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James Lawrence Stapleton (1904–1979)

by Shirley McCorkindale

This article was published:

James Lawrence Stapleton (1904-1979), librarian, was born on 16 March 1904 at Mount Gambier, South Australia, elder son of Percival de Soligny Stapleton, telegraph-operator, and his wife Louisa, née Lyford, both South Australian-born. Educated at Norwood District High School, James passed the junior public examination in 1920 and joined the staff of the Public Library of South Australia in the following year. His training as a librarian was practical rather than academic; he worked as a cadet until 1927 and then as a junior library assistant. On 7 May 1935 at Holy Trinity Church, Adelaide, he married with Anglican rites Euthene Breton Grosser, a stenographer.

From 1938 Stapleton managed the library's country lending service, gaining experience which contributed to his appointment as State librarian in Queensland in 1947. In their 1935 report, Australian Libraries, Ralph Munn and Ernest Pitt had excoriated the Public Library of Queensland. Free library services were almost non-existent, subscription libraries were run by local schools of arts, and the Queensland Bush Book Club was only able to reach a limited number of people in isolated areas. In 1945 the Library Board of Queensland commissioned John Metcalfe, principal librarian of the Public Library of New South Wales, to report on the public library service 'in and from Brisbane'. He recommended that year that the Public Library of Queensland be renamed the State Library of Queensland, that the Oxley Library be incorporated within it as a separate historical collection, and that the State Library should include a country reference and circulation department.

Shortly after Stapleton took up duty in Queensland in May 1947, the Library Board approved the establishment of the Country Lending Service to provide reference books for individuals in remote communities. In an effort to promote libraries Stapleton travelled around the State. He arranged for a 'model children's library'—designed to demonstrate the benefits of free municipal libraries—to tour Queensland in 1951 on the Jubilee (of Federation) Art Train. The development of free library services, however, was hampered by insufficient government funding. In addition, the Library Board's decision not to impose minimum standards of service meant that there was no differential scale of subsidy for free and subscription libraries. Despite a continuing struggle due to the Public Library's being housed in an unsuitable building, the structure for the State Library was put in place during Stapleton's term of office. Training classes in librarianship were introduced and the archives section commenced operations in 1959.

While still a relatively young man, Stapleton had suffered the first of a number of heart attacks, but he continued working until 1970. By then, the Public Library had a staff of 120 and all but six of the eighty-three local authorities responsible for libraries offered free lending services. Stapleton was essentially a very private man, although genial and kindly. In later years he was a keen fancier and grower of orchids. After his retirement he served (1970-72) on the Oxley Memorial Library Advisory Committee. Survived by his wife and their son, he died on 15 March 1979 in Brisbane and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Metcalfe, Public Library Service in and from Brisbane, 1945 (Brisb, 1974)
  • Annual Report of the Library Board of Queensland, 1945/46, p 1, 1950/51, p 3
  • Australian Library Journal, June 1967, p 98
  • Quill, 11, no 2, July 1970, p 6
  • Library Board of Queensland, minutes of meetings, 21 Mar 1947, 7 Dec 1950, 5 Apr 1951 (Queensland State Archives).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Shirley McCorkindale, 'Stapleton, James Lawrence (1904–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 22 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

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