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New Australian National University database reveals historical reading habits

New Australian National University database reveals historical reading habits

A landmark new project by the Australian National University, the Australian Common Reader, has recently been launched. Drawing from what is said to be the world's largest database of library borrowing records, the project gives a never-before-seen insight into the borrowing habits of Australians from way back when. 

The database of records catalogue the borrowing habbits from six Australian libraries from 1861 to 1928. The six libraries were worker libraries based in Western Australia, Victoria, South Australia and Newcastle in NSW, with the majority of borrowers being miners. 

Being the largest database of library borrowing records, there's quite a few fascinating tidbits to be found. The Lee Child of the 1900s was a local author by the name of Guy Newell Boothby, notorious for his prolific output of pulp fiction (the magazine kind, not the Quentin Tarantino kind). 

Another interesting result of the database is that we now have more information about the reading habits of women from this time. The book most borrowed by women was OnThe Wings of the Wind by Anne Adaliza Puddicomb, writing under the male pseudonym of Allen Raine. Interestingly enough, her novel took place in her former stomping ground of Wales - many women had migrated from mining communities from Wales and other places, and tended to read what reminded them of where they grew up. At the same time women readers had their finger on the pulse of Australia's literary culture, frequently borrowing the likes of Henry Lawson and Miles Franklin. Dr Lamond of the ANU School of Literature, Languages and Linguistics contends that the divide between male and female readers was not as pronounced then as it is now. 

"In this period men were reading romances and women were reading political thrillers. There was not the expectation that there were different books for men and women."

The most prolific borrower was a South Australian miner named John Pellow, who took out 877 loans in a ten-year period - approximately seven a month! There's plenty of fascinating things to discover on the Australian Common Reader (if you're library nerds like us, that is) - have a flick through and see what you can find!