Category Archives: Research enquiries

Clouds and surrounds


Among the gems in the Research Library’s collection are several books produced by Harry Phillips in the first half of the 20th century.

The above photograph shows the striking covers of two of Phillips’ books: Most up-to-date Sydney panoramic views published in Katoomba in 1914 and Sydney and Surroundings N.S.W. published in Katoomba in about 1911.

Photographer, printer and publisher, Phillips documented views of the Blue Mountains, Sydney and surrounds, Canberra and the royal visits.

Harry Phillips (1873-1944) was born in Ballarat, the youngest of 11 children. He published his first book, Commonwealth Views, in 1905, only a few years after completing his apprenticeship as a printing machinist. In 1908, whilst recovering from injuries to his hands, he travelled to Katoomba and began to experiment with photography. He found inspiration in the landscape of the mountains and moved with his wife and daughter from Sydney to Katoomba in 1908. He set up his business there and soon began to photograph, print and publish books of views of the local area. By 1919 100,000 copies of his best-selling Blue Mountains Wonderland 81 Views had been printed and Phillips became known for his photography of the Blue Mountains:

“One of the greatest advertisers of the Blue Mountains is Mr Henry, (sic) Phillips, the Mountain photographer. The books of views he publishes, printed and bound with his own plant, are circulated all over the world. They have even been found in German dug-outs in Flanders. The value of his work is undoubted….”

Smiths Weekly, March 21, 1919

Phillips was particularly fascinated with cloud formations and was known to dash out of his shop to spend the day photographing when the weather was suitably overcast. In 1914 he published a book called The Cloud, a series of photographs illustrating the Shelley poem by the same title. The final photograph in the book was called War Clouds, in which Phillips identified a portent of World War I. War Clouds was published widely and Phillips sent copies of the photograph along with his interpretation to the British parliament and the Russian Czar.

Bathers on Coogee Beach

Few of Phillips’ photographic negatives survive, making his books the most comprehensive record of his work. Phillips favoured the popular panoramic format in his photography and many of his books were sized accordingly. More than 80 books have been documented and the subject matter extends beyond the Blue Mountains to Sydney and surrounds, Canberra and the royal visits.

Sunset on the Parramatta River

The books were produced on high quality paper with ornate lettered covers, usually designed by Phil Blake & Co. Phillips took charge of all other aspects of the production: photography, processing, blocks, printing, assembly, promotion and sales. He simultaneously produced postcards, took portrait photographs, held exhibitions in Sydney and Melbourne and worked on schemes for tourism.

(With thanks to Kathy Hackett, Photo Library, Powerhouse Museum)

Postcard Story


Last week several interns from regional museums were resident in the Powerhouse. All came in to the Library at various times for a tour, where we do a walkabout through the collection and explain what resources are available. Dimity Holt conducted the tours during the week and on Friday she took around Margaret Clark from the Manning Valley Historical Society

Margaret Clark

Margaret had brought in a copy of her book to show us. Postcards from the Front was published in 2010 and came about when Margaret found a box of postcards in the archives of the Manning Valley Historical Society. The postcards were all sent by an Australian soldier serving in France during World War I to his family in New South Wales.

Margaret arranged the postcards in chronological order and the story was revealed. Alfred Haynes of the 36th Battalion, landed in France in June 1917, a week before the battle of Messines Ridge. He survived this, and went on to fight in the Battle of Passchendale in October. All the while he wrote his postcards telling of daily life in the trenches and of his encounters with the French families living in nearby villages.

Margaret A. Clark Postcards from the Front: still going strong. Manning Valley Historical Society, Wingham, NSW 2010.

More reconfiguring

It’s catching. Now a local bookshop near the Museum is doing it. Moving shelves, I mean, or to be more precise, moving the contents of shelves. On my way to work this morning, I called in there to pick up a recipe book for a friend. I scanned the cooking shelves for the title. After a moment, it struck me as odd that a book about code breaking should be in the slow-cooker section. Come to think of it, where were the slow-cooker books, and what was a Spanish dictionary doing there, likewise a biography of Churchill? After a moment I worked it out. Just like the Research Library, the shop had been reconfiguring their shelves. Sure enough, a large “Reference” placard on the wall, replaced the “Cooking” sign. This, I eventually found on the opposite side of the shop. In their new setting, the familiar cookery titles looked different. I found the book I wanted, but like our Library user of yesterday, I felt disoriented.

Moving shelves

“Are the surveying books back yet?”

I was startled to hear this as I hadn’t realised they’d been away. What the enquirer meant was, had the library’s shelving rearrangements finished, and if so, where were the books about determining land boundaries.

When you use a library for any length of time, you find yourself identifying subject areas by their geographical location. That section on contemporary jewellery is second shelf from the end on the right hand side of the third bay, those books on refrigeration are on the upper left hand side of the second bay, and so on. The call number you have, pinpoints the text you’re looking for.

This is fine as long as the shelving arrangements stay unchanged.

But good library collections are not static. Some subject areas may be relatively stable. Others are growing because of demand. Inevitably, these areas become overcrowded, prompting a readjustment of books and shelving as new titles are accommodated.

This is what has happened here in the Research Library. Over the past two weeks our shelving has been reconfigured to ease the log jam of books in popular subject sections such as interior decoration, architecture and design. It was a major operation, with almost the whole book collection being reshuffled. But what an improvement! We can find titles much more easily, the collection looks better and there is space for expansion on the shelves.

The change of location for subject areas though might take some getting used to. The enquirer who was asking about the surveying books called out the shelves. “I’ve found them, but they’re on the opposite bay. I feel disoriented!”

Brand power

This library has more than its fair share of interesting visitors investigating arcane topics. Even so, there are standouts. Earlier this week, Zoe Brand came to research works by contemporary Australian jewellers. (And who better than a practising Australian contemporary jeweller herself?) Zoe explained that she is writing short descriptive pieces about Australian jewellers and their work. She is hoping to cover as many artists as possible, from the 1980s to the present day.
Eventually, these pieces will be added to Art Jewelry Forum, a non-profit organisation created to promote contemporary jewellery world-wide. You can see for yourself here.
For the past four years, Zoe has been overseeing the running of Gaffa Gallery. Located in the Sydney CBD, it’s an independent artist-run space comprised of galleries, studios and a workshop. More

The American Library in Paris

On Monday this week, we had a Charles Sturt University student visit of one person. Amelia Carlin is completing her Master of Information Studies by distance while living overseas. Paris, to be exact. And if that’s not enough to make you jealous, Amelia works at the American Library in Paris

Amelia is employed as Collections and Reference Assistant, and is home in Sydney for a few weeks while the library is closed for renovations.

Originally set up in the 1920s for ex-pat Americans, the Library is open to the public. It is right in the heart of Paris. When Amelia steps outside the library door, the Eiffel Tower looms overhead. There are three librarians, plus a slew of volunteers and students. The collection consists of over 120,000 mainly English language publications: English and American literature, non-fiction, sociology and the arts. But it’s the extensive periodical collection, with its vintage fashion magazines that draws Parisian fashion designers looking for inspiration for their next collection. Issues of Vanity Fair, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar from the 1940s are the most popular – just as they are in our Library.

An Australian first

The Research Library has just become the first library in Australia to join the In-Library Lending program of the Open Library. A project of the Internet Archive , the Open Library currently offers 20 million edition records and 1.7 million eBooks, linked to WorldCat and to online booksellers such as Amazon.

There are 150 libraries worldwide participating in the In-Library Lending program, in which libraries co-operatively contribute to the Open Library digitised public domain books from their collections in exchange for access to a special set of over 100,000 fiction and non-fiction eBooks. These eBooks can be downloaded by Museum staff, and also by Open Library account holders who log in to the Museum’s public WiFi, in PDF, ePub, Daisy, DjVu and ASCII text formats.

On receiving news of the Research Library’s participation in the In-Library Lending program, George Oates, Project Lead of the Open Library and previously a guest speaker at the Museum, commented “Looking forward to PHM leading the way on the interwebs yet again!”.

Browsers noticed

We are enjoying a feature of Koha that allows us to track invisible users. These are the people (internal and external) who consult material within the Library without needing to borrow. When they’ve finished reading, they leave the items on a trolley, ready for shelving by Library staff. Formerly, the items were simply replaced on the shelves.

Now though, we can capture that unobserved browsing. Before shelving we scan the barcodes of the used items to a statistical borrower. The addition of these statistics to our other circulation figures, gives us a more accurate picture of how the Library is being used. It’s especially satisfying to be able to quantify the enormous numbers of books, pamphlets and serials, not to mention the diverse subject areas called for by both internal and external clients. An excellent measuring tool.

Koha live today in the Research Library!

After two years of preparatory work, the Research Library staff are thrilled to announce the introduction of our fourth generation library system, Koha . Note the stylised kiwi in the top left hand corner. As a Kiwi myself, I’m proud to say that Koha hails from Aotearoa. ‘Koha’ means ‘gift from the heart’, which pretty well sums it up for us.

Using Koha, allows us even more interactivity with our internal and external clients. They can now:

• Do their own renewals and reserves online
• Save their search results to private and public lists
• Offer suggestions for purchase
• Contribute book reviews and cloud tags

We can now display our bibliographic records with book covers, as well as adding photos of users to their borrowing records. Live today in the Research Library, we hope to have our Koha OPAC available across the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney Observatory and Powerhouse Discovery Centre sites, and on the Museum’s website, by the end of this week. We’ll keep you posted. Meanwhile, watch this space!

J & OD students

March was a month for visitors. We had several groups of second and third year Jewellery and Object Design students students (36 in all) from the Design Centre Enmore.

They were led each time by their teacher, Danielle Butters. If she was bored at having to repeat the visits, she didn’t show it!

As with all group visits, we gave an introductory talk about the Research Library, the history of its collection and the way it contributes to exhibitions in the Museum. We then divided the class into smaller groups of 5 or 6 for a walkabout. To avoid tripping over each other, we started at different points in the Library, crossing over as the tour progressed. Jewellery students are great to show around. Their studies encompass so many subject areas that we delve into nearly every part of the Library. We rifle through books and journals on metalwork, jewellery design, costume, ornament, crafts, textile and fibre design, knitting patterns, architecture, photography, graphic design – everything, in fact, from decorative arts to technology, which is just what this Museum is all about.

The students spent time browsing the shelves until it was time go over to the Museum. Here, they toured the Benini exhibition before heading back to class.