Colin Steele

Colin Steele MA KtCrossSpain GradDipLib FALIA FLA

Full biography 2018

Colin Steele MA KtCrossSpain GradDipLib FAHA FALIA FCILIP

Centenary Medal 2001; Honorary Fellow of the Australian Academy of Humanities 2002; Emeritus Fellow, ANU 2004 

Colin Robert Steele has made a distinguished contribution to librarianship in Australia and internationally.

Colin was born in Hartlepool, County Durham, England on March 2 1944. He was educated at Hartlepool Grammar School, leaving in 1962 with the Chairman of the Governor’s Award for Academic Achievement. He then studied for a History degree at Liverpool University, specialising in Latin American and North American history, graduating with a 2:1 Honours degree in 1965.

He was awarded a UK SCONUL (Standing Conference of National and University Libraries) traineeship at Liverpool University Library for 1965-66.From 1966–67 Colin studied for a postgraduate degree in Library and Information Studies at University College London, specialising in Latin American bibliography.

Colin took up a position in August 1967 as an Assistant Librarian in Oxford University’s Bodleian Library’s Foreign Accessions Department. Colin subsequently became a Junior and then Senior Associate Member of St Antony’s College, which housed the Oxford University’s Latin American Centre.

Colin’s Bodleian appointment was part of a new initiative at Oxford following the 1966 Shackleton Report to appoint professionally qualified librarians. Colin, inter alia, established the Bodleian Library Group, which brought together staff from within the Bodleian to discuss professional issues and to take advantage of national and international librarians visiting the Bodleian to talk about professional developments in their libraries.  

In addition to professional library activities, however, Bodleian staff were expected to be scholar-librarians. While at the Bodleian, Colin completed his Master of Arts degree by thesis (80,000 words) from Liverpool University.

Colin’s specialist work in the Bodleian led to the publication of several books, including Independent Mexico with Professor Michael Costeloe, based on their discovery of a hitherto unknown and uncatalogued large collection of Mexican independence pamphlets in the Bodleian stacks. Another major publication was Major Libraries of the World (1976), which detailed 300 major libraries libraries and which was also well reviewed.

Colin was awarded a British Academy American Fellowship in 1974 which he assumed at the Newberry Library in Chicago. This enabled him to complete the manuscript of his book English Interpreters of the Iberian New World, published in 1975, based on his Liverpool MA thesis.

Colin, looking for career advancement, accepted the position of Deputy University Librarian at the Australian National University Library in November 1975 and took up the position in August 1976. With the retirement of Milton Simms as ANU Librarian in 1980, Colin was appointed University Librarian, after a global search, in September 1980.

In 1982, a major Library Review took place chaired by Deputy Vice Chancellor Ian Ross. It recommended as one of its main priorities, the rationalisation of library collections which had been separated due to the ANU’s bifurcated history between the Institute of Advanced Studies and the School of General Studies. Ultimately, hundreds of thousands of books were moved between buildings, forming the basis of the current structure of collections.

During Colin’s Deputy and University Librarianship, ANU’S research collections grew significantly. ANU collections reached one and then two million books, both occasions being marked by a ceremony with the respective Governors Generals, Sir Zelman Cowen and Sir William Deane.

In the early 1990s the ANU Library became a leader in Australia in library automation and web access, thanks to the work of key Library staff, and especially Deputy Librarian Tony Barry. In 1994 the Library was awarded the national VALA Award for innovation in computing and networking.

In 1995, Colin delivered the prestigious UK Follett Lectures reserved for invited overseas speakers. Colin was the only Australian speaker to be so honoured. The Follett lectures were sponsored by the UK’s JISC Follett Implementation Group on Information Technology, with the aim of raising awareness of international developments and issues relating to the electronic library. Colin’s lecture was New Romances or Pulp Fiction? Do Libraries and Librarians have an Internet Future? Available at: http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/services/papers/follett/steele/paper.html

In 1993, Colin co-convened, with Professor John Mulvaney, the keynote conference Changes in Scholarly Communication Patterns: Australia and the Electronic Library. The success of this conference, the proceedings of which were subsequently published (Mulvaney and Steele, 1993), led to the Federal Government allocating $5 million from the National Priority Reserve Fund for funding Australian datasets for the period 1994-1996. In subsequent years, the responsibility for the Big Deal datasets became the responsibility of individual universities to fund, although often acting collectively to gain consortia deals.

Professor Vicki Williamson has written, in her article ‘The Beginnings of the Scholarly Communication Movement in Australia’ (IATUL) that:

The 1993 Conference, "Changes in Scholarly Communications Patterns: Australia and the Electronic Library", held in Canberra, brought together for the first time in an Australian context the various players in the scholarly communication chain. The spectrum of attendees ranged from authors to publishers, subscription agents to network experts, and librarians to copyright facilitators. In hindsight, the 1993 Conference can be seen as a significant milestone and a catalyst for significant joint action in the area of scholarly communication in the Australian context.

Following the 1993 conference, Colin played a key role in the formation in 1994 of the National Scholarly Communication Forum, which has played important role since that date in Australian scholarly communication debate and policy. Colin was Convenor of the National Forums from 2005-2017. Colin retired from the NSCF 2017, with the 25th NSCF held in August 2017 at the Australian Academy of Science.

The following tribute was paid at that meeting to Colin from the President of the Australian Academy of Humanities, Professor John Fitzgerald,

Before we get the first session under way I wish to pay tribute to the dedication and extraordinary work of the Convenor of the NSCF, Colin Steele FAHA. Colin has been immersed in the world of scholarly communications for a long time, serving as the University Librarian at ANU from 1980-2002 and then as the Director of Scholarly Information Strategies until 2003.  Colin has been at the helm of NSCF since 1993. We are saddened to learn that NSCF 2017 (number 26) will be his last.

The success of NSCF over the years is a testament to Colin’s energy, networking power and breadth of knowledge.  The inaugural NSCF convened in 1993 had immediate impact, with government funds being allocated to Australian University libraries. It also marked the first Australian visit by Brewster Kahle, now famously head of the Internet archive.

Other high points in terms of impact were a number of NSCFs that convened in the early 2000s. NCSF 2004 for example was held under the aegis of the National Academies Forum, the precursor to the Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA). Sir Gareth Roberts attended from Britain to speak to his review of the research assessment exercise undertaken for the UK funding councils. This was a precursor of the research quality framework later developed for application in Australia. The 2009 NSCF similarly brought senior sector representatives together on the Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) exercise and featured Minister Kim Carr and a host of other distinguished speakers, one of whom I shall be re-introducing in a moment.

Before that, I would invite you to join me in thanking Colin Steele for his unparalleled contribution to important national conversations on higher education, research and publication over these many years.
Colin served on the Council of Australian University Librarians (CAUL) Executive from 1992 to 1996. From 1997 to 1999 he was Convenor of the CAUL Publishing Industry Think Tanks in Melbourne, which provided a forum for academic publishers and librarians to explore key issues, under Chatham House rules, in scholarly communication.

Another major attempt, like the NSCF, to effect scholarly communication change came at the end of the 1990s. A group of Australian University Librarians, in which Colin Steele, John Shipp and Neil McLean formed an alliance of government agencies, learned academies and librarians- the Coalition for Innovation in Scholarly Communication (CISC hereafter).

The Coalition’s Chair was Professor Malcolm Gillies, then ANU Deputy Vice Chancellor and also President of the Australian Academy of Humanities and the National Academies Forum. The Executive Officer was Virginia Walsh, former Executive Director of the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA hereafter), who subsequently became the first Executive Director of the Group of Eight universities.

CISC subsequently undertook a number of research studies, which were subsequently published, to underpin the development of a national approach to innovation in scholarly communication. Unfortunately, once more, while some earmarked funds flowed from the Federal Government, they were managed by the Australian Vice-Chancellors’ Committee whose relevant subcommittee lacked the expertise of the CAUL and CISC personnel, which meant that the overall scholarly communication impact was subsequently dissipated.

In 2002, moreover, changes to key personnel within CISC, including Colin’s retirement as ANU University Librarian, led to the scholarly communication initiative losing further momentum

Colin having been University Librarian for 22 years, took up the position of ANU Director of Scholarly Information Strategies role before retiring at the age of 60. Colin was named Emeritus Fellow by the ANU Council in 2004.

Colin has been called the “father of the Australian Open Access movement” (Stephen Matchett, Campus Morning Mail, 2018). Colin has worked nationally and internationally as a proponent of Open Access to publicly-funded research. Under Colin’s leadership, ANU library established Australia’s first University Open Access Repository in 2002.

Colin, with Professors James Fox and Malcolm Gillies, and with the financial support of Vice Chancellor Ian Chubb, re-established in 2002 the long defunct ANU Press with an open access electronic access framework. The ANU Press has gone on to great success with over 550 books published by December 2017 and had exceeded two million downloads of its titles.

Colin has played an active part in the Library Association of Australia and the succeeding body, the Australian Library and Information Association, Colin's support has been demonstrated in his willingness to serve on various committees, including the 1979 Biennial LAA conference committee.

Between 1979 and 1981 he was Chair of the ACT Group of the University and College Libraries Section. Colin served as ACT General Councillor from 1990 to 1991 and was chair of the Program Committee for the ALIA Biennial Conference, held in Canberra in October 2000.

In 1998, Colin was awarded a Fellowship of the Charted Institute of Library and Information Professionals, UK. In the same year, Colin was awarded his ALIA Fellowship, becoming only the sixth person in history to be awarded both Fellowships.

Colin has served on the editorial boards of a number of journals including Australian Academic and Research Libraries, Journal of Librarianship and Information Science and the International Journal of Information and Library Research.

Colin has also been a regular book reviewer, since the 1970s, for a number of publications including the Antiquarian Book Monthly, SF Commentary, The Canberra Times, Australian Book Review, International Journal of the Book, Australian Academic and Research Libraries, Australian Library Journal and Australian Book Collector and Biblionews.

Colin has always pursued cross-campus activities beyond the Library. Colin was the first Chair of the Australian National Word Festival from 1983 to 1987, which were held at University House. At this stage the only two literary festivals in Australia were Adelaide and Canberra.

Colin subsequently established the extremely successful ANU Meet the Author series, which still continue. Over more than 30 years, the series has held about 600 events and attracted in excess of 120,000 people.

Colin was a member of the judging panel for the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Australian History and Non-Fiction from 2010 to 2013. He has been the Chair of the judging panel of the Council of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHASS) Academic Book Prize since 2014.

Colin’s recent University awards include the ANU Media Award - Biggest Public Lecture Seminar Series (2012), ANU Vice Chancellor's Media Award for Improving Public Debate (2011), the ACT Writer's Centre, Award for Non-fiction Book Reviewing (2012), Vice Chancellors Award for Advancing the Reputation of the University (2014), and the ANU Chancellor’s Staff Excellence Award for Outstanding Service to the Campus Community (2017). This latter award has only been given to one person in recent years

The citation reads:

The Chancellor’s Award for Outstanding Service to the Campus Community is awarded for exceptional dedication and service to the campus community beyond normal expectations.

Former University Librarian Mr Colin Steele has made a distinguished contribution to librarianship in Australia. He has an outstanding record as an advocate for librarianship and promoting the need for librarians and scholars to modernise. Since his retirement in 2002, Mr Steele continues to play a critical role as a public intellectual and ANU envoy. His service in strengthening links between ANU and the Canberra community through public literary events and festivals is legendary. He is the author or editor of seven books on history, libraries and scholarly communication, as well as more than 300 articles and reviews. His awards include the Knight Cross of Queen Isabella la Catolica of Spain for services to Hispanic culture, a Fellowship by both the British and Australian Library Associations – only the sixth double Fellowship in history. He was also elected as an Honorary Fellow of the Australian Academy of Humanities and in 2001 received the Australian Centenary Medal for Scholarly Communication services.

Colin has been Secretary of the ACT Oxford University Alumni Association since 1977, under the Presidencies of Sir Laurence McIntyre, Sir David Hay, Gavan Griffiths and Professor John White.

Colin was the Secretary of the Magellan Society from 1980 to 1997. This Society was established in 1980 at ANU by the Vice Chancellor, Anthony Low, to promote the cultural activities of Spain, Portugal and Latin America in Canberra. Many successful events were held in Canberra until 1997, when the Magellan society gradually morphed into ANCLAS, the Australian National Centre for Latin American Studies at the ANU with a more academic, teaching, research role.

Colin was awarded the Knight Cross of Queen Isabella la Catolica of Spain in 1984 for his work establishing the Magellan Society and for his critically acclaimed books on Spain and Latin America.

Colin’s Full CV is at:
http://library-admin.anu.edu.au/_resources/about-us/ColinSteeleCV.pdf

Colin’s Emeritus Faculty oral interview and accompanying print biography can be found at:
https://openresearch-repository.anu.edu.au/handle/1885/133187

Colin’s oral history interview with David Jones as part of the National Library of Australia oral history was recorded on 2-3 May 2017
Timed summary and 256 pages uncorrected transcript available.
https://catalogue.nla.gov.au/Record/7379861

Colin’s ‘Bibliophilic Memoir’ can be found in in Charles Stitz Australian Book Collectors, Volume 5, Melbourne, Books of Kells, 2017, pp 504 – 511.

Fellowship conferred 1998 

Colin Robert Steele has made a distinguished contribution to librarianship in Australia. He has an outstanding record as an advocate for librarianship and in promoting the need for librarians and scholars to adopt new methods for the creation, storage and dissemination of knowledge.

Colin graduated from Liverpool University in 1965 with an honours degree in history and worked as a Standing Conference on National University Libraries (SCONUL) Trainee at the University Library from 1965 to 1966. He completed his Graduate Diploma in Librarianship at the University of London in 1966 and the following year was appointed an assistant librarian at the Bodleian Library, Oxford. While at the Bodleian, Colin completed his Master of Arts degree from Liverpool University. Between 1971 and 1976, he was an Associate Fellow of St Antony's College, Oxford and in 1974 was awarded the British Academy American Visiting Fellowship to the Newberry Library in Chicago.

In 1976 Colin came to Australia to take up the appointment of deputy librarian at the Australian National University. He quickly became associated with a wide variety of causes and associations linked to the University, scholarship and libraries. As librarian at the Australian National University since 1980, he is now an acknowledged leader in his chosen profession who gives generously of his time, knowledge and energy.

An enthusiastic member of the Council of Australian University Librarians (CAUL) who has worked tirelessly to promote university libraries, Colin served on the CAUL executive from 1992 to 1996. In 1997 he organised and convened the CAUL Publishing Industry Think Tank in Melbourne which provided a forum for academic publishers and librarians to explore issues impeding changes in scholarly communication. Most recently he has held the CAUL portfolio of Federal Government Liaison.

A leading advocate for changes in the scholarly communication process Colin has been a member of the Library Committee of the Australian Academy of the Humanities since 1993. He was one of the main proponents of the National Scholarly Communications Forum when it was established by the Academy in that year in association with CAUL, ALIA, ACLIS and other bodies with interests in publishing.

Since 1995, Colin has been the Higher Education Council representative on the Research Library Infrastructure Committee established by the Department of Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs. His championing of the role of libraries in the scholarly communication process, and his extensive knowledge of the issues led to Colin being invited to deliver the prestigious Follett Lectures in the United Kingdom in 1995. He was the only Australian invited to participate in the 1997 Mellon Conference on Scholarly Communication and Technology and in 1998 he delivered a keynote address on 'Globalisation of information resources' at the OCLC User Council held in Columbus, Ohio.

Colin keenly recognises the need to use new information technologies to improve the creation, storage and dissemination of knowledge. He was instrumental in lobbying the Higher Education Council and the then Department of Employment, Education and Training to provide funding for projects that would enable university libraries to implement new technologies. As a member of the Dataset Working Party established to co-ordinate one-off programs for which funding was granted, Colin's knowledge of the publishing industry, higher education, the research process and the technology ensured effective outcomes from the working party.

But even as a leading advocate of the importance of new technologies to the scholarly communication process, Colin nevertheless maintains a deep love of books and literature. One of Australia's foremost bibliophiles, his collection of science fiction books represents one of the best private collections in the country. From 1983 to 1987 he chaired the national Word Festival Committee and has been convenor of the Australian National University/Canberra Times Literary Lunches since 1988. A long standing interest in Spain and its history saw Colin serve, between 1980 and 1997, as secretary of the Magellan Society in Canberra and in 1984, King Juan Carlos conferred on him the Knight Cross of Queen Isabela Catolica of Spain.

Colin is also well known both within Australia and internationally for his publications and presentations which cover a broad range of topics relevant to the profession. He has been a major contributor to the literature of librarianship having written or edited some eleven monographs and more than three hundred published journal articles and reviews in addition to delivering numerous conference papers. Colin has served on the editorial boards of a number of journals including Australian Academic and Research Libraries, Journal of Librarianship and Information Science and the International Journal of Information and Library Research. He has also been a regular book reviewer for a number of publications including The Canberra Times, Library Acquisitions Practice and Theory and Antiquarian Book Monthly.

Colin's support for the Association has been demonstrated in his willingness to serve on various committees. Between 1979 and 1981 he held the position of chair of the ACT Group of the University and College Libraries Section of the Library Association of Australia. Later, following the change to Australian Library and Information Association, Colin served as ACT General Councillor from 1990 to 1991. Currently he is chair of the Program Committee for the ALIA Biennial Conference to be held in Canberra in October 2000.

Throughout his career Colin has worked assiduously to promote librarianship and to ensure that librarians are included in the processes associated with changing the scholarly communication environment. Colin Robert Steele is a worthy recipient of the distinction of Fellow of the Australian Library and Information Association.

From an Australian National University (ANU) media release, Friday 15 December 2017

Colin Steele, who served as ANU Chief Librarian from 1980 to 2002 and Director of Scholarly Information Strategies from 2003 until his retirement in late 2003, says it’s an honour to receive the University’s Outstanding Service award.

“I’ve adopted Barry Jones’ line, who says he’s a disseminator of snippets of information for the public good,” Colin says.

The citation notes Colin’s “distinguished contribution to librarianship in Australia” including the introduction of automation, and the arrival of the Internet, by helping the ANU create Australia’s first university library website.

The author and editor of seven books on history, libraries and scholarly communication is one of the earliest proponents of Open Access to publicly-funded research.

He was also instrumental in founding ANU E-Press in 2002, now ANU Press. In December 2017, the publisher announced it had exceeded two million downloads of its titles – an impressive feat given the Press hit a million downloads in 2016.

In 1986, Colin established the Meet the Author series, and since his retirement in 2003 has worked tirelessly on them, negotiating with publishers to bring some of the best writers in Australia and the world to Canberra.

Over more than 30 years, the series has held about 600 events – most on the ANU campus – and attracted in excess of 120,000 people.

“It’s something I’d do anyway, but I am grateful to the University, and particularly the current and former Deans of the College, for giving me a platform to communicate ideas and bring people together.
“I’m told that the Meet the Author podcast series is among the university’s most popular.”

Alex Sloan, a regular conversationalist at ANU Meet the Author talks and dinners, congratulated Colin on his award.
“You make such a fine contribution to our intellectual life in Canberra,” Alex, the Canberran of the Year and former ABC Radio broadcaster, said.