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‘Making libraries free for all’: the case of Launceston 1929-1945

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Event Date:

Legacy House Function Room
159 Macquarie Street
Hobart TAS 7000

Stefan Petrow

By the 1930s libraries were in a parlous state throughout Australia. They were poorly funded, had small collections and in some places no collections at all. In the 1930s a great social movement, the Free Library Movement, emerged in Australia and sought to encourage municipalities to fund libraries with State government support. In Tasmania, library provision was possibly the worst of all the States and the Cosgrove Labor Government was inspired by the Free Library Movement's cry of Books for the Bookless to do something about it. This rang danger signals for the Launceston Public Library, which since its origins in the Launceston Mechanics' Institute (formed 1842) had been a subscription library and only allowed members to borrow books from what was the finest and best managed collection in Tasmania. This paper traces how the Launceston Public Library responded to the emerging demand from various quarters for free libraries until it finally transferred control to the Launceston City Council in 1945.

Emeritus Professor Stefan Petrow taught Tasmanian, Australian, European and family history at the University of Tasmania until his retirement in June 2020. He has been researching Tasmanian soldiers in World War One for a decade. His most recent book, Look After the Missus and Kids: A History of Hobart Legacy 1923 to 2023, was published in March 2023.