Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Bertles, Zoe Emma (1880–1975)

by David J. Jones

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Zoe Emma Bertles (1880-1975), librarian, was born on 8 May 1880 at West Maitland, New South Wales, fifth child and youngest daughter of Samuel Bertles, a builder from England, and his native-born wife Emma Cecilia, née Evans. Educated at West Maitland Girls' High School, Zoe ran a small private school at Quirindi until 1912. She then enrolled at the University of Sydney (B.A., B.Ec., 1916), supporting herself by part-time teaching.

Probably encouraged by Nita Kibble, in April 1915 Bertles was appointed library-assistant at the Public Library of New South Wales. Her high qualifications were quickly recognized and her ability was exploited; from 1917 she also worked after hours as research officer for the Premier's Department. Reclassified as cataloguer in 1919, she was described by the principal librarian W. H. Ifould as one of his two ablest. That year she topped the higher grades examinations for library staff.

In August 1920 Bertles was promoted ahead of more senior colleagues to take charge of the country circulation department. She showed initiative and organizing ability in this section which, for the next twenty-five years, provided almost the only public and school library service beyond Sydney. In cramped quarters in the Mitchell wing, and later in a custom-built extension, Bertles and her staff responded to the growing demand for good books; they developed a service which drew acclaim from its users, support from country politicians, wistful glances from interstate and considerable overseas interest. In 1935 the Munn-Pitt report on libraries found that these country services had 'amply proved their worth'.

Although she lacked the knowledge of Australiana of Ida Leeson, Bertles was a serious contender for the position of Mitchell librarian in 1932. She continued to draw quiet satisfaction from her work. Addressing the first conference of the Australian Institute of Librarians in 1938, she reported that use of the country service had more than trebled since she had taken charge. In 1942 she was promoted to the new position of chief cataloguer and in July 1944 became senior technical officer of the Library Board of New South Wales. She retired in 1946.

An active member of the Professional Officers' Association of New South Wales, Bertles had represented her fellow officers in salary negotiations with the Public Service Board. She was a foundation member of the Business and Professional Women's Club of Sydney. Energetic and generous with her own time, she assisted the libraries of the Boys' Brigade and the Young Men's Christian Association, catalogued for the Great Synagogue in Sydney and organized Rabbi Brasch's private library.

Miss Bertles was small and slightly built, with piercing, brown eyes and a fine sense of humour. She retained the 'gentle, almost prim, manner of the good schoolmistress', but was 'easy to work with, never temperamental nor bad-tempered, never showing likes or dislikes, always helpful, compassionate, and understanding'. Zoe lived at Mosman. She died there on 27 February 1975 and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Library Journal, 24, no 7, Aug 1975, p 328
  • Bertles papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • State Library of New South Wales archives and confidential papers
  • private information.

Citation details

David J. Jones, 'Bertles, Zoe Emma (1880–1975)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/bertles-zoe-emma-9497/text16713, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 13 December 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

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