Ronald McGreal

Based on note with article “Ron McGreal remembers” in the Australian Library Journal February 1981, p. 16, and "A personal reminiscence" by Laurie Brown, INCITE 1 June 1992, p. 10

Ronald Mervyn McGreal, BA FLAA,  1906-1992

R M McGreal retired in 1971 from the position of Deputy Principal Librarian of the then Library of New South Wales.

Originally a teacher in the New South Wales service, he was seconded in 1938 to the Public Library of New South Wales.  From 1941 to 1945 he was Officer in Charge of the Army Education Library Secretariat and in 1945 he became the first secretary of the Library Board of NSW , a position which he occupied for 17 years.

He was Honorary General Secretary of the Library Association of Australia in succession to John Metcalfe, who he also followed as editor of the Australian Library Journal. (Note with article “Ron McGreal remembers” in The Australian Library Journal February 1981, p. 16)

A personal reminiscence by Laurie Brown, inCite 1 June 1992, p. 10: Ron  McGreal’s death on 17 April was announced in the Sydney Morning Herald.  His contribution to librarianship in Australia and particularly in New South Wales will, I hope, be written in detail by someone with access to the records of his work. This short personal reminiscence does not cover his full career.

Ron’s contribution to the development of public library services in New South Wales tended to be overshadowed by that of John Metcalfe and therefore has been considerably undervalued. He neither sought, nor was awarded any accolades.

It was after his war with the Army Education Service, in charge of the library secretariat, that he joined John Metcalfe at the Public Library of NSW. Together, they set out to build a state­wide public library service from scratch with nothing but the stimulus of the Munn Pitt Report and the Libraries Act (NSW) 1939 as the tool. Virtually no public library services existed apart from the City of Sydney and Broken Hill.

The Library Board of NSW had been created under the 1939 Act.  Ron was appointed secretary in 1945 and held the position until 1962.  John Metcalfe’s accounts of them both stumping around the state to explain to local councils the benefits of public library services to their populace and to persuade them to adopt the Act and receive a subsidy are legendary.

But it was Ron who added flesh to the bones.  It was he who explained to councils how to begin, he who arranged to ensure that reasonable people w ere appointed to run the new services, he who helped them find suitable premises, he who developed the system of book acquisition which continued to be used for many years by remote and small councils, and it was he who then ensured that the libraries were run properly.

Ron dealt with the red-neck cocky, the conservative squatter and the Marxist councillors and aldermen with equal aplomb. He fought battles about censorship, about the ‘little woman’ in the library being responsible for book selection, and many other administrative matters.  In his own quiet and persuasive manner he usually won these battles.

He travelled the state widely and often, usually by train (that was the way public servants had to travel), but occasionally in his own large Oldsmobile (late 30’s model).  He was know n and respected by virtually every town and shire clerk in the state. 

He sought trained or semi-trained staff for the new libraries - this was a time of too many libraries chasing too few librarians.  He welcomed the foreigners like me and settled them into appropriate niches.  He befriended them and made them feel at home and part of the system.

I retain fond memories of this kindly humanist, the pots we had at the old Metropole and the stimulating discussions about libraries, politics and the world in general