THE SOCIETY HAS had a number of Executive changes over the past few years as we have graduated by stages to the position whereby I have now held the Presidency for 15 months. I would like to assure the Society that it is my intention, in the absence of extenuating circumstances, to continue to work for the Society in this honorary capacity for as long as it will have me. It is important to thank Brian Taylor for taking on the role of Acting President for two years in addition to his long term role as Publications Editor when the need arose and for subsequently and very fairly offering to stay on as Assistant Publications Editor after he advised us all of his need to reduce his commitments. We are very fortunate that Richard Blair, our elected president following Brian’s interregnum, offered to take over the role of Publications Editor and is working with Brian‘s assistance to make the changeover as seamless as possible whilst at the same time seeking to adopt further efficiencies into the process.
I must also thank John Newland for his professional work on the layout of Biblionews in recent years. Now that the Publisher software is being employed free of charge we anticipate the need for John‘s involvement is likely to be diminished but we nevertheless hope that he will remain available should difficulties prompt his services. In replacing Richard in his short time as President I have sought to press ahead with a number of initiatives.
When elected President at last year’s AGM in September 2009 I made a brief reference to the need to focus on expanding our membership. We held an Executive Meeting at which a number of topics requiring attention, each of which reflects on the membership and the interests of members, were raised. These included developing the membership base, the relevance of the existing 1944 constitution, need for a regular new meeting base, consideration of obligations arising from the new meeting base, an audit of the number of financial members, an assessment of the ongoing costs of producing Biblionews, an assessment of the variance in payments by various parties receiving Biblionews, the ongoing affordability of Biblionews production, an audit of the existing archive of Biblionews, and the pressures evident in maintaining the publication of Biblionews. I propose to provide some commentary in this report on the developments that have taken place with regard to addressing these topics.
With regard to the opportunities for increasing membership, we can claim moderate success with, I believe, ten new members including five in Victoria, four in NSW and one in ACT; but further work is necessary. Whilst we now have the new leaflet, mentioned in Richard‘s annual report last year and also a website, we need to deploy these media more effectively. Notwithstanding new memberships, many others have failed to renew their membership in a timely fashion and the result is pressure on our publications budget. An initiative I set for myself was to introduce our membership leaflet to North Shore public libraries over the course of the year, which I did. Tom Fletcher, our committee member with special interest in the creation and maintenance of our website, has placed the front page of the current Biblionews on the web home page so that people can get an idea of what is currently available and I thank Tom for his efforts in creating opportunity. Over time we intend to load up the website with a reference archive that will show all the headings of articles printed in Biblionews. This is of course a significant piece of work in itself and I must thank Jeff Bidgood and Neil Radford for taking the initiative in completing hard copy work on this project.
Since the beginning of 2010 I have taken the lead in the restructure of our 1944 constitution and all the members of your committee have participated in the reviews of the changing proposals, which today finally amount to 27 draft versions. The base model for this review has been the model rules set out in the NSW Government’s current legislative proposals for incorporated associations. It was felt important to follow an up-to-date framework such that the final form would be easier to reconcile to should legislation for unincorporated associations be eventually promulgated. The key principle adopted by your committee in this redrafting of our constitution is that all work done for the Society by its members shall be done in an honorary capacity and not recompensed. This is essential if we are to continue to be able to afford to publish Biblionews and occasionally utilise colour in the printing and maintain the low cost of our membership subscriptions.
A matter for note arose during the framing of the rules revision on the topic of liability. Incorporated associations are required under the proposed state legislation to take out cover for public liability. As a side issue I undertook the task of establishing what we may be required to pay should we decide to obtain public liability insurance. The basis of the quote obtained from the NCOSS-recommended insurer for not-for-profit associations were the key financial and meeting measurements of our organisation at the date of our last AGM. These included our annual gross membership fees; cash in the bank and meetings and attendance per year. As most of you who are regular attendees well know we rarely achieve attendances of more than 20 per meeting and only meet as a group on four occasions per year and yet the quote for basic cover was $750 per year. Whether we need to take this further is primarily a matter of whether our current host for meetings, Ashfield Council, feels it necessary to require evidence of our cover or perhaps may accept a levy in lieu.
Other aspects of the review of the Society‘s constitution have included clarification of the purpose and type of meetings, the nature of the
Office Holders and Committee, and the titles and roles of those Office Holders. The latter are anticipated to remain very much as was the case in the original 1944 constitution, being President, a provision for two Vice Presidents when considered necessary, an Honorary Treasurer, an Honorary Secretary and a Publications Editor with provision for an Assistant Publications Editor. The aims of the Society have not altered markedly from its origin other than to clarify the deployment of a website and the utilisation of electronic media. These proposals are finally agreed by your committee and available for us to vote upon in the Special General Meeting to immediately follow this AGM.
Since deciding not to continue to meet at the Macquarie Street offices of the Royal College of Physicians due to the significant increase in rent, the Society investigated a number of alternative locations and settled on our current premises at Summer Hill Community Centre, controlled by Ashfield Council. This location appears to have worked well and I am not aware of any complaints with regard to ease of access or state of amenity. Nevertheless, as alluded to earlier, the reasonable cost of the facility may become subject to a management demand for liability cover. My recommended position is to continue as we are and deal with any issue of that nature after it arises. The current booking arrangements require one of your committee to make the necessary booking and obtain the security card from the centre management and ensure that secure alarms are reactivated on departure. I have to thank Richard Blair for being kind enough to take this role on board and for handling the management personnel of this centre with consummate élan.
A matter of considerable ongoing concern to the Executive has been the matter of affordability of the current level of publication of Biblionews. In order for us to make a reasonable assessment of affordability we recognised the need to establish three key elements. These were the current number of financially contributing members, the overall costs of production based on sustaining the preferred publication status of quarterly issues and allowing for at least one colour issue per year, and the number of copies to be printed and circulated. Identifying the number of paid-up members is complicated by at least two factors: a) many members pay late in the financial year; b) most Victorian members pay en bloc. The best estimate for financial members for the 2009-10 financial year, made available through Mark Ferson’s hard work in reviewing and updating the records is currently approximately 151 including 62 in the Victoria bloc and excluding non-paying life members. This figure may rise marginally through very late renewals. On the cost side the best estimate of our annual costs based on current arrangements for obtaining copy, collating, editing, set-up, printing, and postage, is approximately $4,000. This is based on a print run of approximately 250 and since the paying member to cost ratio results in a rate of $27 per member there may be a case for reducing the print run. Key Office Holders are currently reviewing all the production costs and methods in detail with the intention of balancing the cost with the number of financial members and avoiding any drain on reserves. Over the years several recipients of Biblionews have been provided free copies usually on the basis that they are libraries of reference, others have paid a slightly higher premium as a form of corporate rate. All these arrangements will receive attention prior to recommendations being made to the Executive.
It must not go without recording that the efforts of Brian Taylor over many years in editing and producing the quarterly Biblionews have been of immense value to the Society and it is with sincere appreciation that I record this recognition of the Society’s debt to Brian. Without his marvellous efforts given freely and without reward the Society would have a much-reduced record on the shelf.
Brian‘s most recent contribution aside from the many articles he contributes to Biblionews has been to amass an Editor‘s Archive of past numbers of Biblionews to be placed in safe custody, duly marked and recorded for future reference. This matter of establishing and recording the archival base of publications of the Society over time is a not inconsiderable task. In his new role as Assistant Publications Editor, Brian has advised your committee of his personal employment of a PhD student, Alison Harwood, to assist in the additional work of collating holdings of copies of back numbers, and typing up lists of significant articles in a marketable format. I have offered storage space outside Sydney for surplus back numbers beyond the Editor’s Archive copies that will be held under the control of the Publications Editor.
In addition to this extensive task our Publications Editor, Richard Blair, with the assistance of Brian Taylor, has commenced a detailed review of the methodology of publication in the future. This review will provide valuable decision-making information in the form of the anticipated rate of annual issues to be manageable, what changes are necessary to achieve that rate and what the financial consequences will be. I hope that we can complete this aspect of the revision of publications by our first meeting in 2011.
I should also recall two valuable launches in 2010. Firstly, that of Jeff Bidgood‘s book Mark Ferson: Bookplate artist (number 7 in the series Studies in Australian Bibliophily); and secondly, the Biblionews Index 1947-2008 jointly produced by Jeff Bidgood and Neil Radford. This Index will prove of great value to both researchers and to our ongoing Society History project, for the development of which I thank our committee member, Michael Hough.
Some time ago the Book Collector‘s Society of South Australia, seeking to be absorbed into our Society, approached us. We responded positively and in January 2009, our then President, Richard Blair, wrote to the President of BCSSA, Paul Wilkins, setting out the terms for absorption. We have received no formal communication responding to our terms. I subsequently spoke to the President of BCSSA and suggested that, in line with our revised rules, we may be able to offer them an affiliated status subject to their own interpretation of their rules. I recently followed this up with an email to the Book Collectors‘ Society of South Australia president and we await their formal response.
Since the 2009 AGM we have had two lively Show and Tell meetings (December 2009 and September 2010). We also twice welcomed Bruce Preston to talk on the history and development of the book to the ‗electronic book‘ stage and how the electronic world is rapidly changing and adding to the opportunities for the book lover. Bruce‘s past experience as a university librarian and his production of a print-on-demand novel were significant factors in developing his talk, which we hope to reproduce in Biblionews at some stage.
It is important that we should recognise those members who have died since our last AGM. In remembering Miss Suzanne Mourot of Terrey Hills, NSW; Miss Jennifer Alison of Camperdown, NSW; Mr Gerald Fischer of Brighton, SA, and the recent passing of our oldest member, at almost 102 years of age, Major Warren Perry of Eaglemont, Victoria, I can only claim to have recorded those who have been brought to my attention. However, I trust that we jointly offer condolences to their families as we do to those others I may have inadvertently omitted to mention.
I would like to thank the Committee and especially the Executive for their support over this past 15 months; and also my wife, Vicki, who has given me strong support in my task as President. It is also important to thank Isobel Taylor for all her kind assistance in organising and clearing up afternoon teas at our Society meetings.
We are well placed for a successful 2011.