The idea of collecting and cataloguing written knowledge is almost as old as civilisation itself, with the first ‘library’ –around 30,000 clay tablets discovered in ancient Mesopotamia– dating back more than 5000 years.
By comparison, the CPA Australia library is a spring chicken – a ‘mere’ 129 years young. But in the annals of Australian history, our library can count itself proudly among the silver-haired denizens of our oldest institutions. It is older than three State libraries and was founded just 35 years after the State Library of Victoria, Australia’s oldest library.
The Incorporated Institute of Accountants Victoria (the former name of what we now call CPA Australia) had been established one year earlier, with the aim of bringing greater rigour and substance into the profession. The logical next step, it seemed, was the establishment of “a technical library”, and what better opportunity than the proposed trip to England of founding members Joseph Flack and the Hon. Edward Langton.
And thus we find the historic proposal, in the minutes of 15 May 1887, that their visit be “embraced for purchasing books”. Flack was requested “to expend a sum not exceeding £25 in the purchase of such works heading on accountancy in its various branches”, but the task proved more challenging than expected.
Flack returned to Melbourne nine months later–using the pinnacle of maritime technology, the steam ship, travel alone would have taken several months– with… 19 books.
Despite being given a courteous welcome by the accountancy societies he visited in Great Britain, and receiving advice and assistance on the selection of materials, he spent less than £6, indicating the paucity of accounting literature at that time.
(One wonders if his son, Edwin “Teddy” Flack – the first Australian to win an Olympic medal – accompanied him and was seen racing along the ships’ decks each morning…)
However, before these precious resources could be made available to the Institute’s fledgling membership, a subcommittee was established to draw up a set of byelaws and regulations for “the custody and use of the books in the library”.
Like today’s library, the service was restricted to members and students, who were entrusted to look after any books within their possession and return them by the due date, but that’s where the similarities end.
Books could only be borrowed between the hours of 9.00am and 10.00am, and the fine for failing to return a book was sixpence per day. The library was housed at the offices of Messrs. Davey, Flack & Co.
Today, CPA Library is housed at our head office in Melbourne, but items may be accessed from anywhere in the world, at any time of day or night, via the online library. Hard copies material can be borrowed by members located anywhere in Australia, with items sent by post and a return satchel provided for members’ convenience.
From a humble beginning of 19 titles, CPA Library today boasts more than 30,000 resources, including books, full text journals, newspapers and ebooks. As well as accounting and business topics, there are resources covering everything from IT, science and technology, to literature, philosophy and psychology.
It’s an achievement far beyond which our founding members could have hoped.