Past page turners given fresh shelf life with new website

18 June 2019

The reading habits of late 19th and early 20th century Australians have been revealed as part of a new website launched at The Australian National University (ANU).

The new Australian Common Reader website is the world's largest database of library loan records, allowing users to sort through the borrowing histories from six Australian libraries between 1861 and 1928.

Researcher Dr Julieanne Lamond of the ANU School of Literature, Languages and Linguistics says the database, first created in 2001, has been revamped at the ANU to allow users to sift through pages and pages of records to build a story of Australia's borrowing and literary history.  

"You can see what the local doctor or politicians were reading, what books and authors were popular, and a library's most prolific borrowers," she said.

"We can see that doctors were borrowing more books than solicitors and butchers were reading more than engineers."

Among the records is Mathew Charlton, one of the earliest leaders of the Australian Labor Party.

"Mr Charlton was quite an avid reader, making a total of 264 loans over a 10-year period," Dr Lamond said.

"His favourite author appears to have been Edward Phillips Oppenheim, an English novelist known for writing thrillers."

Dr Lamond said the website shows Australians were very diverse in their reading habits.

"A lot of people read very widely, they were reading Dickens but they were also reading the latest magazines. Australian fiction was popular as well as overseas authors," Dr Lamond said.

"There were a couple of people who just read huge amounts, and others who would borrow the same book over and over again."

The records show the most popular book for women was On the wings of the wind by Welsh author Anne Adaliza Puddicombe who wrote under the male pen name of Allen Raine. Puddicombe was one of the bestselling authors of the time selling millions of copies of her books, however is now largely forgotten.

The most popular publication for men was Household Words, a weekly magazine edited by Charles Dickens which included short stories and journalism aimed at the working class.

The most prolific borrower of the six libraries was John Pellew, a miner from Port Germein in South Australia. Pellew made 877 loans between 1897 and 1907 -- around seven books a month.

The Australian Common Reader includes records from libraries at The South Australian Institute in Adelaide, the Rosedale Mechanics' Institute in Gippsland Victoria, the Port Germein Institute in regional South Australia, The Maitland Institute in the Yorke Peninsula in South Australia, and Collie Mechanics' Institute in Western Australia.

You can read through the records at

Top five most borrowed books/magazines for women



On the Wings of the Wind

Allen Raine

A Welsh Witch

Allen Raine

Brothers: The True History of a Fight Against Odds

Horace Annesley Vachell

Within the Maze

Ellen Wood

The Gambler

Katherine Cecil Thurston


Top five most borrowed books/magazines for men



Household Words


New Monthly Magazine


What Will He Do with It?

Bulwer Lytton

Bentley's Miscellany


Tales from 'Blackwood'

H Chalmers Roberts