Public holiday: the Library will be open on 3 October. View opening hours

Vale Helen Woodward

The Library was saddened to hear of the recent death of former Assistant Principal Librarian Helen Woodward. Miss Woodward (as she was known to most councils in NSW) contributed immensely to the development of public libraries in NSW during her long career, in particular through her advocacy and skill with the public library funding arrangements, and her advice to councils on library standards and services. 

Black and white photograph of woman giving a speech in front of a new library building

Helen Woodward speaking at the opening of the New Lambton Branch of Newcastle City Library in 1973

Helen was appointed to the Library Board of NSW as a librarian on 9 February 1952, and was promoted to Senior Inspecting Librarian in 1965. During this period Miss Woodward travelled extensively around the state, aiming to visit every council library, every year. Her inspection reports were instructive, and well-remembered by library staff. City and Shire librarians recall pulling out all stops for a ‘spring clean’ prior to her visit.

Before 1975 the Library had two statutory boards – the Library Board of NSW had responsibility for public library matters, while the Council of the Library of NSW advised on State Library matters. Helen was appointed as the Secretary to the Library Board of NSW in 1973. The two boards merged to form the Library Council of NSW in 1975. At the time Miss Woodward became Assistant Principal Librarian, State Library of NSW, and was later appointed to the position of Director, Public Libraries and Extension Services.

Helen Woodward retired in 1989 after 37 years of service, and was awarded a Service Medallion by Premier Nick Greiner.

The State Librarian Alison Crook and many public library managers paid tribute to Miss Woodward on her retirement. Alison Crook wrote:*

Her career has spanned the major development of public libraries in NSW and I think it is safe to say she has participated in and assisted with virtually every major step in their development. It is Helen who has gone repeatedly to talk with councils thinking of establishing library services, to encourage them along that path. It is Helen who has played a major role in the development of the complex pattern of regional libraries and the wide range of resource-sharing cooperatives that now exist. Helen has been there for public librarians and their councils, to provide a sounding board for new ideas and plans, to discuss problems, to trouble-shoot, and to assist in resolving conflicts, and I am well aware that she has been heavily used for these purposes, with the level of demand showing the credibility she has built up and the esteem in which she is held.

In 2014, when preparing for events in the lead-up to the 75th Anniversary of the Library Act 1939, I had the pleasure of speaking with Helen about the early days of the per capita library subsidy, the establishment of special grants programs, and the development of advisory services for council libraries. Miss Woodward's wit and wisdom was very much in evidence in these conversations.

The State Library's Public Library Services team of today follows in Miss Woodward's footsteps.

Cameron Morley
Manager, Public Library Services

*State Library of NSW (1989) PLD Newsletter, no 61, November 1989