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Barron, David (1936–2012)

by Marie Sexton

David Barron was Canberra Public Librarian from 1979 to 1994 in the period when public library services to Canberra’s citizens was extended to the new suburbs and town centres.  

David was one of a number of Englishmen who made a remarkable contribution to libraries in Australia. Born in 1936 in Newcastle on Tyne, the son of a naval draftsman who worked for a large ship-building firm for 30 years, he was educated there at Rutherford Grammar School. In his 1995 National Library of Australia oral history interview with Peter Biskup, David said he regarded himself as “Being a Geordie, even though I don’t have a Geordie accent”. 

He graduated with a BA Hons. from Durham University in 1958, having specialized in German, French and Swedish. He had great fluency in various languages throughout his life. 

After a period in teaching, he was an assisted migrant and travelled with his wife to Tasmania in 1963 and taught for two years at Glenorchy High School. He also acted part-time in the Hobart Repertory Society and performed in ABC broadcasts for children. 

He then applied to become one of the National Library of Australia’s cadre of “Librarians-in-training” (“LITs”) who trained at the University of New South Wales Library School in Sydney, on the basis of returning to Canberra and working here. This was the period when it was hard to attract new graduates to Canberra. 

After completing his Diploma in Librarianship in 1965, David became a librarian in various positions in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library between 1966 and 1970. He dealt with the members of parliament in his calm but jovial manner. He was always throughout his career well-tailored and smart in appearance. He undoubtedly enjoyed working for Allan Fleming, the then Chief of the Parliamentary Library. When Fleming (1912-2001) moved to the position of National Librarian in 1970, David also moved to the library. He was Chief Reference Librarian between 1970 to 1972. Use of the library had sky-rocketed with its move to the lakeside in 1968 and its services were under pressure.   

Between 1972 and 1975, he was posted for three years to London with his wife and three young children. 

As the Library’s Chief Liaison Librarian at Australia House, he was involved in major acquisitions being made in Great Britain, as the library’s collections were rapidly expanding at that time. In his 1995 oral history interview, David referred to his involvement with the Alston collection on English literature, the Tooley map collection and the Helm music collection. In the days before the Internet, fax, voice-mail, etc., telephone calls had to be carefully scheduled between Canberra and London with one party always at some early morning hour, generally David. Telexes, then  dispatched to overseas posts through the communications network of the Department of Foreign Affairs, could be a laborious method of communication. The only alternative was airmail. He represented Australia on various international bodies including the OECD Information Policy Group and the International Serials Data System. At this posting, his urbanity and good sense served him well. 

On completion of his posting. he returned to Canberra in 1975, where he was appointed as Principal Librarian, Social Sciences. It was a time of very rapid change in the library with the appointment of the noted British librarian, Dr George Chandler, as National Librarian in 1974 until 1980. 

In 1979 David succeeded Anthony Ketley as Canberra Public Librarian. Several major challenges faced Canberra’s public library services: looming self-government for the A.C.T; the expansion of the suburban area and population meant that new libraries had to be built outside the established inner areas and the need to expand its use of library automation which was becoming a dominant theme. 

In 1981, the Canberra Public Library Service was separated from the National Library (which had been its parent body for many decades) and became part of the Commonwealth Department of the Capital Territory, although territory self government did not come until close to the end of the decade. 

New branch libraries were opened over the next fifteen years in Belconnen (1981), Erindale (1983) and Tuggeranong (1990). Their development was often affected by the constraints of staff and funding so it could be a frustrating time. The Civic Library was moved from Civic Square to East Row in the refurbished Saraton Building in December 1990. Library services on the south side of Canberra, including the Kingston Library, Central Services, the Mobile Library, the Home Library Service and the Disability Services Unit were centralized in the refurbished former Griffith Primary School buildings in 1994/5. 

Library automation proceeded but within financial constraints. The BOOK Plus automated library system was selected in 1989 and became operational in 1990. 

David was active in the public library’s reading and young people’s programs, willing to dress himself up as a fictional character to read to children. He loved literature and saw the promotion of literacy and love of books as prime goals of a library. One of his major commitments was to build the Canberra public library collections. He read widely himself and wanted the best for the local community. He had a hands-on approach and often his desk was loaded with incoming books for him to see to ensure that they were what was wanted and needed in the collection. In his 1995 interview, David said that he knew each new item which came into the public library’s collections. 

In 1984, he was funded by the Department of Capital Territory to visit overseas public libraries to see the latest developments. He visited New Zealand and the Scandinavian countries together with Britain, France and Germany. 

In his 1995 interview, he said how disappointed he had been that the plan to develop a cultural area, including a major new library in Civic Square, did not receive support in the eighties. 

In manner, he was jovial and often witty. He retained his elegant style of dressing, never without a jacket and tie, generally in a smart suit. 

He worked closely with Mr Justice Rae Else-Mitchell, CMG, QC (1914-2006), chairman of the A.C.T. Library Services Advisory Committee for many years on the development of library services. 

His interest in teaching continued, with a six-months period as a visiting lecturer in librarianship at the Ballarat College of Advanced Education in 1987. 

He published various journal articles on Canberra public library services and was Vice President in 1982, then in 1983, President of the A.C.T. Branch of the Australian Library and Information Association. He was a member of the State Librarians’ Council and other nation-wide library committees. As part of his great love of books, he convened the Canberra Lifeline Bookfair for a period. 

After his retirement in 1994, he remained in Canberra. David’s second wife, Lilli Chighine, predeceased him. He gained a great deal of pleasure from his children and extended family.

Original publication

  • Canberra Times, 28 March 2012, p 10

Additional Resources

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Citation details

Marie Sexton, 'Barron, David (1936–2012)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/barron-david-14828/text26012, accessed 14 November 2019.

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