Herbert Purnell

Herbert Rutherford Purnell (1883-1944)

From Australia’s Library Information and Archives Services, Ed Bryan, Harrison, vol 2, p. 210:

A well-respected member of the library community, Purnell was Principal Librarian of the Public Library of South Australia from 1912 until his death in I944. Before coming to Australia, he worked in the Bodleian Library and the Croydon Central Reference Library in London, securing his Fellowship of the Library Association and rising to be in charge of the Croydon Central Lending Library. A complete professional, Purnell's appointment was fortunate for the Library which had just lost lfould to New South Wales.

On his arrival, he called for the establishment of a free municipal circulating library in Adelaide. His great ambition was the establishment of free public libraries in South Australia, but even his own Library Board included members from the Institutes Association who believed that the institute system, which combined government subsidy with user subscriptions, was the best one for the State.

He continued to comment on the Library's problems and weaknesses in the newspaper press, and to feed other men of influence with material to do so.  He strongly and publicly opposed the proposed federal book tax in 193I and took a prominent part in the formation of the Friends of the Public Library in 1932. After the publication of the Munn-Pitt Report he worked ferociously to implement its major recommendations, only to be frustrated by some members of his own Board, by the political power of the institutes and the coming of World War II.

Purnell did, however, achieve much - the establishment of the Children's Library in 1915, the Archives in 1920, the Country Lending Service in I938 and the Research Service in I 942. Planning for the Adelaide Lending Service was well advanced when he died. He was an enthusiastic member of the Australian Institute of Librarians (AIL), and the Library Group.

Tall, austere in appearance and reserved in manner, Purnell was very English. Intensely patriotic, he joined the AIF in World War I and spent much time on intelligence work in World War II. His fighting qualities, which meant that he never gave up, are revealed in the official records of the State Library of South Australia.



Note: Purnell was President of the Australian Institute of Librarians from 1939 to 1940.