Hygienic libraries and other Special Collections oddities

December 5, 2018

The Special Collections team at Deakin Library is always on the lookout for rare gems and unique finds within the library collection. A recent Library Book Collection Review has revealed some intriguing oddities, which were selected for the Western Victoria Collection in the Special Collection, primarily because of their local interest.

One such book was a very battered novel, The Ashes of Achievement by Frank A. Russell, published in Melbourne in 1920. This book was once no. 309 from the collection of the Drumcondra Hygienic Library of 1C Melbourne Road, Geelong and was in use there between 1943 and 1955.

hygienic library

The discovery in the late 19th century that disease could be communicated via bacteria led to concern over the possibility that books could spread diseases such as scarlet fever, diphtheria and smallpox. Public health legislation specifically mentioned that books should be removed from the rooms of contagious patients and a fashion developed in the first half of the 20th century for private lending libraries to promote themselves as ‘hygienic libraries’ because they sterilised their books. This was usually done by placing books in a cupboard with formalin vapour.

Private circulating libraries and their niche cousins, ‘Hygienic Libraries’, once flourished in Australia until the growth of public libraries and the declining risk of infectious disease ended their popularity.

Another item to emerge from the Collection Review was formerly part of the collection of the Gordon Institute of Technology. It is a technical book on engineering drawing and was owned and used by a Gordon student enrolled in the Civil Engineering Department between 1934 and 1937.

engineering drawing

The student was Geelong-born George Campbell Hughes, who enlisted in the RAAF on 8 January 1940. At that time, he was working as a civil engineer and living in Winchelsea. His technical background would have made him an attractive recruit for the RAAF and he was sent to Amberley in Queensland to undertake flying training with 3 Service Flying Training School. Sadly though, like thousands of others, Flying Officer Hughes did not survive his training. He was killed in an Avro Anson crash on 30 July 1941, aged just twenty-three.

His parents presented his copy of Engineering Drawing Practice to the Gordon in his memory in 1941.

If you love book history, vintage ephemera and advertising, and collections with a story behind them, watch this space for future posts about the Deakin Library Special Collections.


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