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ARMSTRONG, Edmund La Touche (1864-1946)

ARMSTRONG, Edmund La Touche (1864-1946)

Edmund La Touche Armstrong Matriculation Class, Scotch College (courtesy Scotch College (Melb).

Edmund La Touche Armstrong
Matriculation Class, Scotch College
(courtesy Scotch College (Melb).

Edmund Armstrong, librarian, was born at Herne Hill, Geelong, the fourth and youngest son of parents John Simpson Armstrong, barrister, crown prosecutor and acting judge of the County Court and Alice née O'Dell. His parents had migrated to Victoria from Ireland in 1858.

Edmund Armstrong entered Geelong College in 1871 later transferring to Scotch College, Melbourne. From Scotch College he entered Melbourne University, studying law part-time. Both his brothers Edward Beamish Armstrong (1858-1928) and Thomas Henry Armstrong (1857-1930) were also educated at Geelong College.

In 1881, Armstrong secured a position as a junior assistant at the Public Library of Victoria while continuing his part-time studies. He was not to earn his law degree until 1893 and his MA until 1899. By around 1895, he had risen to the position of Principal Assistant and in 1896, following the death of the newly appointed Dowden, was appointed librarian and Secretary to the Trustees of the Public Library, Museums, and National Gallery of Victoria. He retired in 1925 and the Trustee Minutes noted that he ‘ devoted himself unsparingly to fulfilling his duties and has contributed in a great degree to the success and popularity of the institution. By his strong sense of duty, combined with his unfailing tact, he has won the esteem of all the members of the staff and the governing bodies. The smooth working of all branches of the library was due to his capable management’ . The State Library of Victoria described him as 'the last Chief Librarian to live on the premises and the last to wear a bell-topper hat to work.'

Armstrong is popularly known as being responsible for the building of the domed reading room which was modelled on those of the British Library and Library of Congress, but his importance is far more profound to the success of the institution. He was effectively the first professionally skilled librarian to administer the State Library, second only to Redmond Barry in his impact, and he introduced a number of reforms including the Dewey Decimal System of knowledge classification and commenced the now disbanded Country Lending Service. From 1896 until 1902, he was secretary of the Library Association of Australasia and for a short period, edited the Library Record of Australasia. He also authored histories of the Library, Museums and Gallery of Victoria. His portrait by Bernard Hall (1859-1935) is held within the State Library of Victoria.

Sources: John Arnold Profile of Edmund La Touche Armstrong. Latrobe Journal No 72 Spring 2003 SLV; David McVilly, 'Armstrong, Edmund la Touche (1864 - 1946)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, Melbourne University Press, 1979, pp 95-96; Image courtesy Scotch College, Melbourne.
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