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A brief history

Perth Metro Plan Project

Digitise, geo-reference and place on-line Perth's Metropolitan Plans, mainly from the 1920's.

J S Battye Library of West Australian History

3rd Floor State Library of Western Australia, 25 Francis Street, Perth.

State Records of Western Australia

Ground Floor, Alexander Library Building, James Street West Entrance, Perth.

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Friends of Battye Library - Frustrations and Achievements.

Friends of Battye are a bit different from Library Friends groups elsewhere, because we are Friends of a section of the State Library - the JS Battye Library of West Australian History - rather than the library as a whole. The Friends of Battye supports not only the Battye Library, but also the State Records Office, as the two were combined when we were formed in 1981.

There was an attempt in 1985 to establish a 'Friends of the State Library Service,' to lobby for the Library as a whole. Unfortunately it began with an elitist rather than a grass roots approach - a few top wealthy business people were targeted and lobbied to become members and asked to invite their friends to join. Friends were pressured to wind up and amalgamate, which we refused to do on the grounds that our group served its own special purpose, and the whole thing fizzled out. Another attempt in 1991, to form a Library Foundation, was also unsuccessful but in 1997 the State Library Custodians were formed to support the acquisition of special items and they have been successful, funding among other things the purchase of the Freycinet collection of rare maps and artworks.

Perhaps a key difference between the Custodians and the Friends is that the Custodians have concentrated on funding specific causes, whilst the Friends have provided both in-kind and financial support, and been a constant advocate for the Library's needs. Perhaps all libraries need both!
The inauguration of the Friends of Battye was in some ways a result of the huge history push involved in WA's 150th Anniversary celebrations in 1979. A group of regular users of the West Australian History collections got together to see if they could help the Battye library staff with whom they had been most involved. Professor Geoffrey Bolton took a leading role in this move and sought advice from other libraries.

There is a superb letter on our files addressed to Bolton from historian Professor Geoffrey Serle, then Vice President of the Friends of the La Trobe Library in Melbourne.
On 18th September 1980 he wrote:-
"Our intentions were 1. to raise staff morale, 2. to lobby the government for more money and staff, 3. to raise money for gifts, and 4. to help acquire manuscripts. We got pukka patrons, a distinguished president, a general for secretary and a broker for treasurer (who knew how to raise money), plus a mixed committee of fund raisers book collectors and academics. It's worked fairly well and has been worthwhile. But Friends must be friends and not throw their weight about - you must be careful to get the right people. Cheers Geoff'.

Bolton followed this advice and spoke to many people about forming a group of Friends, even persuading Sir Paul Hasluck to become its first President and Professor Fred Alexander (a UWA Founding History Professor and then Chair of the Library Board) to be its patron. In June 1981 the Library Board gave their approval, following an address from Bolton and from Robert Sharman who was then State Librarian and a firm supporter.

A note to all Library Staff from Sharman announcing the formation of the new group was issued on 9th July 1981 and it is interesting to see how he saw the Friends helping the Library.

For many years people who have an interest in the study of Western Australian History have been urging that the Battye Library should have a group of Honorary helpers whose enthusiasm could be harnessed in assisting Library Board staff in the mammoth job of locating the materials that are needed to enable our past to be studied, and in attracting support from people who have the means to assist in the acquisition of some of the treasures of early settlement days.

There are two main purposes in having a group of Friends. One relates to the location, identifying and acquisition (preferably as gifts) of material that ought to be preserved in the State's foremost collection of Western Australian historical materials. The sorts of things the Battye Library wants to acquire are letters, manuscripts, diaries and other original source material dealing with our past; books newspapers periodicals and maps produced within this state or having this state as their subject, books by Western Australians wherever published, films, photographs plans and prints which illustrate or enlighten the Western Australian experience, and historical pictures worthy of preservation not so much from the artistic viewpoint (that's the job of the Art Gallery) but as evidence of what things looked like in the past.

The second main purpose relates to finance. In these days of restricted Government allocations, it is quite unrealistic to expect the State to provide all the money needed to acquire materials for public collections like the Battye library. The Friends will raise money themselves and encourage others to make donations, so additional expensive material, over and above what the Battye Book vote can acquire, can be purchased for the collection.

About 140 people attended the launch of the Friends on the 16th July 1981 and almost all became foundation members. A constitution was adopted at the first AGM held on 22 September. At subsequent meetings in the early 1980's, members made it known that they felt the Friends should be more than just a fund raising group, that its raison d'etre should be to foster the love of Western Australian history in the community as well as to assist the Library as custodian of the film and documentary records of that history.

At the 1985 AGM six objectives were specified:

  1. To promote the JS Battye Library in the wider community
  2. To share research using Battye's resources through lectures and talks.
  3. To help the library identify, acquire and preserve historical items.
  4. To provide hands-on voluntary assistance with indexing and maintaining existing material.
  5. To raise funds for particular targets.
  6. To support the publication of guides to make collections more accessible to the public.

These remain our objectives today, though priorities have changed from time to time.
Membership has fluctuated between a 100 and 250, and most members have been linked to WA history in some way or another - from a family interest through to academic historians. Many of our members also belong to other historical or genealogical societies and can thus rally considerable support when needed.

By Pamela Stathan Drew

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