About the speaker
Dr Alex Byrne is widely respected as one of the most accomplished senior librarians in Australia. His qualifications include a Bachelor of Electrical Engineering from Sydney University, with a Masters from Canberra University and the completion of his PhD at Sydney University. Dr Byrne is a Fellow of the Australian Library and Information Association and a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Management.
Alex commenced his career working as Librarian at the James Cook University before taking on the position of Deputy Librarian at the Australian Defence Force Academy during the 1980’s. During this time he was also the Pro Vice-Chancellor Information Resources, at the Northern Territory University. In 1989 he became the Chief Librarian at the Northern Territory University.
Alex enjoys an international reputation due to his achievements and expertise in the field of library and information science and more broadly on issues of social justice and freedom of information. Perhaps this is best exemplified by his tenure between 2005 and 2007 as President of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), the peak international body for libraries and related services. In this role he contributed to the global development of the library profession and to improving access to information, particularly for indigenous and disadvantaged communities. In particular, he led the ground-breaking development of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Protocols for Libraries, Archives and Information Services and the establishment of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Data Archive.
His service to IFLA has been long standing with other roles held within this organisation including: Convenor, Presidential Commission on Indigenous Issues; Leader of the Federation’s Interventions in the World Summit on the Information Society; and Foundation Chair for the Committee on Freedom of Access to Information and Freedom of Expression.
In 2000 Alex was appointed University Librarian at the University of Technology, Sydney. He held this position for eleven years before moving to his present role of State Librarian and Chief Executive at the NSW State Library. During this time he made an outstanding contribution to the University, improving learning, teaching and research support for the UTS community and initiating planning for the future Library building which is an integral part of the UTS City Campus Masterplan.
Alex’s vision and leadership took the UTS Library to something extraordinary with the initiation and development of his vision for a future Library in Building 2, with an accompanying automated storage and retrieval system. This has now been realised in the newly operational underground Library Retrieval System. The UTS Library is now recognised as a sector leader in service design, digital library services and e-Scholarship.
Under Alex’s leadership UTS saw the development of the UTSePress repository and digital, open access publishing arm, which provides infrastructure underpinning the capture, storage, preservation, description and dissemination of UTS research outputs and research from around the world. UTS Library was an early pioneer in this area and has now established one of the largest institutional repositories in Australia.
It is a great honour for the University of Technology, Sydney to award Dr Alex Byrne a Fellow of the University for his outstanding contributions to the University, improving learning, teaching and research support for the UTS community, initiating planning for the new UTS Library and also in recognition of his achievements and contributions across all areas of the library and information science field.
Chancellor Professor Vicki Sara, Vice Chancellor Professor Attila Brungs, Professor Mary Spongberg, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, staff, distinguished guests, graduates, families and friends.
I acknowledge the Gadigal and Guring-gai people of the Eora Nation, the traditional owners of the places on which this University and the State Library of NSW now stand, and pay my respects to their elders past a present; I acknowledge our living heritage of the common law and our multicultural joining of the peoples and cultures of the world; all three elements forming our grand commonwealth.
I am overwhelmed and humbled by this honour made by the University. It is a culmination of my career as a librarian which has taken me throughout Australia and to all seven continents and very many countries. It is especially pleasing that the honour is conferred by UTS where I served for eleven years as University Librarian and Pro Vice Chancellor. The support of this great University made it possible for me to contribute not only to the University but also to the library profession and to society.
That support – and earlier support from Charles Darwin University – allowed me to take on leadership positions in the world organisation for libraries and information services, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, known as IFLA, including two years as President. The unstinting support of the university leadership, my immediate colleagues and my lovely family made it possible for me to throw myself into the work of IFLA and particularly to establish a new focus on the human right to know – Article 19 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – and to lead interventions in the World Summit on the Information Society so that it would not concentrate primarily on technology but rather on the social, cultural and economic aspects of this momentous period of change for the world.
To you the graduates, in congratulating you on your achievements I say that our careers are long and can take many surprising turns.
My career as a librarian took me to northern Australia where I developed a deep interest in the complex of issues relating to Indigenous peoples, knowledge and the role of memory institutions – galleries, libraries, archives, museums (also known as GLAMs because we are so glamorous).
The acknowledgement of country and of heritage with which I began is central to the work of we who work in and lead memory institutions. While focussing on the future and vigorously pursuing innovation, we need to respect knowledge, tradition and culture. As we say of the State Library of NSW, our collection and our work enable Australians to interrogate our past, understand our present and imagine our future.
The State Library’s role is to collect, preserve and make available its enormous collection: laid end to end it would stretch from Macquarie Street to the top of the Blue Mountains and grows by two Harbour Bridge lengths a year. We continue to acquire maps, documents and art works from the early years of exploring the Pacific, Australia and its region but we also collect today’s born digital materials including tweets and blogs and Facebook.
We are digitising the collection through our Digital Excellence Program, a ten year program which is strongly supported by the NSW Government. During the first two years we have digitised some 4.5 million pages of NSW newspapers – now searchable by all on Trove, 1.3 million page of early Australian books (which are being turned into electronic books), over 100, 000 pages of First World War diaries, the earliest written records of Aboriginal languages, hours of oral history, many photographs, maps, subdivision plans, objects and so on. Many examples can be seen on the State Library’s website. This is challenging work in which we are at the forefront of contemporary capabilities so we are also involved in developing industry. It is far from the common image of libraries as quiet, contemplative places for reading.
In our work we exemplify the UTS Values – Discover, Engage, Empower, Deliver, Sustain – values which have guided your education and will contribute to shaping your careers.
Australians and those who have come here to study are fortunate to live in a rich country, rich in its natural resources, in its technology and its accumulated wealth. But our greatest asset is our people in our amazing diversity, a diversity that I see before me among you who are graduating, your families and your teachers. We should make the most of that cultural and linguistic diversity and work to promote fair and equal treatment of all and to celebrate our diversity.
We will achieve that aim through community service and community leadership, both integral to life as a professional and recognised in professional codes of ethics. As aspiring leaders in your professions you will provide that leadership coupled with social and environmental responsibility, both also vital foundations for professional practice.
Graduates: you and your families should feel proud of your achievements. This is your day, a day which has come through your commitment and hard work coupled with the support of friends and families – which is so necessary to all of us – and the guidance of your teachers. Just as the Honorary Fellowship is a culmination of my career, your graduation in Communications, International Studies, Education and Sustainability is the culmination of your study.
But it is also a beginning, the beginning of your careers, or of a new phase in your careers, in which you will meet many exciting challenges in our ever changing world. You will make a great contribution as leaders in the community and in your work, drawing on the skills you have acquired, discovering new knowledge and new practices and always guided by your ethical star. I congratulate you and wish you wonderful futures. Thank you.