Kenneth Cunningham

Cunningham, Kenneth Stewart. Obituary Australian Library Journal October 1975, p 349.

The death on 27 June this year of Dr Kenneth Stewart Cunningham, MA, DipEd, PhD (Columbia), Hon FAPS, Hon FACE, Hon FAIM, Hon Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences Australia, Director Australian Council for Education Research 1930-54; UNESCO Consultant to Ministry of Education Indonesia 1955-57, should not go unrecorded by librarians. For not only did Dr Cunningham make a most distinguished and lengthy contribution to the development and understanding of education in Australia, but he was one of that small but remarkable group of Australians outside the library profession who made a decided impact on the development of Australian libraries and librarianship.

Dr Cunningham spent most of his working life as Director (at first termed Executive Officer) of the Australian Council for Educational Research. The Foundation Honorary President of this organisation was the remarkable Frank Tate and it was Tate and Cunningham, with a vision of education which included the provision of libraries, who established the close association with the Carnegie Corporation of New York which had among its most fruitful results the funding of the Munn-Pitt Survey and Report of 1934-35.

After this historic Report, ACER continued its close support of Libraries and was one of the parties associated with the visit of L R McColvin to Australia. McColvin examined public library provision in Australia in 1947 and his subsequent Report, published for ACER, was another major milestone. The direct supportive role of ACER ended in 1950 when it handed to the Library Association of Australia £1125, the balance remaining of a special Carnegie Grant it had gained to assist library provision.

In 1961 Dr Cunningham published The Council for Educational Research and Library Services in Australia, a 31-page pamphlet which is of fundamental importance to the history of Australian libraries.

Cunningham the man has been best and most justly described in the words of Frank Tate himself. In his introduction to Cunningham's Educational Observations and Reflections (1934) Tate wrote that Cunningham 'had just those qualities of mind likely to garner the maximum of good from such experiences as we had – the mind hospitable to new ideas and singularly deficient in national prejudices; not easily carried away by cheap enthusiasms, but always cautious and critical; prepared to test and try every new experience by its suitability within its own environment, and, accordingly, to make just comparisons between what he saw amid new surroundings and what he was accustomed to meet'.

It is with pleasure that we can record that the Association recognised its debt to Dr Cunningham during his lifetime. In 1941 he was made an Honorary member, the third such honour to be awarded. His name remains in the records of the Association as one of only seven so honoured from 1938 to date.

All members of the Association extend to his daughter, Lesley, and his son, Kenneth, our regret at the passing of their father and our gratitude for the historic role he played in the development of our libraries.

Barrett Reid.


Also see entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography.