Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Celebrating Gillian Currie’s 3 decades at the NGA Research Library

Celebrating Gillian Currie’s 3 decades at the NGA Research Library

After working at the National Gallery of Australia’s Research Library for well over 3 decades, Gillian Currie (Acquisitions Librarian) retired on 11 March 2015 to enjoy some much-deserved relaxation (and some library volunteering!).  J. Margaret Shaw, former Chief Librarian from 1978 - 2004, reflects on Gillian’s time at the Gallery.
In February 1979 a newly qualified and very young Gillian Currie joined a small team located in a warehouse at Fyshwick.  In Gillian’s words we were
“…in the round spaceship building in Fyshwick that had as its neighbours various sex shops and other salubrious businesses.  For a 22 year old straight out of library school it was quite an experience”. 
The task facing this group was to create a research library for the National Gallery of Australia, then known as the Australian National Gallery.    Initially and officially, Gillian’s appointment was as a cataloguer/reference librarian but of course in the early days, no-one was strictly limited to their defined duties whether in the Research Library or beyond.  Panic stations could cover anything from filing ephemera, re-shelving or moving the entire library or helping to mount works for an exhibition.  It was not unheard of for the Chief Librarian to find her entire staff missing when an emergency arose.  With the move to the new building in Parkes things became more formal but those with Fyshwick memories felt very privileged.   Between 1979 and 11 March 2015, Gillian went on to hold virtually all senior positions in the Research Library at one time or another.   In particular, her contribution to collection development, particularly to the rare books collection, greatly enriched the holdings of the Research library.
In addition to showing signs of becoming a notably talented librarian, Gillian brought with her considerable political experience and knowledge of work-place relations and related matters gleaned from her role as National Secretary of Australian Young Labor. This proved to be a great benefit both to the staff and the management of the Gallery as her emphasis on negotiation for the good of all parties rather than confrontation worked to everyone’s benefit.  Nevertheless, the sight of Gillian and colleagues demonstrating outside the building did awaken the awareness of some managers. 
For me these skills had particular appeal as, again in her words:
[T]he then union delegate of the Professional Officers’ Association (which covered Librarians, Curators and Conservators in the Public Service), dumped the role of union delegate on me.  As she was my boss, I could hardly say no…. ”.
Outside the Gallery, her participation on behalf of all government librarians was to prove of great benefit.  Gillian was immediately drawn into the initial moves by the Librarians’ Group of the POA to increase wages and conditions for government librarians.   This developed into a full scale and successful Librarians Work Value case, the first of a number of moves to improve the position of librarians during the 1980s with Gillian at the helm as President of the Canberra Branch of the POA and later CEO and Federal President over-seeing the amalgamation of the POA with the CPSU to form the PSU.
As well as her professional and political skills, Gillian brought to the job personal qualities which made her a pleasure to work with.  The most noticeable of these were loyalty, both to her colleagues and to the Gallery, sympathy for her fellow staff members throughout the organisation and willingness to take time to assist those with problems. 
Above all, I doubt if any of her colleagues will fail to miss her sense of humour and the infectious laughter which could help make a tough day better.  This last quality helped her to deal with some of the more outrageous queries which do, at times, face an art reference librarian or the demands made on staff in a new building with a few teething problems such as mushrooms in the reading room which she crawled under a bench to remove.
She leaves behind many friends all over the building – some of whom have shared picnics at which frustrations could be taken out on a piñata (really meant for the children in the party but enjoyed by all).
Gillian’s professional reputation is not just known to her colleagues.  She has been admired, respected and sought out by those external users of the Research Library as a most knowledgeable, skilled and determined reference librarian whose in depth familiarity with the Research Library’s collections will make her sorely missed – although the National Gallery’s loss is the National Portrait Gallery’s gain as she has joined the voluntary team of librarians, including me, working to create a focussed library for this institution.   She has already started to expand my cataloguing skills by passing on her experience!
J. Margaret Shaw, Volunteer Librarian, National Portrait Gallery

(2011, May 5). Shows cut as gallery faces age of minimalism. The Canberra Times. p. 6.
Fulltext available via EBSCOhost.

Currie, G. (2010). Art exhibition teams. Incite, 31(8), 27.
Fulltext available via EBSCOhost.

Currie, G., & Shaw, M. (2002). What price art librarianship in the twenty-first century?. Art Documentation: Bulletin of the Art Libraries Society of North America, 21(2), 32-34.
Fulltext available via EBSCOhost.

Switzer, M.A., Jakimow, R., Currie, G., Beasley, L. & Roost, K. (1996). Why benchmarking?: benchmarking and Commonwealth cultural/heritage agencies. [Canberra], Joint Middle Management Development Project.

Currie, G. (February 1992). Merger set, now the real work begins. The Professional: the federal industrial news of the POA.

(1991, April 11). ANG to review salary blowout. The Canberra Times. p. 3. Retrieved from
(1985, July 2). Social workers lift bans for office space investigation. The Canberra Times. p. 3. Retrieved from
Currie, G. Demonstrating the Library’s value at the National Gallery of Australia Research Library, in Abid, A.B. (2007). Art Museum Libraries and Librarianship.

Currie, G. (1992). A nice job for a lady: industrial issues for librarians in the 90s. Australian Library and Information Association Conference Proceedings, no. 2. pp 80-86.

Currie, G. (23 August 2006). Integration of bibliographic and research information into museum objects collection management system: web based bibliography on photographic resources relevant to the Asia/Pacific region. In Art libraries: Bonding past and future. Ancient cultural heritage and information technology, World Library and Information Congress: 72nd IFLA General Conference and Council, Seoul, Korea.

Currie, G. (2007). Paris Salons catalogues.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for a a really excellent profile.
    I knew Gillian through various professional connections, but I didn't realise the depth and breadth of her professional activities.