Vale Dulcie Stretton
inCite vol.22, Aug 2001, pp. 32-33
The Australian library community has lost one of its most significant activists and supporters with the death of Dulcie Stretton in Brisbane on 29 June. Dulcie was a major contributor to library promotion and our profession for more than four decades. The citation for her Redmond Barry Award of 1980, the highest honour our Association can give a lay person, and written when she still had major contributions to make, said that 'In the contemporary world of Australian librarianship no one outside the profession has done more for its health than Dulcie Stretton.’
Dulcie was born in 1924 and grew up in St Kilda, Victoria, the eldest of three children, and was educated in the public school system. She was an omnivorous reader from an early age, and in an oral history interview held in the National Library of Australia comments 'I can also remember the large number of books that I was given, on birthdays and at Christmas, and being berated for the fact that I would go away and hide until I'd read every one of them.' She joined a local subscription library when aged fourteen, causing consternation by borrowing adult fiction.
Dulcie's early life reflects the social mores of the times. She did not attend university, lacking opportunity and money, and since her father did not think university education necessary for girls. But she was stimulated by her first job in a law office where she was given wide opportunities with men away at the War. However she left the workforce on marriage and to have three children.
The adult education movement, of central importance to so many Australians in the decades after the war, opened intellectual life and opportunities for Dulcie. After enrolling in a course at Ormond State School she soon became chair of the local branch of the Adult Education Association of Victoria and eventually the Association's president in 1959. She was invited in 1957 to become full-time liaison officer in the Council of Adult Education in Victoria, occupying that position until 1969. A major responsibility was to help other organisations upgrade the adult education component in their programs. This is how she became involved in library promotion activities. Dulcie remembered these as years of very hard work, but they were also some of the most wonderfully exciting of her life. She was a foundation member of the executive of the Australian Association of Adult Education when it was established in 1960, serving till 1968.
Dulcie's library promotion activities began with her appointment in 1959 as chairman of the Library Week Committee of Victoria. Library promotion became a major passion for her, and the three objectives she outlined in her successful application for a three month Carnegie Corporation Study Tour in 1966 were 'promotion of libraries at a national level, national adult education agencies, continuing education for mature age women.'
Dulcie was elected foundation president of the Australian Library Promotion Council in 1967, serving in this office for the next twenty years. She brought passion, commitment, organising abilities, and stubbornness to this task, allied to great style - one long term acquaintance aptly describes her as a 'pocket sized Titian-haired dynamo.'
Dulcie was appointed congress executive officer for the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science [ANZAAS] in 1970, organising their next three conferences in Brisbane, Sydney and Perth, before establishing her own highly successful conference consulting business in 1974. This enabled her, with careful scheduling, to travel widely and contribute nationally in library promotion activities. I was one of the many younger librarians she immediately enthused to join the ALPC NSW committee when she settled in Sydney.
We now all accept as a matter of course the importance of libraries to Australian cultural life, and particularly the network of free public libraries spanning the country. This was certainly not the case when Dulcie did her main work in library promotion, where the arguments had often still to be made. She saw herself as suited to this because 'I'm a layman, because I'm not in the book trade and I'm not a librarian, and I'm not an author. I just really want to encourage more people to read ... I have no vested interests, I happen to believe very strongly in the advantage and the wonderful things that people get from reading...'
The Redmond Barry Award citation commends her contribution as follows:
'Mrs Stretton has been unstinting in her commitment to library development ... Such a contribution is to be expected from members of the library profession, but it is unique for a lay person to make such a contribution.
'She has worked untiringly, and at a cost both in personal time and money, which only a few of her older associates can fully appreciate. No one has appeared on more platforms throughout Australia on behalf of libraries. She has addressed meetings in every state, ranging from large assemblies to a handful of enthusiasts in a cold, draughty hall in the smallest country town.'
Other community contributions by Dulcie included membership of the ABC Talks Advisory Committee from 1963 to 1969, of the Australian National Commission for UNESCO from 1974 to 1980, and foundation membership of the Governing Council of the National Book Council in 1973. She was Deputy Chair of the Council from 1978 to 1985, and Chair of the NSW Committee from 1974 to 1981.
Dulcie was a member of the Library Council of New South Wales, the governing body for the State Library of New South Wales and with other responsibilities including government relations with the public library network, from 1975 to 1983. She made a major contribution to the Council's work and was particularly proud to have been elected by the Council as its president, the first woman in Australia to fill such a position, from 1979 to 1983. She established The Library Society friends group, and her contributions are recognised in the annual Dulcie Stretton Lecture series established in 1984.
Dulcie's outstanding contribution to national life was recognised by her appointment as a Commander in the Order of the British Empire [CBE] in the 1979 Queen's Birthday, for 'services to the community'. She also received an honorary Master of Arts Degree in the University of Sydney in 1997, and the Australian Library Promotion Council in 1979 honoured Dulcie with its Alfred McMicken Award for 'an outstanding personal contribution to libraries.'
Dulcie was a most gregarious person. She loved conversation, books and reading, good food and wine, and had the widest circle of friends. She gave splendid parties, especially when she lived and ran her conference business in Glenmore Road, Paddington. Dulcie had a passion for owls - ceramic and wooden, drawings and paintings, many the gifts of friends who came across them in their travels -and the Paddington house seemed to be overflowing with them. She was enormously proud of her three children and the grandchildren who filled a central place in her life.
Dulcie said in the interview mentioned above that her life, career and voluntary work had given her a great interest in human relationships, and the depth and sustaining nature of the friendships she made in our profession testifies to this. She will be sadly missed, and the profession is in her debt for her major contributions to our affairs.
Dulcie Stretton, Redmond Barry Award
inCite 17 October 1980 p. 2
Dulcie Stretton, CBE, President of the Australian Library Promotion Council and President of the Library Council of NSW, has been awarded the Association’s Redmond Barry Award. This Award is presented by the Library Association of Australia to a lay person whom the Association considers has made an outstanding contribution to librarianship in Australia.
Mrs Stretton’s citation reads in part: 'During Dulcie Stretton's leadership of the ALPC, the Council has been instrumental in developing public awareness programs and applying political pressure for the development of libraries in schools, the establishment and development of public library services, and the library services to the disadvantaged. The Australian Library Promotion Council, during her Presidency has each year taken a target area where they believe attention should be focused on the development of library services.
'Mrs Stretton has been unstinting in her commitment to library development and as foundation chairman and later President of ALPC she has travelled unstintingly to every State to address meetings. Such a contribution is to be expected from members of the library profession, but is unique for a lay person to make such a contribution.
'She has worked untiringly and at a cost to both personal time and money, which only a few of her older associates can appreciate. No one has appeared on more platforms throughout Australia on behalf of libraries. She has addressed meetings in every State, ranging from large assemblies to a handful of enthusiasts in a cold draughty hall in the smallest country town.
'When Dulcie Stretton moved from Victoria to NSW she left a strong library promotion movement in Victoria, and immediately upon her arrival in NSW created an observable impact in the development of libraries. She was appointed a member of the Library Council of New South Wales in 1974, and in 1977 was elected Deputy President. In 1979 she was elected President.
She has given distinctive leadership to the development of the Library Promotion Committee in New South Wales and the National Book Council, and upon the recommendation of the New South Wales Government, the Queen recognised her contribution to service in that State with the award of the CBE in 1979. Her election as President of the New South Wales Library Council gave her the distinction of being the first woman to head a governing body of an Australian library.
The health of all professions depends in some part on those outside it, who are willing to comment, to criticise and to support contemporary world of Australian librarianship no one outside the profession has done more for its health than Dulcie Stretton.'