Tuesday, 16 August 2016

How to be beguiled by a library

Sometimes a story lies hidden, just waiting for discovery. How fortunate we are to be able to solve a mystery in real time, when we start chasing such a story of a life lived publicly, albeit more than a century ago. A Terranora pioneer, Frederic John Davey, moved from Cornwall via Auckland to the Tweed River in the 1870s in an attempt to improve his health.

He was well-known on the Tweed as an architect, a photographer, a farmer, a Justice of the Peace, woodcarver hobbyist and a family man. Trove shares many digitised newspaper articles detailing his life, providing a rich context for research. It should have been no surprise then that one of his obituaries mentioned a previously unknown skill - writer, of both short stories and poetry.

Davey's architectural, photographic, and woodcarving activities were documented by the Tweed Heads Historical Society. Finding his writing proved more difficult, because his obituary* suggested that he wrote for English journals. The intriguing title of the series "Tales from the Wimbriatta" should have made the stories conspicuous in a full-text search, but Trove only revealed a duplicated obituary** (replicated from two other newspapers, now missing***). 

There was no mention of this place name elsewhere in Trove, which leaves an enticing mystery still to be solved. However, the journal title,Good Words, is mentioned. Was it necessary then to search with these two very common words? Trove arranges access to a large number of online journals in its Journals, articles, and datasets zone, and this journal is listed in both microform and digitised form. However, there is no way to search across the journal articles all at once. But an alternate pathway is at hand - a service established before Trove, also online, which can be activated with a little device available to all Australians - an individual National Library card.

Each Australian can arrange to have three - their local library card, their state or territory library card (SL), and their National Library (NL) card. They are needed to access fully digitised resources, known as eresources to encompass different databases hosted by separate publishers. Australian libraries arrange subscriptions to a subset of these databases for their communities, so while there may be some overlap in content, often there isn't. Through its access arrangements, the National Library links to many English journal offerings.

Davey home drawn by F J Davey, 1882
Once you have your NL or SL card, you can sign in and search using the word British to retrieve the British periodicals collection I and II. (Note that the first search will also list the nineteenth century digitised British newspapers collections.) Accept the licence conditions, and then follow the trail to a semi-autobiographical life as described in a home country journal, complete with posed photographs, by searching on the author's name: F J Davey. The photographs themselves are beguiling too - do they show Terranora Lakes where Davey was known to have built his home?

The actions which led to the availability of this journal online in real time reflect a true partnership of minds oriented towards community service, where the owner of the copy, the digitiser, and the reader sit on different continents. It's gratifying to know that decisions made many years ago by forward-thinking librarians in Australia and elsewhere allow us to assuage our curiosity now. 

* This obituary appeared in The Richmond River Herald & Northern Districts Advertiser.
** This obituary appeared in The Northern Star.
*** The Tweed Herald; The Tweed Times. Having complementary copies of such informative obituaries is a small miracle in its own right. F J Davey was such a high achiever that the obituaries appear in newspapers outside the area of his home town and surrounds. Trove illustrated its value yet again.