The Basser Library and Fenner Archives of the Australian Academy of Science hold a rich, varied and historical collection of published and primary source materials documenting the history of science in Australia. Over its 60-year history the collection has evolved into a nationally significant resource that provides a rare and valuable window into Australian scientific discovery from the 19th century onward.
Sir Adolph Basser was an optician, jeweller and philanthropist whose £25,000 donation in 1960 enabled the Academy to establish a library.
The Basser Library was officially opened by Prime Minister Robert Menzies in 1962. It now comprises published material in disciplines relevant to the research and scientific work of Academy Fellows. The library includes an extensive collection of books numbering around 4000 titles, and an uncounted selection of scientific journals, periodicals and proceedings.
Of particular interest are publications and reports produced by the Academy, historic journals by each of Australia’s state museums and back issue sets of scientific periodicals including those created by colonial era Royal Societies and other voluntary scientific associations that flourished in Australia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The Academy holds a treasure trove of largely unpublished resources donated by Fellows of the Academy, prominent Australian scientists and scientific organisations.
The archive, or manuscript collection was established in 1962 by then research associate Anne Moyal and is named for the eminent microbiologist Professor Frank Fenner as an accumulation. It comprises 233 individual collections—an estimated 10 million pages stored over many thousands of folders—and is a valuable primary source of information on Australian scientific practice in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Highlights include Professor Fenner’s own papers, which meticulously document his life and work over eight decades and cover his contribution to the World Health Organisation team behind the successful campaign to eradicate smallpox. The Fenner Collection was added to the UNESCO Australian Memory of the World Register in 2019.
The Academy supports and encourages use of the library and archives by making a catalogue available to the public. By accessing this resource, the user acknowledges that material is not to be altered, shared or used for commercial purposes without the permission of the copyright holder and that appropriate attribution must be given.
The Basser Library and Fenner Archives are open to the public by appointment. Contact the Academy to enquire.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are advised that the Basser Library and Fenner Archives contain images, sounds and names of deceased persons. The Academy wishes to acknowledge that some material in the collections may be considered culturally sensitive.
Terms and annotations that reflect the author’s view, or those of the time in which an item was created, may not be considered appropriate today. These views are not endorsed by the Academy but are retained in their original form in an historical context.
The Academy is committed to reinvigorating its former Interviews with Australian Scientists in an audio format (podcast), with the new name Conversations with Australian Scientists. Supporting this project to record stories enriches and inspires the next generation of exceptional scientists and provides a unique and personal insight into the challenges and progress of science.
While the collections are in good condition, they require improved conservation management and findability to ensure their longevity and to maximise their benefit to Australian and international researchers.
Work has begun to professionally digitise, and make accessible online, important collection material with the long-term aim that anyone in the world can find and access a digital version of historical content in the Fenner Archives. Digitisation will protect and preserve the collections for many generations and open them up to the world for scientific and historical research.
Donations from organisations and individuals are welcome and will contribute toward the cost of preparing for and conducting the Interviews with Australian Scientists, and will also support the digitisation of the Archives.
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