.10.0 per 100 (1/6 each).35
The smaller operators acquired their stock by one of the above methods. They were also visited regularly by travellers from the larger publishing houses or from library suppliers such as B. H. Walshe,36 established to service the burgeoning circulating library movement. From these firms, new books could be purchased at the standard discount of 16 2/3 — 25%, depending upon quantity.37 Larger libraries often found it cheaper to indent directly from London, selecting from publishers’ catalogues and the English reviewing media.
Although there were a few small chains — Franklin's,38 General Libraries Pty. Ltd.,39 for example — the majority of commercial lending libraries were run by their proprietor(s). Assistance may have been given by family members, or with some of the larger ones, from paid casual staff,40 but the overall picture is one of the dedicated owner working long hours. Several nights a week to eight were common and although Saturday afternoons were free, the early evening was not. It was usual to open from around six to eight. These long hours were necessary to enable access to the library outside normal working hours. In early 1936, a library owners’ association was proposed41 to enable matters of common interest to be discussed, especially the question of unified action against theft and carelessness on the part of the subscribers. At the one and only reported meeting of the Federated Booksellers and Librarians’ Association of Victoria,42 a letter was read from the Police Commissioner suggesting that the most effective method of preventing theft would be to insert a perforated symbol into the pages of each book to identify it as the property of a particular library. Although sensible in theory, this would have proved impracticable to implement given the turnover and interchanging nature of the circulating libraries’ stock.
The apparent failure of the Booksellers and Librarians’ Association supports the concept of circulating library proprietors being independent and hardworking small business people. The labels they pasted on to the back of their books reveal much about the nature, perceptions and workings of their libraries.43 The plainer ones simply gave factual information, such as opening hours and loan conditions. Some had a phrase about the value of reading and/or stressed the hygienic attributes of their library — the word itself was sometimes incorporated into the business name.44 The more elaborate business labels had an accompanying illustration symbolizing the relaxation element in reading: a reader is depicted seated in a comfortable chair with a good light and, often, in front of a cheering, open fire.45 A most evocative label was that of Harris and Wright's Library in High Street, Northcote. It has the man in the comfortable chair reading in front of the open fire, plus a ship steaming across the high seas. This is there, presumably, to graphically support the library's claim about ‘Latest Fiction Published Arriving Weekly’.
The stock of any library needed to be carefully prepared and maintained46 if it was to stand the wear and tear placed upon it. On acquisition, the dustwrapper would be cut up and the illustration pasted on to the front cover. The book would be numbered,47 and then lacquered48 for protection before it was placed on the shelves, often in its first months with the illustration rather than the spine facing the browser. When selected by a subscriber, the book would be given to the librarian, who would stamp it with the return date, usually on the inside back cover or fly-leaf. The borrower's identification symbol or code49 would be written next to the return date and some record made of the transaction on a separate card file. The efficiency of these varied.50 A good system would give title and borrower records, allowing the proprietor to tell at a glance what books were out, who had them, and what titles their subscribers had already read. This latter record may seem unnecessary, but regulars would often ask if they had read the particular book they had in their hand.51
After each loan, the book would be placed in a sterilizing cabinet with formalin being used as the chemical agent. The sterilizing was done to disinfect the book and to alleviate any fears about the spread of disease through multiple handling.52 Popular titles would soon need some basic repairs and eventually
rebinding. Many librarians became proficient in this, having the necessary equipment in a room at the back of their shop. One librarian53 stated that in the thirties, books would last an average 26 loans before needing rebinding, but by 1943 new books were deteriorating far more quickly. This was the direct result of inferior production standards caused by shortages of material during the war years.
The working life (and joys) of a library owner were aptly described by Gertrude Hart54 in an article in All About Books. She wrote, in part:
There are those who will tell you that “I would simply love to keep a library; I'd read all day long.” And you smile. There are so many things to be done after the floor is polished and the tables are sorted — the table where your subscribers can rummage among the books for themselves is a decidedly popular scheme — and the ferns watered, and everything set in readiness for the day's work. If you are an old hand, you go around your shelves and see what books are there, keeping in mind the tastes of the folk who are likely to drop in that day.
…You must give your library that subtle essence that is called flavour, so that it is a drawing point. You are a servant of the public, but much more; you are introducing tired folk and sad folk and happy folk to a great company of new friends, making them free of acquaintances who will enrich their lives to an incalculable extent. You know the value of such an introduction; they will, later. So you must know your books as the musician knows his notes.
…And, if you happen to be running one of those elastic libraries whose hours reach out to 9 o'clock at night, it gives you a glow to hear, “You wouldn't believe how we love coming to this place; we feel as if you, and it, belong to us.“
So you haven't toiled in vain, or chased an elusive dream, or merely established a centre where books are changed, and that ends the matter. Never mind the discouragements; never mind the fact that the margin of profit is sadly narrow; you've made folk free of a world of delight, and left them so much the richer. Occasionally they remember to tell you what it means to them.55


Who were the users of the circulating libraries and what did they read? In a period of locality identification, less mobility and lower car ownership, the majority of borrowers from the suburban circulating libraries were local residents who lived within walking distance of the business. Housewives would borrow and return books while doing the shopping, husbands could do the same at libraries near the local railway station on their way home from work, and families could use the library in the evenings or on Saturdays. The generally long opening hours provided easy access during and outside the normal working day. Reading was a popular and cheap form of entertainment. People hit by the effects of the depression could not afford luxury goods or even a trip into town, but they could often raise 3 pence a week for a book at the corner library. Reading gave them something to escape from their worries and the pressures of making ends meet.
The Second World War created a similar demand, reading being one of the few available leisure activities, and, for many, a way to help pass the time and to overcome the loneliness. The circulating library was the ideal medium to satisfy this demand. It was cheap, handy, and carried the type of book that people wanted to read: escapist literature in the form of romances, westerns and thrillers. Even in the unlikely event that borrowers could afford to buy these books, why would they bother paying 3/6, 4/- or 7/6 for something they might use only once, when it could be borrowed for that one time for less than a fifteenth or even a twentieth of the cost of purchasing it?
The demand fostered by the depression was not met by the existing metropolitan library network. In 1940, there were 22 public and semi-public libraries in Melbourne,56 serving 18 municipalities, plus the Public Library of Victoria, with its large Lending Library. The stock and philosophy of these libraries tended to be geared to educational rather than recreational reading.57 In addition, some of these libraries appeared to have a forbidding and uninviting atmosphere.58 Certainly, the circulating libraries had an adverse effect on the number of books borrowed from the public libraries. For example, the figures for 1935 for the Lending Library at the Public Library were down 30% on the peak year of 1931.59
The stock of the average circulating library was
predominantly that of the light fiction then so in demand. The trade journal Ideas published in 1938 the results of a four-month survey of loan transactions at an unnamed library described as being located in a working-class suburb.60 The percentage figures for the types of books borrowed were:
Romances 25
Westerns 22
Mystery 21
Adventure stories 15
General literature 10
Better class novels 7
This style of classification is typical of the times. A recommended booklist issued by the Australian Booksellers’ Association61 divided new books into categories of ‘general literature’, ‘novels of literary merit’, ‘popular good novels’ and ‘lighter popular novels’.
It is difficult to estimate, let alone accurately determine, loan figures and thus readership of the stock of the circulating libraries. E. W. Stinton, a proprietor of one of the larger libraries, calculated62 in 1942 that a book costing 5/- and lent at 4 pence a time needed to be borrowed 25 times, giving a return of 8/4, before it began to show a profit. Fifteen loans would pay for the original purchase and the other ten would cover the necessary contribution to rent, upkeep and general maintenance of the library. There is certainly evidence of books being borrowed from the one library more than 100 times.63 This was the exception rather than the rule. However, it was common for popular titles to be borrowed over fifty times.
The figures in table two were tabulated from a survey of two collections of books assembled recently from the former stock of various Melbourne suburban circulating libraries. All of the titles in both collections were popular novels. On the basis of the break-even figure of twenty-five transactions discussed above, 20 (or 40%) of the books in Collection One made a profit in the first year and 43 (or 86%) were profitable in their lifetime. For the second collection, the figures are 6 (or 15%) and 26 (or 65%) respectively. These statistics can be used as a guide only, the number being too small and the stock used being basically an eclectic legacy rather than a representative contemporary sample for any conculsive results to be drawn. They can only assist in trying to estimate overall readership figures. If one assumes that there were 50064 circulating libraries in Melbourne in 1940, each having an average of 480 loans per week (or 24,960 per annum), this implies a total readership figure (that is, number of books read) for the circulating library movement at its peak of just under twelve and a half million.65 This is a startling figure. Four hundred and eighty loans per week may seem high at first but at 3 pence a time it would only return £6 per week. Some libraries by 1940 were charging 4 pence a loan, which would bring in £8 per week on 480 transactions and, of course, better quality books were let at a higher rate. However, the basic wage66 at the time was £3.18.0 and for costs (rent, electricity, stationery and, most importantly, purchase of new stock), to be met, six to eight pounds would seem to be the minimum turnover needed to survive.
Table Two
Survey of loan transactions.
Collection One A Collection Two B
No. of loans In first year Total In first year Total
0–10 3 11 1
11–15 9 2 5 4
16–20 9 2 11 3
21–25 9 4 5 7
26–30 7 4 3 6
31–35 8 3 3
36–40 2 2 1 4
41–45 1 15 1 4
46–50 6 1
51–75 11 5
76–100 1
101 + 2
48C 50 37D 40
A Collected by the author, since deposited in the Main Library, Monash University.
B In the possession of Denise Marshall.
C Figures not available for two titles.
D Figures not avialable for three titles.
If one uses the survey results to estimate total readership, the figure is around the 10 million mark. This is calculated on 500 circulating libraries each having an average stock of 2,000 and achieving an average turnover of 10 loans per book in 1940. This

The Blue-Wren Library, Coburg, c1954. Note the business sidelines: dry cleaning and photography. Reproduced courtesy of the former proprietor, Mrs. E. Moore.

latter figure is arrived at by halving the average number of loans in the first year67 for the stock of both collections, the weighting being necessary to allow for readers’ preferences for new and recent titles.
There are arguments for saying this total readership figure of ten to twelve and a half million is too high, and others which point to it being an underestimate. The number of failed and struggling libraries discussed above fits the former category; the evidence of numerous libraries with stocks of over 5,000 and the stated reservations about the figure of 500 libraries come into the latter domain. Whatever the total figure, be it 8, 10, 12 or 14 million, it compares very favourably with the 1,043,768 loan transactions achieved by the public libraries in Melbourne in 1940.68


The following seven case studies represent a cross-section of successful circulating libraries operating in Melbourne over the period 1930 to 1970. Six have been compiled from information supplied by former proprietors or employees, while the seventh is taken from two series of articles in the leading trade journal on how to run a circulating library. Together, they give a good overview of the operation of a lending library. The atmosphere of one such library is vividly captured by George Johnston in his novel My Brother Jack, where he describes a library based on the one in Elsternwick which he frequented regularly in the early thirties. He writes:
One spring evening when 1 was on my way home 1 stopped to look at the books in Perce Parkinson's library, which stayed open until nine-thirty so that subscribers could come down after their supper and select their reading at leisure … I examined the place curiously … The two side walls were shelved from floor to ceiling and subdivided into sections marked off with printed cards — ROMANCE, ADVENTURE, WILD WEST, DETECTIVE, GENERAL, TRAVEL, JUVENILE, NON-FICTION. (“ROMANCE” occupied by far the largest space.) There were tall stands by the window with big bowls of Iceland poppies, and apart from these the only furnishings were the desk and filing-cabinet, two leather arm-chairs, and a huge, high-backed couch covered with rubbed Genoa velvet. At the rear of the shop, between high narrow shelves respectively marked NEW ISSUES and AUSTRALIANA, a curtained doorway presumably led to some private apartment … This was [later] revealed to me [as] a pair of very small rooms, divided by a folk-weave curtain of the same material that draped the doorway.
The larger of the two areas was obviously a workshop where books were rebound and had their covers attended to. The air was oppressively heavy with the stinging pungent amyl-acetate smell of quick-drying clear lacquer. There was a small hand-press, under which six books were flatly squashed, and a long, zinc-topped bench on which glue and lacquer had congealed in a brittle, peeling, transparent film, and paste-pots and white ink and labels and a stack of book-jacket covers and “blurbs” cut out ready to be pasted on to the covers before they were lacquered over.69
The first of the case studies is the Croxton Library70 at 539 High Street, Croxton. John Scully purchased this shortly after he was married in 1935 to supplement the income he earned from a small shoe-repair business. His wife ran the library while he travelled around the suburbs and country selling shoe-repair kits. The Scullys lived above the premises in High Street and John Scully estimates that they made about £371 a week net from the business.
The Croxton Library had a stock of around 5,000 books,72 consisting mainly of adventure, mysteries and light fiction, especially romance. Popular authors were ‘Sapper’ (especially his Bulldog Drummond stories), Edgar Wallace, Ruby M. Ayres and Nettie Muskett. The Scullys did not bother with educational books such as collections of essays. If readers wished to improve themselves, they went to the Northcote Public Library further down High Street towards the City. The business of the Croxton Library was based on escapist entertainment. The saying ‘You can't judge a book by its cover’ was completely inaccurate so far as John Scully was concerned. The cover had to have a girl staring into the eyes of a handsome young man before it would move. Books also had to be displayed at eye-level as ones too high or too low tended to be ignored by borrowers.
The Scullys added to their stock by purchases from the various travellers’ weekly visits. They preferred cheap reprints, about 3/6 each, and only acquired colonial editions of new books at 12/6 to 16/- when the author was well known. The books were lent for 14 days at 3 pence each and overdue titles were retrieved by the expedient method of going around to the houses of the offending borrowers and asking for the books. This implies a very local clientele, which was the backbone of a small subscription library like the Croxton. The Scullys sold the business in 1937 and purchased a newsagency in East Malvern
with a small library attached to it. John Scully spent his working life as a small business proprietor while the Croxton Library continued to operate until the late sixties.
R. P. Henley's Authorized Newsagency is the second case study. Margaret Henley73 worked in the family concern for ten or so years, beginning in the mid-thirties. Her father had purchased the business in the early twenties and operated it as a combined newsagency, circulating library and post-office sub-agency. The family lived on the premises, which were situated in Sydney Road, near the corner of Brunswick Road. After her father's death in 1937, Margaret Henley ran the library with her mother. When Mrs. Henley died in 1944, the business was sold and the new owner dispensed with the library and operated it as a newsagency only.
Henley's had about 6,00074 titles ranging from children's books to light novels such as romances, humour and westerns. Like that of the Croxton, the clientele was local. Saturday nights were very popular, with borrowers often walking out with up to six books under their arms. Gone with the wind was one of the most requested titles. There was always a waiting list for the three copies which were lent at double the normal price: 6 pence instead of 3 pence. During the war, women with husbands or sons away were heavy borrowers, using reading as a way of escaping from the worry and loneliness.
One of Margaret Henley's main memories of the library is of the labour involved in the preparation of the books. The illustration from the dust-wrapper was cut and pasted on to the front of the book and a review or blurb, where there was one, stuck inside the front cover. The book was then covered with lacquer for protection — potentially popular books were given up to three coats of the sticky paste — and then placed on a six-foot plank to dry. After every loan, each book was placed for a few hours in a sterilizing cabinet containing a saucer of formalin.
The third and fourth studies revolve around the career of Mr. Bob Haynes.75 He was associated with two libraries: The Claremont and the Rivoli. His father owned a newsagency and library in Coburg, but found the hours too arduous. In 1934 he sold the business and purchased the Claremont Library, named after the street alongside Malvern railway station in which it was located. He dispensed with the old stock and stalled afresh. His son joined the business but they found that the turnover was not enough to support the two of them so Bob Haynes went to work for Bert Beech at the Rivoli.
The Rivoli Book Club was located at 785 Burke Road, Camberwell, across the road from the Rivoli picture theatre. It was one of the biggest circulating libraries in Melbourne,76 having a stock of over 20,000,77 a staff of five,78 and some 2,000 subscribers. Its situation, just north of Camberwell Junction and in a busy shopping centre, ensured a high turnover. The library in the thirties had ten copies of Gone with the wind and a waiting list of 200 at the height of the book's popularity. Although, like Henley's, it had a sterilizing cabinet always full of books, this was, according to Bob Haynes, only a ruse, as it would have been physically impossible to disinfect every book that was borrowed and returned to the library.
Bob Haynes worked at the Rivoli until joining the A. I. F. when the war broke out. After his demobilization he bought the Claremont Library from his ailing father with his accumulated army pay and ran it off and on until 1970. The Rivoli Book Club continued to flourish until about 1958, when it was forced to move from its Burke Road premises to a quieter street in Camberwell. It appears to have ceased operating sometime in 1965.79
The Claremont Library had about 800 members in the late forties and early fifties and was open from 9 — 8 on weekdays and 9 — 1 on Saturday. The stock consisted mainly of light fiction but there was a sprinkling of travel books and better quality novels. New titles were acquired at first from local suppliers such as B. H. Walshe and Robertson and Mullens. However, as the library grew, Mr. Haynes found it cheaper to indent directly from England. At one stage, he was buying at 3/6 each every Mills and Boon title published. The library employed two casual staff part-time, since Bob Haynes worked many evenings as a comedian at smoke nights and Masonic Lodge functions, although he believes that he could have survived financially solely from the income generated by the library.
His system of record-keeping at the Claremont was a most efficient one. There was an author catalogue and each reader and each book had its own transaction card. Bob Haynes saw his role as a vocation rather than one of just running a business. He enjoyed the one-to-one contact and would try to improve his readers’ tastes. They may only ask for romances by, say, F. J. Thwaites. He would suggest trying Warwick Deeping, discuss the book with the subscriber when it was returned and then recommend someone like A. J. Cronin.
About 1960, Mr. Haynes sold the library and went to work for the Collins Book Depot. He had seen television make a severe inroad into his business —

A typical Mills and Boon dust-jacket illustration. This one was pasted by the proprietor of Tonkin's Hygienic Library in Hawthorn on to the back of Phyllis Matthewman's 1948 novel. The book now in the author's possession, was borrowed 35 times in its first year at Tonkin's and 67 times in all before being discarded in 1953 or 1954.

in 1956, the year of its introduction, he had 300 children as subscribers, by 1960 there were only 480 — and he felt that it was time to get out. However, working for someone else did not suit him and after a short period he repurchased the Claremont Library, closed the shop operation and ran it as a travelling library. With books in the back of a station wagon, Bob Haynes would deliver bundles to houses on a regular run from St. Kilda to Oakleigh. He continued to do this for several years but, with the growth of municipal libraries, the business declined and he ceased operating it in 1970.
Ettie Pullman81 owned the Robert Burns Book Club in Railway Avenue, Caulfield, from 1953 to 1955. She ran it as part hobby and part second income. The library had about 10,000 books and, like the Claremont, a good passing trade from railway commuters. The premises were just a shop with no accommodation attached and Mrs. Pullman also sold calendars and quality greeting cards, a line developed by the previous owner.
The Robert Burns Book Club was open from 10 to 6.30 p.m., Monday to Thursday, 10 to 8 on Friday and 9 to mid-day on Saturday. Hiring fees ranged from 3 pence for fiction through to 1/6 for travel books. Although romances were the most popular — some borrowers reading two or three Mills and Boon titles a day — authors such as John Steinbeck were also in demand. Mrs. Pullman stocked D. H. Lawrence and Aldous Huxley, but with little turnover, and the only Dickens in the library was David Copperfield. She had two copies and a waiting list for Gone with the wind. Frank Hardy's Power without glory also had a waiting list, but the novel was kept under the counter so as not to offend certain regulars.
Frances Parkinson Keyes was popular with women, Zane Grey and the Boardman books with men. Mrs. Pullman purchased her stock from either the Forward Library Supply or by identing directly from England. She advertised the library on the screen at the nearby Crystal Palace picture theatre and all her books were lacquered for protection and sterilized with formalin on their return. She sold the business through a broker who specialized in handling circulating libraries, following the birth of her first child. It was purchased by an ex-journalist, who, Mrs. Pullman felt, had conservative tastes and did not add to the stock, with the result that the business gradually declined.82
The Riverglen Book Club is the sixth case study. It was located on the south-east corner of Riversdale and Glenferrie Roads, Hawthorn, and was run on this one site by three sisters for over thirty-seven years. Betty Fitts83 was one of the sisters. After attending St. Catherine's in Toorak, she was enjoying the life of a young socialite when, in about 1930, she hurt her leg badly in a skiing accident. The resulting injuries forced her to walk with the aid of a stick and, in her eyes, ruined her career and marriage opportunities. In 1932, her father purchased the Riverglen Book Club for her and her sister, Dorothy. The shop was shared at first with a herbalist, but the sisters quickly took over the complete premises and were soon joined by their other sister, Una.
They began with only 100 subscribers,84 but, by working long hours, they built the business up to a stage where, by the war, it was comfortably supporting the three of them. The sisters soon obtained a feel for a book and could tell by reading a few pages whether it would be a success or not. They increased the stock to over 10,000 by buying from travellers, visiting the bookshops in the City and, later, by indenting directly from London. They read all the literary papers, such as the Times Literary Supplement and the Listener, as well as the various trade journals and publishers’ catalogues. Their books were of a high quality — Betty Fitts described them as exceptional — and included titles from the Bloomsbury circle,86 travel and literature, and a separate Australian section. This would include everything by Frank Clune and Ion Idriess but also novels by Vance Palmer and Katharine Susannah Prichard. There was, of course, a large amount of the light fiction so typical of the circulating library stock.
What is interesting about the Riverglen Book Club is its clientele. It was not just local. Borrowers came from as far away as Sandringham and St. Kilda. It included a high proportion of professional people, particularly those resident in the nearby Scotch College Hill area, but the library was also used by tram drivers and conductors based at the Camberwell tram depot. They would stop the tram outside the library and dash in for a quick chat and to collect or return their books. There were others who lived in the hills who would call into the library on their way home.
Many of the 1,500 subscribers87 saw the Riverglen as a meeting-place where discussion on books and art flowed freely. The young Tony Staley88 was a regular borrower when he was a pupil at Scotch College. Shortly after he entered parliament, he visited the library and thanked the three sisters for the encouragement and help they had given him when he was younger, saying that the Riverglen had been an important influence on his life.89 The education, social background and network of the sisters and their friends made the Riverglen the success that it was. It survived the introduction of television and
lasted until 1973, when ill-health forced the three Miss Fitts to retire. Someone purchased the stock90 with the intention of continuing the business but the landlord was no longer interested or disposed to his premises being used as a commercial library and the Riverglen Book Club was closed down.
The case studies outlined above being based on the reminiscences of former proprietors or employees are subject to memory distortion. The final case study comes from two series91 of contemporary articles on how to run a circulating library. Stintons Hygienic Book Club was part of Stinton's Newsagency in Puckle Street, Moonee Ponds. It was one of the most successful in Melbourne, achieving an average turnover in the thirties and forties of around 90,000 loans per year.92
Eric Stinton added a subscription library to his newsagency in 1928. He started with only 600 books but it grew very quickly and by March 1931 he had some 1,887 subscribers borrowing a remarkable 113,000 books a year. He employed a full-time librarian and recommended that this person should be well educated, have a good address ‘and a knowledge of the best western stories, light love stories, detective stories, thrillers, and so on … ‘. He offered his subscribers two ways of borrowing books. They could join for 2/- and pay 3 pence per loan, or pay 6/- a quarter, entitling them to borrow two books per week. Of his almost 1,900 subscribers who joined in the first three years of the library's operation, only ten chose the second option and eight of these later changed over to the ‘pay as you use’ system.
Stintons used a ‘Kardex’ visible record system. This gave the library author and title stock control and an alphabetical card index to its subscribers, with details of the books that had been borrowed. With this system, the one employee was able to manage the library by herself, with assistance only on Friday nights and ‘a junior to empty the well each night’. The library sterilized its books and, where necessary, rebound them. Both duties were the responsibility of the librarian.93
The subject arrangement of Stinton's was alphabetical by author within the following categories:94
FICTION: Adventure, Air, Detective, Historical, Humorous, Romance, Sea, Travel, War, Western.
GENERAL LITERATURE: all non-fiction.
By the 1940s, his annual circulation had dropped to around 85,000.95 The decrease can be partly attributed to the increased competition and, perhaps more importantly, to the shortage of supply of new books. In one week in 1943 the turnover was:96
Light fiction 1724 74.9%
Good fiction 358 15.6%
General literature 249 9.5%
Of these 2331 books, 1051 (or about 45%) were borrowed on Friday (524) or Saturday morning (527).
Early in 1947, Stinton successfully applied to the Prices Commissioner for an increase in the borrowing rate from 3 pence to 4 pence.97 His application, reprinted in Ideas,98 gives a detailed breakdown of the costs of operating a lending library on a business basis. The financial statement shows a net loss of £50, despite a turnover of over 80,000 books per annum. Stinton's argument was that the lending library price structure was based on 1930s costs, but these had increased dramatically in the war years. Coupled with this was the shortage of supply and the inferior production standards, resulting in shorter shelf life.
Stintons continued to be one of the larger and more successful libraries for many years.99 In 1958, in a tribute to mark Eric Stinton's fifty years’ involvement in the book-trade, Dan Thorpe described him as ‘a great Newsagent … owning and managing one of the biggest retail businesses in our trade in Australia’.100


Although commercial lending libraries were still operating in suburban Melbourne well into the sixties, they were fast declining,101 and the local corner library was becoming a thing of the past. Those that struggled on did so because they were established businesses in a good location and run by dedicated proprietors. When they retired, their libraries went with them.
The reasons for the decline of the circulating library are fairly self-evident. Television102 was a major factor. It took over from the libraries, picture theatres and popular magazines as the main provider of entertainment. There were, of course, other reasons. By the late fifties, public libraries had grown both in size and number. In 1960103 there were 20 free municipal libraries compared to the 11 of 1940. Their increase was very much due to the introduction of government subsidies, reflecting a community awareness of the importance of libraries. Their image had also changed. They now carried a wider range of stock and were not as daunting as in the thirties and forties.
The paperback revolution104 was another factor. Books were becoming disposable items and the paperback was well within the budget of most readers. Many were now also in a position to buy both hardback and paperback books as well as other luxury goods. With the general affluence of the late fifties and the sixties, people had more money to spend and more things to spend it on. With the greater mobility that came with the affluence, the importance of local identity diminished.
Some commercial libraries tried to adapt and became book exchanges, dealing almost solely in paperbacks and magazines. However, these are not designed for heavy multiple reading and the difference between new price and exchange price was probably not big enough to allow for reasonable profit. The numerous book exchanges that sprang up in Melbourne in the late sixties and the seventies are now virtually all gone. It could be said that the book exchange was the circulating library in rigor mortis. What there is in Melbourne now, in addition to the public library network, is a string of secondhand bookshops satisfying the demand for cheap reading matter.105
The influence of the circulating libraries on reading habits in Melbourne has already been discussed. It is likely that similar conclusions could be drawn for the other Australian states and for the United Kingdom. As a corollary, subscription libraries also had an obvious influence on publishing and book-selling. Publishers knew they had a guaranteed market and there must be literally hundreds of novels that would not have appeared in print106 if it had not been for the circulating libraries. Many authors owed their success — and livelihood — to them and this in turn must have affected what and how they wrote.
The effect of the circulating library on the local book-trade is hard to determine. Articles and letters in Ideas107 tended to waver on whether the lending library was either beneficial or harmful to sales. Certainly, these libraries bought books from firms like Robertson and Mullens,108 but they usually bypassed retailers in Melbourne and dealt with publishers’ representatives, library suppliers or indented directly from England. They were thus a definite boost to the wholesale trade. Booksellers might complain that the circulating libraries took away some of their market by lending books, but this is a spurious argument. One cannot equate readership with actual or potential sales and it is unlikely that many readers would have bought the books they normally borrowed if this form of access was denied to them. However, the circulating libraries must have introduced many to the pleasures of reading and some of these converts would have given or sought favourite or special books as gifts or presents.
There can be no doubt that, for a time, the commercial library had a detrimental effect on the municipal library. The drop in loan figures in the thirties has already been mentioned. In the long term, it can be argued that their influence was beneficial, albeit indirectly. The success of these circulating libraries helped force local councils and their librarians to reassess the role of public libraries and to build up their stock and make their libraries more open and appealing.109 Overall, it can be said that the Free Library Movement110 owed some of its progress to the phenomenon of the circulating library.
The word ‘phenomenon’ has been used a number of times in this paper. It is the appropriate term to describe the circulating library in Melbourne over the period 1930 to 1960. They were an institution ideally designed to meet unique demand and supply factors in the distribution and reading of books that began in the twenties and were crystalized by the depression. It was stated above that the local circulating library was a thing of the past. However, besides format, what is the difference between these and the video library now in every shopping centre and corner petrol station or milk bar? The affluence and technology that helped to destroy the former has now created the latter.

Appendix One: Graph showing circulating libraries in Melbourne and suburbs, 1900–1974
Source: Sands and McDougall directories, 1900–1974.
A Libraries in the suburbs.
B Libraries in the Central Business District.

Appendix Two: Circulating libraries suburb by suburb, 1930–1965
1930 1935 1940 1945 1950 1955 1960 1965
Abbotsford 1 6 1 1 1
Albert Park 5 8 9 6 5 4 2
Alphington 1 1 1 3 2
Altona 1 1 1
Armadale 2 7 7 6 4 5 3 2
Ascot Vale 5 7 4 4 3 1 1
Balaclava 6 4 2
Balwyn 2 6 8 7 6 5 2
Beaumaris 1
Bentleigh 3 6 4 3 5 8 2
Blackburn 1 1 2 1 1
Black Rock 2 4 3 2 2 1 1
Boronia 1 1 1 1
Box Hill 1 2 3 1 1
Brighton 1 8 15 13 10 12 7 6
Brooklyn 1
Brunswick 2 6 16 19 15 13 11 6
Burwood 1 3 4 4 2 1
Camberwell 1 7 10 7 8 6 4 3
Canterbury 1 3 1 3 3 3 2 1
Carlton 4 5 5 4 2 2 1
Carnegie 1 8 10 8 6 5 4 4
Caulfield 2 9 13 14 16 12 11 7
Chelsea 1 1
Cheltenham 1 1 1 1
Clayton 1
Clifton Hill 2 3 2 2 2
Coburg 4 14 13 9 8 7 3
Collingwood 1 4 4 7 5 3 1
Croydon 1 1 1 1
Dandenong 2 3 2 2 1
East Melbourne 1 1 1 1
Edithvale 1 2 1 1
Elsternwick 3 10 13 9 11 10 7 3
Eltham 1
Elwood 3 5 7 8 4 3 4 2
Essendon 1 7 4 5 5 6 6 4
Fairfield 1 1 2 1 1 2
Fitzroy 3 4 11 7 7 3 3 1
Flemington 5 4 4 3 1 2 1
Footscray 2 7 15 13 14 11 7 4
Frankston 2
Glen Iris 1 5 6 6 4 5 4 3
Hampton 2 5 5 5 2 2
Hawthorn 8 16 14 16 11 10 8 3
Heidelber 1 1 1 1
Ivanhoe 2 3 3 3 3 4 3 2
Kew 2 5 9 11 12 9 4 1
Maidstone 1
Malvern 4 14 17 12 15 12 11 6
Mentone 1 1 2 3 3 2 1 1
Mitcham 1 1 1
Moonee Ponds 3 7 5 3 2
Moorabin 1
Mordiallic 3 2 1 1 1
Mt. Waverley 1
Murrumbeena 1 2 2 3 3 3 1
Newport 1 1
Noble Park 1
Northcote 1 6 4 6 6 4 2 1
North Melbourne 1 3 4 3 4 3 1
Oakleigh 1 6 6 8 8 6 5 2
Parkville 1
Pascoe Vale 1
Port Melbourne 1 3 2 4 2 2 1
Prahran 1 10 10 13 8 7 7 4
Preston 1 3 10 9 5 5 4 2
Reservoir 1 2 1 1 1 2
Richmond 1 7 21 16 14 9 9 5
Ringwood 1 1 1 1
St. Kilda 6 18 24 23 19 15 11 9
Sandringham 2 2 2 2 1 1 1
South Melbourne 1 4 3 5 5
South Yarra 2 2 9 11 13 9 3 3
Spotswood 1 2 1 1
Springvale 1 1 1 1
Sunshine 1 2 2 2 2
Surrey Hills 3 4 4 4 5 4 3
Thornbury 1 2 3 4 3 3 2 2
Toorak 1 2 2 2 2 1 1 1
Williamstown 1 3 3 4 3 3 2 1
Yarraville 2 3 4 4 4 4 2
TOTAL: 61 246 387 369 337 292 220 126
Source: Sands and McDougall directories, 1930–1965


The quotation is from the business label of Stintons Hygienic Book Club of Puckle Street, Moonee Ponds, pasted onto the back of all their books. The label is reproduced on the front cover.


D. W. Thorpe (1889–1976), founder of the book-trade publications company that bears his name. See Joyce Nicholson, ‘Dan Thorpe’, The golden age of booksellers: fifty years in the trade, (Sydney: Abbey Press, 1981), pp. 209–20.


Ideas, 18 July 1946, p. 462. This journal was first published as The Australian Stationery and Fancy Goods Journal. The name was changed shortly afterwards to The Booksellers, Stationers and Fancy Goods Journal, later to Ideas, and later still to its current title, The Australian Bookseller and Publisher. For further details, see Nicholson, op. cit.


Ibid, 9 July 1959, p. 707.


The Chaucer Library at 234 Collins Street ran from the early thirties to about 1953.


The Book Lover's Library was run by Mrs. H. H. Champion at 239 Collins Street from about 1897 to 1938. See ‘Elsie Belle Champion’, The early Australian booksellers: the Australian Booksellers’ Association memorial book of fellowship, (Sydney: Australian Booksellers’ Association, 1980), p. 25; and Leslie Henderson, The Goldstein story, (Melbourne: Stockland Press, 1973).


Mullen's Lending Library, formerly Melville and Mullen's, had a long association with the bookshop of Robertson and Mullens. See John Holroyd, George Robertson of Melbourne, 1825–1898: pioneer bookseller and publisher, (Melbourne: Robertson and Mullens, 1968).


The Prahran Mechanics’ Institute is one that is still functioning. See L. B. McCalman, Pioneer and hardy survivor: the Prahran “Mechanics” since 1854, (Melbourne: Prahran Historical and Arts’ Society in conjunction with the Prahran Mechanics’ Institute, 1983).


See Rules and regulations for the conduct of the Australian Subscription Library and Reading Room, (Sydney: R. Howe, 1826), Ferguson 1060.


A short history is given in The Australian encyclopaedia, (Sydney: Grolier Society, 1963), vol. 5, pp. 299–300.


See The rules and regulations of the Commercial Reading Rooms and Library …, (Sydney: Kemp and Fairfax, 1842), Ferguson 3382; and George Nadel, Australia's colonial culture: ideas, men and institutions in mid-nineteenth century Australia, (Melbourne: F. W. Cheshire, 1957), p. 85.


See R. E. W. Wilmot, The Melbourne Athenaeum, 1839–1939: history and records of the institution, (Melbourne: Stillwell and Stephens, 1939).


For Tegg, see the Australian dictionary of biography, vol. 2, pp. 504–05; for Walch, see Wallace Kirsop, ‘The acclimatisation of the circulating library in nineteenthcentury Australia’, unpublished paper given at the ‘Conference on the history of books’, Monash University, 6–8 September 1986. Further details on these and other early circulating libraries can be found in Elizabeth Webby, ‘Literature and the reading public in Australia, 1800–1850: a study of the growth and differentiation of a colonial literary culture during the earlier nineteenth century’, Ph.D. thesis, University of Sydney, 1973.


For a history of Mudie's, see Guinevere L. Griest, Mudie's circulating library and the Victorian novel, (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1970).


For a general overview, see Nadel, op. cit., and Derek Whitelock, The great tradition: a history of adult education in Australia, (St. Lucia, Qld.: University of Queensland Press, 1974). For Victoria, see Marc Askew, ‘The diffusion of useful knowledge: Mechanics’ Institutes in nineteenth-century Victoria’, M.A. thesis, Monash University, 1982.


The Sands and McDougall directory was published virtually annually in Melbourne by the firm of that name (and its predecessor Sands and Kenny) from 1857 10 1974. Its title and coverage varied. Full bibliographical details for each issue are given in Margot Hyslop, Victorian directories, 1836–1974: a checklist, (Bundoora, Vic.: La Trobe University, 1980). Libraries are listed alphabetically in the Melbourne professions and trades section.


See Table One and also Appendix One, ‘Graph showing circulating libraries in Melbourne and Suburbs, 1900–1974’.


By this time, it is not always possible to distinguish between circulating libraries, public libraries and book exchanges in the Sands and McDougall listing.


Figure from the ‘Newsagents’ listing in the Sands and McDougall Directory … for 1940, (see note 15).


A not unreasonable estimate. The proprietor of the Claremont Library (see the fourth case study), Mr. Bob Haynes, believed that there were over 1,000 circulating libraries in Melbourne at one time. He was possibly including the whole of Victoria in his assessment. In the early forties there were 180 commercial libraries in the country. See ‘Table 21’ in A. J. & J. J. Mclntyre, Country towns of Victoria: a social survey, (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, in association with Oxford University Press, 1944), p. 180.


1931: 90; 1945/46: 527. Figures from Wise's New South Wales Post Office Commercial Directory …, (Sydney: H. Wise and Company), for 1931 and 1945/46.


Reported in the Argus, 25 October 1933, p. 9.


Nettie Palmer, ‘Some London libraries: a letter from Mrs. Palmer’, All About Books, 12 August 1935, p. 127.


Figures estimated from case studies and article III of ‘Running a lending library successfully’, Ideas, 15 September 1941, p. 288.


It is hard to gain precise figures. The percentage may be even higher as business names hide the gender of proprietors.


A good example is Betty Fitts and the Riverglen Book Club (see the sixth case study). Her father purchased the library for her, following a bad accident which lefl her with a permanent disability.


The teaching profession was effectively closed to females during the depression and, in addition, all married females were dismissed. See L. J. Blake, ed., Vision and realization: a centenary of state education in Victoria, (Melbourne: Education Department of Victoria, 1973), vol. 1, p. 498.


Figures, compiled from the Sands and McDougall directories, courtesy of Denise Marshall, Graduate School of Librarianship, Monash University.


I am grateful to Denise Marshall for drawing these sale notices to my attention.


The Riverglen Book Club in Hawthorn and the Claremont Library in Malvern.


Figures again courtesy of Denise Marshall.


One library supplemented its income by doubling as a sly-grog outlet. The resulting court-case was reported in Ideas, 15 February 1938, p. 44.


Ideas, 16 August 1937, p. 132.


For example, Age, 8 June 1940, p. 34; 15 June 1940, p. 1; 18 June 1940, p. 16; and 22 June 1940, p. 4. An analysis of these and other sales will appear in Denise Marshall's forthcoming thesis on circulating libraries.


Details from advertising labels on books collected by the author and now deposited in the Main Library, Monash University, Clayton, Victoria, and from information supplied by John Holroyd.


All About Books, 15 June 1937, p. 86 (back cover).


Founded in 1938 and still operating as B. H. Walshe and Sons. See Barbara White, ‘Brothers’, Good Weekend (Age supplement), 30 October 1986, pp. 6–7.


Publishers’ discounts were higher, reaching a third if six or more copies were taken. Details from John Holroyd.


A legacy of this chain in the form of a book, magazine and record exchange, is still functioning under the same name at 171 Russell Street in the City. For further details on its founder, see ‘Jack Franklin’, The golden age of booksellers, op. cit., pp. 85–87.


Run by Miss Sheila Sutherland, daughter of the nineteenth-century Victorian author, journalist and schoolmaster, Alexander Sutherland. Information courtesy of John Holroyd.


This was often the case with libraries attached to a newsagency. Larger ones like Stintons (see the seventh case study), employed a full-time librarian.


Argus, 23 January 1936, p. 12.


Ibid, 23 April 1936, p. 8.


For examples, see opposite (page 80) and cover illustrations.


Stintons Hygienic Book Club in Moonee Ponds and Aitken's New Hygienic Library in Prahran are two examples.


For example, the Acland Library in St. Kilda, and the West Melbourne Book Palace and Lending Library. The latter, in separate illustrations, depicts both a man and a woman reading in a relaxed atmosphere.


Details and description assembled from case studies, a survey of two collections (see Table Two), and the series of articles referred to in note 91.


Usually, 1 — ∞, although sometimes when a figure reached, say, 10,000, a second sequence with the prefix ‘B’ would commence, giving B1 — B10,000, C1 — C10,000, and so on.


There were many brands including Spartan, Taubman's and Kay-Lo. Spartan Book Lacquer was available at prices ranging from 1/1 a quarter pint to 22/- a gallon. See advertisement in Ideas, 11 November 1941, p. 374.


Usually the first letter of their surname, followed by a number. Thus, K29 would represent the twenty-ninth person with a surname beginning with ‘K’ who had joined the library.


There were several card systems commercially available, including ‘Kardex’ and ‘Primo’. The manufacturers of the latter, Sands and McDougall Pty. Ltd., claimed in 1937 that theirs was the most popular. See advertisement in Ideas, 16 August 1937, p. 117.


Emphasized by Mr. Bob Haynes (see the fourth case study) and confirmed by regular users of circulating libraries to whom I have spoken. Some readers made their own recognizable mark on the books they read.


The use of formalin as a sterilizing agent would have had little or no effect in killing any bacteria present. However, it is also unlikely that any such bacteria would have been transmitted from reader to reader by the act of handling the same item. I am grateful to Dr. John Chapman for explaining this to me.


E. W. Stinton, Letter to the Editor, Ideas, 14 July 1943, p. 212. See also The Booksellers, Stationers and Fancy Goods Journal, 18 April 1931, p. 190.


Librarian and author. Her library was in Black Rock.


‘Running a Lending Library’, All About Books, 24 February 1930, pp. 56–57.


Of these 22 libraries, 11 were genuine public (that is, free) libraries, while the other half were public subscription libraries. These were open to the public and administered by local government, but charged an annual subscription for use of the service. See ‘Table A: Metropolitan Library Service Statistics for the Year 1940’, Report of the Library Service Board appointed … to inquire into and make recommendations regarding the adequacy of library services in Victoria, Victoria. Parliamentary Papers 1944/45, no. 14 (vol. 1).


See report of meeting of 10 metropolitan librarians at Prahran Town Hall, 17 May 1935, Argus, 18 May 1935, p. 8; account of the Annual Report of the Prahran Librarian, A. E. McMicken, to the Council for 1935, Argus, 2 January 1936, p. 6; and Report of the Library Service Board, op. cit.


See ‘Libraries’, A. J. and J. J. Mclntyre, op. cit., pp. 161–70; and Josie Arnold, Mother superior, woman inferior, (Melbourne: Dove Publications, 1985), p. 113, also personal communication with the author. Her experiences applied to the late forties and early fifties, but her comments are valid for the thirties.


Argus, 28 February 1936, p. 10. A similar downturn was noted in the Annual Report of the Prahran City Librarian for 1935 (cited in note 57). See also, ‘Serious libraries lose money: Athenaeum year reviewed’, Argus, 30 January 1937, p. 20, and the discussion below on loan transactions.


Ideas, 13 July 1938, p. 276.


Published in All About Books, 12 August 1936, p. 130.


Ideas, 16 October 1942, p. 304.


See Table Two.


Possibly a conservative estimate. See the discussion above relating to total numbers in Melbourne.




1937: £3.15.0; 1939: £3.18.0; 1944: £4.16.0. Source: ‘Basic wage’, The Australian encyclopaedia, op. cit., vol. 1, pp. 445–47.


22.7 in Collection One, 17.5 in Collection Two.


That is, the 22 libraries detailed in note 56, plus the Lending Library at the Public Library of Victoria. Source, ‘Table C: Metropolitan Library Service. Details of Local Book Borrowing and Expenditure, Public Lending Library Borrowers … .’, Report of the Library Service Board, op. cit.


George Johnston, My brother Jack, (London: Collins, 1964), pp. 188–89. The library in Elsternwick is described in Garry Kinnane, George Johnston: a biography, (Melbourne: Nelson, 1986), p. 26.


Details from notes taken during telephone interview with John Scully, January 1987.


This was less than the basic wage at the time: £3.5.0 in 1934 and £3.15.0 in 1937. (For source, see note 66).


Possibly an over-estimate.


Details from notes taken during telephone interview with Margaret Griffiths (nee Henley), January 1987.


Again, possibly an exaggeration.


Details from telephone and personal interviews with Bob Haynes, January 1987.


Confirmed by John Holroyd.


From the library's business label on a book collected by the author.


Beech, Haynes, and three part-time assistants.


Later details from the Sands and McDougall directories.


This would surely seem an exaggeration, but Mr. Haynes was explicit when queried about the figures.


Details from notes taken during personal interview, January 1987.


It last appeared in the Sands and McDougall directory in 1963 at a different address.


Details from notes made during personal interview on 22 January 1987 and from a recording of this interview. The tape, along with other material collected in the compilation of this paper, is now in the Australian Manuscripts Collection, State Library of Victoria. See also, ‘Opened their library 36 years ago’, Progress Press, 23 February 1972, p. 2.


‘Opened their library 36 years ago’, op. cit.


The comments on the stock of the Riverglen Book Club are based on Betty Fitts's reminiscences. They have been generally confirmed by a brief study of the library's stock acquisition books which have come to light since the writing of this paper. The stock books, now in the Australian Manuscripts Collection, State Library of Victoria, would well justify a close examination. They show, for example, that over an approximate 37 year period the Riverglen Book Club purchased some 49,000 books.


For example, Virginia Woolf's The years. First published in London in 1937, it was acquired by the Riverglen in August 1942. By the end of 1943, it had been borrowed 48 times. Details from the original copy in the possession of Betty Fitts.


‘Opened their library 36 years ago’, op. cit.


MHR, 1970–80, and a Minister in the Fraser Government. See Who's Who in Australia, 1985, p. 799.


Probably flattery in the form of exaggeration, but the point is still a valid one.


The books were used by their new owner, Neil Swift, to form the nucleus of the stock of Dennis Books, a secondhand shop he opened and still operates in Footscray.


‘How to run a lending library’, The Booksellers, Stationers and Fancy Goods Journal, 12 March 1931, pp. 137–41; 18 April 1931, pp. 187–91. ‘Running a lending library successfully’, Ideas, 14 July 1941, pp. 212–16; 13 August 1941, pp. 247–48, 252; 15 September 1941, pp. 286–89; 14 October 1941, pp. 330–33; 11 November 1941, pp. 372–75; 14 February 1942, pp. 52–54; 14 September 1942, pp. 272–74; 16 October 1942, pp. 304, 306. Although both series are unsigned, they are based on material and information supplied by Stinton. The first series acknowledges this (12 March 1931, p. 137) and internal evidence in the second series clearly suggests this source.


See below.


Details and description taken from first series of articles referred to in note 91.


Ideas, 11 November 1942, p. 372.


Ibid, 14 February 1942, p. 52.


Ibid, 14 September 1943, p. 274.


Many libraries were already doing this. See ‘How libraries are meeting increased costs’, Ideas, 15 June 1940, p. 176.


16 May 1947. pp. 378–79.


It remained in operation as Stintons until 1963, when it was taken over by Eric Stinton's son-in-law, Bill Mason (later President of the National Book Council), and renamed Mason's Hygienic Library.


‘A great newsagent’, Ideas, 15 April 1958, p. 432.


See Table One and Appendix One for statistical and graphic evidence of this.


‘TV. and book sales’, Editorial, Ideas, 10 April 1958, p. 347.


Figure from unpublished ‘Annual report of the Free Library Service Board of Victoria for the year ending June 30th 1960’, Typescript copy held in the Consultancy and Public Library Services division of the State Library of Victoria. See also note 56.


See ‘Paperbacks and profit’, Editorial, Ideas, 10 March 1958, p. 256.


The increase in the number of secondhand bookshops in suburban Melbourne over the last decade is clearly shown by comparing the ‘Booksellers — secondhand’ section of the Pink/Yellow (i.e., classified) section of the Melbourne Telephone Directory for 1977 and 1986.


Some may argue that it would have been better if they had not, but the question of literary merit is not one of concern in this paper.


See, for example, 13 July 1936, p. 210; 15 August 1936, p. 242; 15 October 1936, p. 298, and 12 March 1943, p. 82.


Robertson and Mullens, by their control of Mullen's Library and the Readwell Libraries, catered for both elements of demand: the book-buyer and the book-borrower.


I am not, of course, suggesting a direct cause and effect relationship. Television and its take-over of the entertainment market, besides being the main factor in the demise of the commercial library, actually gave a boost to public libraries (see editorial referred to in note 102) and their growth in the sixties sounded the death knell for the circulating library.


Founded in 1937 (see Argus, 9 March 1937, p. 10 and 4 May 1937, p. 10), the Movement was instrumental in the appointment in 1940 of the Library Service Board to inquire into library services in Victoria. Following publication of its Report in 1944 (see note 56 for details), the Free Library Service Board of Victoria was established.

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