The Contribution of Enid Bishop to the ASAA and to Asian Librarianship

The Contribution of Enid Bishop to the ASAA and to Asian Librarianship

Enid Bishop (later Enid Gibson) was actively engaged in the establishment of the Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) together with other luminaries of the Asian Studies fraternity, A L Basham, Wang Gungwu, John Legge, Tony Reid and Jamie Mackie.[1]

The origins of the ASAA go back to the 28 International Congress of Orientalists (ICO) held in Canberra in January 1971.[2] It was there that the idea of forming a national association was first discussed. Enid Bishop was on the General Committee of that Congress which was important for the advancement of Asian studies in Australia.

Progress towards a national association was slow until the idea was revived in 1974 by John Legge. A meeting was convened during the 1975 Australian & New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science (ANZAAS) Conference in Canberra. On 20 January of that year during ANZAAS a Working Committee of eleven people with Tony Reid as Convenor was set up to continue the work of drawing up a Constitution for the proposed association. The tasks of the Working Committee also included the planning of an Asian Studies conference and working out how the new body would relate to other organisations. Enid, then described as “Asian Librarian, Menzies Library, ANU”, was the only woman on the Working Committee. She was also on the sub-committee established to handle the delicate issue of how the new association would relate to existing societies such as the Oriental Society of Australia, as well as those groups of scholars who were focussed on particular regions of Asia.

The revised draft Constitution for the new association went to a general meeting of members on 15 May 1976. During that year Enid was on the Asian Studies Association of Australia Interim Working Group which operated until the new Executive was appointed on 15 October 1976.

Enid continued to take a keen interest in the work of the ASAA but as far as I know she did not hold any further formal positions in the organisation.

Besides her pioneering work as part of the group who established the ASAA, Enid, through her own field of librarianship, contributed a great deal to the study of Asia both nationally and internationally.

Enid had come to the study of Asia and Asian librarianship via a rather circuitous route. After leaving school she worked in the Parliamentary Library in Canberra and, during an extended working holiday, in libraries in London and New York. On returning to Australia in the 1950s she was advised by Cliff Burmester, the Deputy National Librarian, to study for a degree in Asian languages at the newly formed (1952) School of Oriental Languages, Canberra University College (CUC), a part of the University of Melbourne (her degree is therefore from the University of Melbourne, not the ANU). The main subject in her course was classical Chinese.

She was appointed to the position of Assistant Librarian at CUC in 1958 to manage and develop the Asian collection. When CUC became part of the Australian National University, Enid became head of the Asian Collections. She later took leave to return to New York, a city she loves, to undertake a Masters in Librarianship at Columbia University. Her work while at the ANU had an impact not only in Canberra, but nationally and internationally.

Enid had an inspiring vision of how Asian librarianship could contribute to the study of Asia and she saw an increased understanding and engagement with the region as important for Australia’s long-term prosperity. She quietly and persistently pursued this vision. Not everyone, however, shared this commitment to area librarianship and she “trod a rocky and, often, lonely road”.[3]

At the ANU, based on her observations of places like Harvard, Cornell and SOAS, she developed a collection which was staffed by librarians with Asian and colonial language competency together with experience in the book trade in Asian countries. These librarians worked closely with academic staff. It was a highly qualified team of people recruited to grow the collection and provide a specialised reference service. For example, Y. S. Chan was appointed in 1972 as the Senior Librarian in charge of Contemporary Chinese Studies.[4] When Enid retired from the ANU Library in April 1984 there were 28 staff devoted to Asian Studies collections and a total collection of 220,000 volumes.[5]

Nationally, her contribution was immense. For example, in 1972 she compiled and published the first list of Australian theses on Asia.[6] In 1973 she organised a two-day Symposium on Southeast Asian library resources to enhance collection development and strengthen cooperation between institutions.[7] The Symposium was attended by leading scholars and senior librarians from around the country. Enid was active in the establishment of two specialist library groups, the East Asian Library Resources Group of Australia and the Southeast Asian Research Materials Group. She encouraged and supported her staff to be active members of the Groups and ensured that her Asian Studies Division assisted in the distribution of the Groups’ newsletters.[8] Her Division published a number of publications promoting the ANU and national Asian collections. She contributed to many seminars and conferences.

Image: Enid Bishop at the Great Wall of China in 1973 during a historic visit by a group from the ANU shortly after Australia established diplomatic relations with China (supplied by Enid’s family).

Enid’s work internationally is no less impressive. She was the Secretary of the Planning Committee of the Library Seminars held at the 1971 ICO. These seminars brought many senior librarians from Asian countries and from Asian collections in Europe and America to Australia. She, with Jean Waller, edited and published the papers of the Library Seminars.[9] At the 1967 ICO at Ann Arbor she was a foundation member of the International Association of Orientalist Librarians and was editor of its Newsletter, from 1971 to 1975. She promoted, helped to organise, and edited the papers of the Conference on International Cooperation in Chinese Bibliographical Automation which was held in the ANU Library in 1982.[10] The conference was historic because it brought together for the first time representatives from the mainland and Taiwan. Delegates from Hong Kong, Britain, Europe and North America also attended. While she was in charge of the Asian Studies Division of the ANU Library, the ANU received its first two exchange librarians from China in 1981, a program which continued until the mid-1990s.

Enid was widely liked, respected and admired by her library colleagues. For the many scholars at ANU and visitors from all around the world with whom she came into contact, she provided gracious encouragement and expert advice. Her vision of a great library was realised.

The author thanks Campbell Macknight, Susan Prentice and Tony Reid for their contributions to this post. Read the other posts in this series celebrating women’s contributions to the ASAA here. Feature image: Enid Bishop at her desk in November 1981 (supplied by Enid’s family).

[1] I have used the form of Enid’s name by which she was uniformly known in Asian Studies circles. Following her marriage she has been known as Enid Gibson.

[2] ASAA Newsletter vol. 1, no. 1 (March 1975), p.1.

[3] Susan Prentice, ‘Tribute to Enid Gibson’, East Asian Library Resources Group of Australia Newsletter, No. 53, December 2008.

[4] Peter Alexander Vidot, The History of the Australian National University Library 1946-1996. Canberra, ANU Library, 1996, p. 49.

[5] Above n 3.

[6] Enid Bishop, Australian theses on Asia: a union list of higher degree theses accepted by Australian universities 31 December 1970. Canberra, Faculty of Asian Studies, ANU, 1972.

[7] Symposium on Southeast Asian Library Resources held at the Australian National University Library 23-24 February 1973: Papers and Proceedings. Canberra, ANU Library, 1973.

[8] Above n 3.

[9] International Co-operation in Orientalist Librarianship: Papers presented at the Library Seminars, 28 International Congress of Orientalists, Canberra, 6-12 January 1971. Canberra, National Library of Australia, 1972.

[10] Above n 3.

George Miller was the representative of the National Library of Australia in Jakarta 1969-1972 and Southeast Asian Librarian at the Australian National University 1974-1997.

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