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2011-12, 371, 372, Chris Nicholls, President's Annual Report - Sydney

President’s Report for 2011 AGM

THE NINE MONTHS SINCE our last, delayed, AGM have passed rapidly but nevertheless productively. The committee meetings have acquired more structure, we have achieved regular issues of Biblionews, the difficult question of a meeting venue appears to have been overcome for now, the Society’s history project proceeds apace and the debate over the purpose and reach of the Society has been formalised into a discussion paper.

Last year I said that in replacing Richard in his short time as President I sought to press ahead with a number of initiatives including, 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. In the intervening nine months we have kept our focus on these matters and dealt with the more pressing difficulties that they have presented. In addition these matters have been extended by those referred to in the first paragraph.
I propose to provide some commentary in this report on the basis on which we anticipate dealing with these matters and particularly our view of the priorities. The matter of our meeting venue became of utmost criticality at the March committee meeting as we were presented with an ultimatum by the controlling authority for our Summer Hill venue requiring us to obtain public liability insurance or else to leave. Some considerable effort was expended on identifying alternative sites and screening the offers to ensure that we would not hit the same public indemnity snag. Meanwhile I identified a list of potential low cost insurers and undertook a search of the requirements, facilities and exposures of a shortlist of sites. The end result was that the lowest price obtainable for public indemnity insurance amounted to $450 per year and the cheapest alternative fee for suitable site hire, at $25 per hour, was approximately triple our costs at Summer Hill. The dilemma was resolved when Neil Radford put me in touch with the University of Sydney Librarian, John Shipp, who most kindly made the Victoria Park Room in the Fisher Library available at no cost and has extended the offer through December this year. John will be retiring before the end of 2011 so that we shall need to follow up with his replacement to try and extend our residency.

Michael Hough’s work on the history of the Society has progressed to a point where there has been debate over the table of contents and the likely available data for each of these. This resulted in some significant points of view being raised with regard to the structure of contents along the lines of preference for themes, trends and developments rather than a focus more exclusively on editors. Michael is digesting this.

My last report alluded to the approach of the Book Collectors’ Society of South Australia seeking to be absorbed into our Society. I must report that despite our follow up efforts we have received no formal communication responding to our terms and your committee has determined that we shall take no further action until we receive an appropriate response from South Australia. I should point out that we have had some informal advice from South Australia that indicates changes may be about to occur in their committee.

The items occupying the greatest time of executive officers and the relevant committee members have been those involving Biblionews, our website, the purpose and reach of the Society and intertwined with these, the issue of membership expansion. We have taken seriously the matters raised at the SGM last December on the matter of the purpose and reach of the Society. A discussion paper (which is available on request to the Secretary) has been developed and circulated to the committee by myself. Following our review of this we shall have an agreed process to follow in seeking to address this matter fully, it is seen as of significance to the future direction of the Society and will have obvious impact on the manner in which we seek to broaden membership.

But the discussion paper alone is only one aspect by which we seek to develop membership. The major contribution of the Society at this point is our journal and its mix of content and regularity of production. To this end the efforts of Richard Blair are to be highly commended and I know how much Richard has appreciated and continues to value the wonderful contributions of Brian Taylor in this regard. Working to tight production timeframes within the constraints of affordable publishing expenditure and with the copy available from our fairly narrow range of sources he has gained a considerable degree of regularity and breadth of coverage. The Committee see this together with our website as the key to improving membership. The website has been up for some time now but currently suffers from insufficient updating, a fact that our web manager, Tom Fletcher, clearly identifies as critical to the success of any website. We are therefore focussed on several matters with regard to the improvement of the website. We must first clarify and improve the message it establishes with regard to our identity. That requires us to clearly establish we are the Book Collectors’ Society of Australia, to let people know that we offer information, participation and encouragement to a broad church of book collectors, book lovers and others of that ilk. We must also present a clearly highlighted image of our latest journal front page to advertise what is available and we must incorporate a rotating range of recent and older articles to demonstrate the depth of our offerings. We also need to become more proactive in Internet dialogue through the website and seek to achieve regular, ideally perhaps fortnightly, updates / changes to the site. We have progressed some way towards these objectives and we recognise that they may well be widened by the result of our discussions on the purpose and reach of the Society. Altogether there is a lot still to achieve to gain significant membership traction from these initiatives.

I have separately contacted a number of umbrella organisations such as the Friends of Libraries with the objective of exchanging web links and broadening our range of electronic cover.

At the time of my last report a matter of considerable ongoing concern to the Executive was that of affordability of the current level of publication of Biblionews. I pointed out that 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. We have made progress by conducting an ongoing analysis of the production and circulation costs, which has confirmed that we are managing to hold the individual cost at a rate of $27 per member. Should this start to inflate, Mark Ferson will contact bulk payers on the need to vary subscription costs

Other matters still receiving background attention include an Editor’s Archive of past numbers of Biblionews to be placed in safe custody, duly marked and recorded for future reference and a detailed review of the methodology of publications in the future.

Our priorities for the coming year will be the continuing improvement of the website, the enhancement of Biblionews and the interlinking of back articles with the website and the resolution of our debate on the purpose and reach of the Society.

I must again thank the Committee and especially the Executive for their support over this past nine months and also my wife Vicki, who has given me strong support in my task as President and in organising and clearing up afternoon teas. We are focussed on significant improvements through the year to September 2012.

Chris Nicholls

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