Allan Fleming

Obituary:  Allan Percy Fleming   inCite vol. 22, March 2001, p26.

b. 5 March  1912; d.  18 January 2001

As a soldier journalist and senior Commonwealth public servant, Allan Fleming had a long, distinguished and exceptionally varied career, marked at times by high romanticism.

In all that he undertook, he showed initiative, creativity, ability to adapt readily to new situations and relate well to people.

Entering the Public Service through the Defence Department, Fleming played a significant part in the formative stages of Australia's post-war military-intelligence agencies as director of the Joint Intelligence Bureau, Controller of Joint Intelligence, later becoming an assistant secretary, then Controller of Joint Service Organisations. Later he held senior positions in the Department of Trade and Industry before becoming Parliamentary Librarian and later National Librarian.  At the behest of Sir Peter Lawler, as Secretary of the Department of Administrative Services, he came out of retirement in 1976 to spend two years as Commonwealth Government VIP Security Coordinator, his last public-service appointment.

However, Fleming, who has died in Melbourne from lung cancer aged 88, is probably best remembered in his role as National Librarian, where he succeeded the long-serving Sir Harold White. The task confronting him was not an easy one, particularly as he was not a librarian.  Interestingly, it was Sir Harold White who had recruited him for the parliamentary job.

It was a time of change in library practice, as computer technology was introduced.  He set about producing a national information policy oriented towards user needs.  He built up staff with the expertise needed to integrate all areas of information and make it available to users as speedily as possible. And in seeking to extend the library's scope beyond the humanities and social sciences, he sought to make information on science and technology available to users. He was not averse to seeking the cooperation of outside bodies.

The library entered a major development phase with his  appointment  of Alec Bolton, from Angus and Robertson, to establish a publishing section; the acquisition of a major music collection and, in the film area, copies of the Cinesound-Movietone collection, now a prized item in ScreenSound Australia's holdings.

The emphasis he put on the dissemination of information at the National Library was a natural progression from what he had put in train as Parliamentary Librarian. There he had consolidated and expanded the research service. As well as generally building up staff, he encouraged the development of the current information section.

Born in Melbourne on 5 March 1912, Fleming was educated at Lee Street State School, North Carlton, Scotch College and Melbourne University, where, among other things, he edited Farrago, the student newspaper, and from where he graduated with an arts degree.

At university he helped support himself as a teacher-in-training and housemaster at Scotch. There he met his future wife, Margaret, a nursing sister, whom he married in 1940.

He abandoned the prospect of a teaching career to become a cadet reporter on the now-defunct Melbourne Argus. Approached by the Herald company in Melbourne, he went to the Courier-Mail, Brisbane, where he became assistant editor of the Sunday Mail, and wrote editorials and a daily column for the Courier-Mail.

Enlisting in the AIF as a private in 1939, he saw service in North Africa, Greece, New Guinea and the South­ West Pacific. He rose to lieutenant­ colonel, and, after various intelligence appointments, finished the war as air liaison officer Advanced Land Head­ quarters. He was made an OBE and twice mentioned in dispatches.

Though he had no specific training for most of his jobs, he left none of them without having made a significant contribution. This was recognised when he was appointed CBE in 1979.  After his retirement he lived in Melbourne with his wife, Margaret, who died in 1999.  His daughter, Alannah, and two grandsons survive him.

Extracted from an obituary by John Farquharson in The Canberra Times, 26 January 2001

Link to entry in Obituaries Australia.


ALLAN FLEMING, ELLINOR ARCHER AWARD 1989.    inCite vol. 11, no. 1, 19 Feb 1990, p. 8

Allan Fleming occupied the highest position in Australian librarianship as Director-General of the National Library of Australia from June 1970 to September 1973, following a term as Commonwealth Parliamentary Librarian from February 1968, until his appointment to the National Library.  Prior to that he had a distinguished career in the military forces in World War II and then serving in the Defence and Trade Departments.

When Mr Fleming was appointed to the post of Commonwealth Parliamentary Librarian he took over a library which 1 month before had completed the process of separation from the National Library and which 2 years before had set in place an embryonic Research Service modelled on the pattern of the Library of Congress.

He served for only 28 months in the Parliamentary Library but made a remarkable contribution in that short period of time. He brought a fresh radical view to parliamentary librarianship, articulating the role and purpose of the library as never before: 'Democracy in action' was one of his expressions, and the staff quickly became enthused and imbued with his concept of service and the importance of their role in servicing the Parliament.

The Parliamentary Library will for decades reflect his views, ideals and style of leadership. It is now, largely due to him, a dynamic research and information service promoting its services well to its clients and ever mindful of their needs as it strives to fulfil its role in the democratic process.

Allan Fleming performed so outstandingly in the Parliamentary Library that he was invited to become National Librarian in 1970. Although he occupied this position for only slightly over 3 years, he again made a dynamic and distinguished contribution to Australian librarianship and to the development of the National Library of Australia.

The library's Annual Report, 1973-74, records this contribution in the following fitting terms:

'Mr Fleming brought to the National Library his great gifts of administration and leadership, a wide and varied experience in a number of senior posts in the Departments of Defence and Trade, and above all a genuine concern for people and for the advancement of knowledge and dissemination of information for all. His imaginative concept of a national information system has stimulated Australian thinking on the achievement of this ultimate goal.

During his term of office he was responsible for a major reorganisation and upgrading of the Library's staff structure, for presenting to Government on behalf of the Library Council the findings, conclusions and recommendations of STISEC, now known familiarly as the STISEC Report and for the encouragement and development of participation by the staff in the activities of the Australian library community.  He exerted a strong personal influence in making the library's activities and services known both within Australia and overseas.'

As in the Parliamentary Library Allan Fleming again saw a very active and positive role for the National Library, rather than a passive collecting role alone. He fostered a new level of liaison and credibility with Government at both the ministerial level and interdepartmentally, and in gaining the strong confidence and support of the Government, created opportunities for new roles and levels of funding.

It was solely due to Mr Fleming's initiative that the National Library Council invited Dr Bjorn Tell, Head Librarian of the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, to visit Australia in 1973 for consultations on the future development of the library's role and activities, within the framework of a national information policy and with particular reference to computerised information retrieval systems.

The library took advantage of Dr Tell's visit to hold in April an advanced working seminar on national information policy and the impact of social and technological change on national information planning, thus bringing to the attention of those people in Australia who ought to be concerned with such matters, the importance of creating a national information policy and of planning a national network of information services. Allan Fleming's work in promoting the importance of national information policy and effective planning was of central importance to the widespread debate on these matters in the next 15 years.


The intention of the Australian Library and Information Association in establishing the Ellinor Archer Award was to recognise those rare cases of an outstanding contribution to our profession from somebody working within libraries but not eligible for professional membership of the Association. The General Council in conferring the Award on Allan Fleming now fittingly recognises the services of one of the major figures in our professional since World War II.