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Jolley, Leonard Julier (1914–1994)

by Brian Dibble and Paul Genoni

This article was published online in 2018

Leonard Julier Jolley (1914–1994), librarian, was born on 12 August 1914 at Bromley, London, youngest of three children of Henry Julier Jolley, lay reader, and his wife Bertha, née Craddock. The family was painfully poor in hard times, and Leonard was often ill as a child; his health would be a problem all his life. Awarded a London County Council bursary to The Coopers’ Company School, East London (1925–32), he was an outstanding student, winning a number of prizes. Matriculating with a Campbell Clarke scholarship in English at University College, London (UCL) (BA, 1935; MA, 1938), he relished an environment that valorised unconventional thinking. He read voraciously, studied Freud, vacillated between socialism and communism, and became a Quaker. Although he won prizes in English literature, he confessed:  ‘It is awful what little work I do’ (Jolley 1941).  

Jolley’s first job was in the library of the Institution of Civil Engineers (1938–39), where he admitted to being ‘the messiest labeller in the history of the British Isles’ (Jolley 1941). In April 1940 he was hospitalised with rheumatoid arthritis, firstly in Hackney Hospital, and then at the Emergency Hospital, Pyrford. He flirted hopelessly with a series of nurses, while avoiding the male patients who despised his pacifism. When discharged in October 1941, he joined a commune for conscientious objectors but was soon dismissed for not pulling his weight. Appointed half-time librarian of the missionary Selly Oak Colleges, Birmingham, in March 1942, he gained expertise in theology books; he was awarded a diploma of librarianship from UCL in 1944.

On 8 August 1942 Jolley had married Joyce Ellen Hancock, a schoolteacher, at Friends Hall, Bethnal Green; the two had met at UCL. They befriended Monica Elizabeth Knight, who had nursed Jolley at Pyrford. She gave birth to his child on 30 April 1946, five weeks before Joyce also gave birth. Monica and her child briefly moved into the Jolley household. A Selly Oak fellowship enabled Jolley to study theology libraries in the United States of America in April 1949.  

After being appointed in 1950 as librarian, Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh, Jolley left his wife; they divorced in 1952. He enjoined her never to tell her family and also kept it from his parents, a fiction he sought to maintain for the rest of his life. After he and Monica married at the register office, Wolverhampton, on 5 December 1952, at his direction she began using her middle name, Elizabeth. The new job enabled him to indulge his passion for incunabula and rare books. He revelled in filling gaps in the collections, but abhorred being secretary and college factotum. In November 1956 he became deputy librarian at the University of Glasgow, a job that gave him more responsibility in a much larger library. He also worked on his book Principles of Cataloguing (1960), and in 1958 founded and edited The Bibliotheck, a journal of Scottish bibliography. Realising that it might be years before the head librarian’s position became available, he was soon applying for other jobs.

In November 1959 Jolley arrived in Perth to take up the position of librarian at the University of Western Australia (UWA), a position carrying professorial status. The timing was propitious, as Australia’s universities would benefit from a period of generous funding. On his arrival, a windfall increased his acquisitions budget by 50 percent. He established an undergraduate collection of books on open reserve, built up a rare book collection, formed a society to raise funds, and implemented an automated loan system, one of the first in the world, in 1967. During his tenure staff numbers increased from 31 to 135, and he recruited professional librarians, and sought to have them reclassified in line with academic positions. The library collection increased from 172,000 to 832,000 volumes. He played a vital role in developing the new Reid Library building, which was opened in 1964 and extended in 1972 and 1973.

Some came to regard Jolley as a ‘god-librarian’ for such qualities as his ability to attract well-qualified and experienced senior librarians, and to assist his staff into headships elsewhere. Others saw him as a scholar-librarian for his UCL qualifications, for his skill with several languages and national literatures, and for his book on cataloguing. Students, however, knew him for his increasing stoop, pronounced limp, acerbic manner, and seeming disdain for undergraduates. Insights into his querulous disposition are found in his annual reports, which he structured as a rhetorical tour de force that perplexed and bullied everyone from the vice-chancellor down. Blending fantasy, fact, and fiction, they were described by a British colleague ‘as eagerly awaited and much prized … both for their content and their style’ (MacKenna 1979, 203), and continued to be read long after he retired.

To his friends Jolley was ‘whimsical, ironical and very scholarly’ (Hallam 1979, 201), but to others he was eccentric and difficult in manner, ‘monstrously self-regarding,’ subjecting his two wives to ‘subterfuge and daily cruelties’ (Modjeska 2009, 65). Yet he could also show compassion toward colleagues and staff. Having retired in 1979, in 1989 he received the prestigious H. C. L. Anderson award for services to Australian librarianship. In 1991 he entered a nursing home, by which time Elizabeth had built a career as a major writer of prose fiction—all his life he had wanted to be a writer, and all her life she had wanted to be a doctor. She was at his bedside reading to him when he died on 22 July 1994 at Claremont. The daughter of his first marriage, and a son and daughter from his second, survived him; he was cremated. His portrait by Ben Joel hangs in the Reid Library, UWA.

Research edited by Malcolm Allbrook

Select Bibliography

  • Barnes, John. ‘A Marriage of True Minds: Leonard and Elizabeth Jolley.’ Westerly 58, no. 2 (2013): 118–37
  • Borchardt, D. H., and H. Bryan. ‘Leonard Jolley: The Colleague.’ Australian Academic and Research Libraries 10, no. 4 (1979): 206–10
  • Dibble, Brian. ‘He Did Not Suffer Fools Gladly: Leonard J Jolley.’ Australian Library Journal 48, no. 4 (1999): 327–42
  • Dibble, Brian. Doing Life: A Biography of Elizabeth Jolley. Crawley: University of Western Australia Press, 2008
  • Hallam, H. E. ‘Mr. Leonard Jolley: An Appreciation.’ Australian Academic and Research Libraries 10, no. 4 (1979): 201–3
  • Jolley, Leonard. Diary, 1941. Copy in author’s possession
  • MacKenna, R. O. ‘Leonard Jolley—the British Years.’ Australian Academic and Research Libraries 10, no. 4 (1979): 203–6
  • Modjeska, Drusilla. ‘Between a Muddle & a Mystery.’ The Monthly, no. 41 (2009) 62–65
  • Swingler, Susan. House of Fiction: Leonard, Susan and Elizabeth Jolley: A Memoir. Fremantle: Fremantle Press, 2012

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Citation details

Brian Dibble and Paul Genoni, 'Jolley, Leonard Julier (1914–1994)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/jolley-leonard-julier-23079/text32351, published online 2018, accessed online 16 June 2019.

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