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This book opens in Papeete one evening in 1935. Two American film-makers are in Tahiti to take location shots for Mutiny on the Bounty, and director Frank Lloyd laments his failure to find Captain Bligh’s log books. A small white-haired person of indeterminate appearance at the next table leans over: ‘I know where they are,’ she says. Of course she did. The logbooks were in the Mitchell Library, Sydney, and the speaker was Ida Leeson, Mitchell Librarian from 1932 to 1946. The Mitchell Library, located in the Public (now State) Library of New South Wales, is based on the priceless collection of Australiana and south-west Pacific materials donated in 1907 by the reclusive bibliophile David Scott Mitchell. Leeson, its second chief custodian, not only knew the vast collection backwards but added significantly to it. She also used it herself, a key to effective librarianship.

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Treasures exhibitions have reached epidemic proportions in Australia since the runaway success of the National Library’s ‘Treasures from the World’s Great Libraries’, which ran from December 2001 to February 2002. Now the National Library has decided to repeat its act, but this time to concentrate on home-grown exhibits. Australia’s ‘great’ libraries, it must be noted, are in this case only the national, state and territory collections, a definition that might put the noses of some of the other major Australian libraries, such as those belonging to the older universities, out of joint.

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