Colin Steele

Colin Steele MA KtCrossSpain GradDipLib FALIA FLA

Centenary Medal awarded 2001

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.