South Asia | Government Publications Review, Vol. 4, No. 1, pp. 21-29. Pergamon Press, 1977. Printed in Great Britain.

Government Publications Review,

Vol. 4, No. 1, pp. 21-29. Pergamon Press, 1977. Printed in Great Britain.



Formerly Superintendent, State Paper Room, British Museum

(An introduction prepared in 1973 for a proposed reprint of Campbell's Theory of National and International Bibliography.)

Francis Bunbury Fitzgerald Campbell was born in 1863 as the fifth son of Sir Edward Fitzgerald Campbell, third Baronet. His mother was Georgina Theophila. second daughter of Sir Thomas Theophilus Metcalfe, fourth Baronet. On both sides the Indian connection was strong. Sir Edward was Colonel in the Indian Army and served as A.D.C. successively to General Napier, Lord Dalhousie and Lord Canning. Thomas Theophilus Metcalfe was Agent to the Governor General of India at the Court of Delhi. His brother Charles Theophilus was Vice Governor of India from 1835 to 1836.

Many of Frank Campbell’s eight brothers and innumerable nephews had distinguished careers in the Army, the Colonial Service, or the Church. Frank was educated at Tonbridge School, which he left in 1878. In July 1884 he joined the staff of the British Museum as an Assistant, second Class. He had no degree, as indeed was normal with appointments to the higher ranks in those days, but entered through competition. I have not discovered how he filled the years 1879 to 1883, but he may have had some theological training, for his later move from the British Museum to the Church, in 1900, was achieved very rapidly. After two years in cataloguing and general library work, he was given the responsibility of bringing order into the collections of Colonial and Indian official publications, which had been pouring into the Department in recent years, as the result of new exchange arrangements and new provisions by the Colonial and Indian Offices. These were largely uncatalogued, and even unlisted.

Campbell himself, among his papers, left a document which describes the circumstances which took him into his new career.

The situation with regard to Government publications at the British Museum was probably no worse than that in most National Libraries of the day, indeed, in many respects it may have been better.

Panizzi, Principal Librarian 1856-1866, had had the breadth of mind to realise the value of primary documents for research. He had commissioned Henry Stevens to procure the legislative documents of all the American States, and took most of such opportunities as were presented of getting official documents from Europe and South America. But the use of booksellers and agents alone for acquisition produced very uneven results in this difficult field. It was not until American pressure on the Foreign Office induced the British Government to take seriously the movement to set up intergovernmental exchanges of official documents, that a full review of the current holdings of the British Museum Library in this field was called for.

Bullen, who was then Keeper, replied to this request in 1876. His drafts show how his first impressions that the Department was reasonably well supplied with overseas government documents, had to be revised downwards as more evidence came in. He singles out Russia, Portugal, Austria, Greece, Turkey, Switzerland and the South American continent as areas where coverage was poor. From the British Empire our intake was of very mixed quality, with some surprising deficiencies, particularly in the case of India. Nearer home he found that even the House of Lords Papers had not been delivered at the Museum since 1842, on the easy excuse that they mainly duplicated the Commons set.

As a result of the enquiry, the Government acted. A full deposit of Indian government publications was arranged in the same year, 1876, and during 1883 and 1884 a series of bilateral exchanges was set up with foreign governments, and some of the more important Commonwealth governments, as a result of which a large flow of government publications began to pour into the library. The Department was totally unprepared to deal with them. English Sessional Papers were kept uncatalogued, and serviced with newspapers in the Newspaper Reading Room. A small arbitrary selection of European documents went into the main catalogue, others, described very loosely as "Statistical Publications", were given the dignity of a Hand List, the rest were not recorded at all. American, Indian and Colonial documents were stored uncatalogued, and in some chaos, in various parts of the library.

On this background Campbell’s achievement in working out, quite unaided, as a very junior officer, sound principles for dealing with the problem, and laying the foundations of a Documents Division, is very impressive. After three years he began the succession of papers on bibliography, mainly delivered to the Library Association, that are collected in The Theory of National and International Bibliography. He started with official documents, and broadened out his concern later into the need for a current National Bibliography, covering all fields and modes of presentation.

Campbell was above all a systematist, with an active, reforming mind. He took no impediments for granted as unavoidable natural obstacles: he must always go further back, or deeper down, uncover the reasons, and try to prevent them from arising at all. Thus it was characteristic that he was not content to accept the inconsistencies of authors, editors or publishers as a necessary evil. If the work of the bibliographer was made more difficult by the vagaries of these gentlemen, then it was part of his business to try to reform them; to lay down a code of good practice to which all should subscribe. It is easy to dismiss this as unpractical, but Campbell was well aware that some of the worst offenders were government departments, who could, in theory, be far more strictly controlled by the Government Printer than commercial publishers in matters of this kind. His suggestion of publishing a new edition of the Bible, re-arranged on rational lines, so as to help the Clergy to produce more efficiently the 100,000 sermons which it had been computed were delivered every Sunday, may seem to us to have been made with his tongue in his cheek, but I believe he was quite serious: he hated time to be wasted which more attention to system could save.

The central feature of his criticism of the bibliography of his day was that it was "bibliography backwards". Librarians, he said, first let their books escape and go to ground, as it were, by failing to list them adequately when they first appeared and were most accessible, then they pursued them retrospectively with great expenditure of money and energy in order to put them into their special Subject or National Lists. If a sufficient sum of money were spent in getting books adequately listed and classified on a standard system when they first appeared, the bibliographers of the future would find most of their work already done for them. Ideas of this kind had been canvassed occasionally throughout the century, but Campbell was the first in the U.K., at least, to pursue them to their ultimate conclusion, and to realise that nothing less than a National Bibliographic Bureau, fully supported by the Government, and aided co-operatively by those learned bodies and other organisations that were not covered by laws of Copyright Deposit, could carry out the work effectively and in sufficient detail.

Campbell was born a century too soon. Computer print-out of unit entries under various headings, selected and grouped in various ways, would have given him all the different catalogues he recommends in "A National System of Bibliography" and elsewhere, with the greatest facility. At the time he wrote, when even basic national author catalogues of the annual products of the book trade were few and far between, his comprehensive scheme must have seemed wildly Utopian. Yet it is only by aiming constantly at perfect solutions that we retain our sense of direction, and maintain the impetus to advance.

There is no cause for complacency at the present day. Almost a hundred years later, even in the larger industrialised countries, we shall find that astonishingly few of the Campbell’s recommendations have yet been realised, while the flood of books and periodicals has increased many times over. In the case of books in the book trade, we have author, title and classed subject approaches, it is true. As to his "form subdivisions", we may think that he overdoes them and would be content with only two, one combining books and separately published parts of serials, and the other, the serials and periodicals themselves and the articles contributed to them. But how far can we claim to be controlling the periodical at the present day? Except in the field of the natural sciences, only a fraction of the contributions written are covered by abstracting journals. As to his "Source" divisions, what of the so-called "Departmental" publications of governments, the documents of local government, the productions of the smaller local societies, professional organisations, trade unions, pressure groups, business firms and the like? Where is the National Register of their productions, which, in quantity would outnumber the copyright intake of normal books? Is it quite out of the question to get these nationally registered?

Campbell’s dream of international co-operation in bibliography through standardization in book registration and subject indexing, is now well on the way to become a reality, thanks to American initiative and the MARC tapes scheme, as well as the collaboration of those librarians in all countries who have worked for the standardization of catalogue codes and for uniform book deposit laws. There were internationalists in Campbell’s day, but, except for those working in the scientific field, very few in Britain. On such a background his star shines brighter.

Living during the high noon of British imperialism and coming from a family that was so dedicated to colonial service, Campbell inevitably took up the cause of the bibliography of the British Empire. He lived long enough to make an extremely valuable contribution to that of India, and had begun to set the framework for other parts of the Dominions when his career was cut short. It was perhaps in this area that bibliography suffered its greatest loss, for Campbell’s great vision and energy, aided by his influential connections in the Colonial Service, might well have instituted a system of central recording of Colonial publications which would have been a godsend to the national librarians of the British Commonwealth, who are now, with so much labour, trying to reconstitute their bibliographies ‘backwards’.

It is impossible to read Campbell’s book without being struck by the way he put his finger directly on the key problems in the various fields he surveyed and offered solutions, many of which have yet to be tried. The permissive clause in the 1841 Copyright Act in the U.K., to which he draws attention, was, indeed, remedied in the subsequent 1911 Act, but the difficulty about privately produced books and documents still remains. In the case of learned societies, he saw that, where compulsion was out of the question, co-operation must be sought, and he recommends that societies should be registered annually and be invited to deposit lists of their publications during the year, preferably analytical ones, itemizing the contents of their journals. Most of the larger learned bodies are now accepted as ‘publishers’, and deposit in the Copyright Office, but as to the smaller ones, and the whole range of associations, societies and pressure groups, how much trouble would be saved if they had to register like companies, and could be persuaded to send their annual reports and lists of documents produced to a national centre? Congresses also came within Campbell’s scrutiny. We still have no reliable annual national lists as he recommends, either of the Congresses or their publications.

Another feature of Campbell’s interests, very unusual for a British Museum man, was his concern for library training and professional standards as a whole. The address to the Library Assistants Association, which comes near the end of the volume, may seem somewhat patronising to modern ears, but at this date we should remember that it was customary for educators to stand at a far greater distance from their pupils than they do today. Campbell saw clearly that it was his responsibility as a librarian in the major British library to offer ideals and leadership to his younger colleagues in the profession. It has taken eighty years for the staff of the British Museum Library to begin to consider seriously this and other implications of the national role which has recently been thrust upon them.

But it was in the field of government documents librarianship that Campbell made his main contribution, and it is by this, I am sure, that he would prefer to be remembered. His ideas were, doubtless, shaped mainly by Indian government documents, which at the time had special characteristics in that the names of Departments or Divisions of the Central Secretariat were often not clearly shown on the documents they issued. This exaggerated the natural weakness of corporate author entry and led him more rapidly to realise that the subject catalogue must be the main finding tool. He allows that author entry under issuing department cannot be dispensed with -- indeed, it is essential to his scheme that governments should issue monthly and annual registers of state papers arranged in this way, registers that would include essential notes about departmental changes and other facts that they alone can supply -- but upon these registers he wished continuously updated catalogues to be based, arranged first in small-group subject order, and then under each subject heading chronologically. The subject groups would not be the theoretical ones of a general Dictionary Catalogue, but tailor-made for his purpose by expanding by subdivision the main administrative functions of government.

His own catalogue of Indian government publications was his example of what should be done. Any reference librarian who has had to work occasionally in this area, will know that Campbell’s catalogue is a far more efficient finding tool than the standard array of corporate author entries under Departmental headings normally provided. What is arguable is whether the same techniques would be equally successful in dealing with the volume and complexity of late 20th century government publishing, where the subject fields of government are so much more encyclopedic than in 19th century India. Campbell at the time thought it possible for a library to maintain continuous catalogues of the government publications of each country on this principle, but, in face of the enormous output of modern governments I think he would now accept the view that a succession of period catalogues is the only answer. Instead of the 18 volumes of folio catalogue at present occupied by the England (official) heading in the B.M. Reading Room, it might be better -- ignoring space considerations for the moment -- to have 50 volumes, grouped in, say, half a dozen overlapping chronological sequences, each giving separate author and small group subject approaches, on Campbell’s principle. There is no doubt that the very long corporate author sequences of government publications that occur in the catalogues of most national libraries are almost unusable, and they grow even more unusable as they continue to expand. The space taken up by large national headings distorts general author catalogues. In the end, we may find ourselves driven again to the conclusion that Campbell was right. Government documents are different from the normal run of books: they do need separate cataloguing rules and separate catalogues, if we are to find them with any facility. In his day, the cost of maintaining separate author and subject catalogues of government publications ruled out this solution -- even to make one catalogue of them seemed beyond their resources -- but the advent of the computer may well make it possible.

Campbell is emphatic on the need to treat government publications separately from the general run of library books, not only in acquisition records, but also in shelving and administration. He envisages a separate National Official Documents Library in a building adjacent to that of the National Library proper. "A roomy building capable of expansion", "with an extensive room for the reading public on the ground floor so that a mass of volumes can be consulted direct by the readers themselves". Such an arrangement does not yet exist anywhere in the world, I fear, and in the new British Library plans the high cost and limited space of the site will rule it out once again, but how clearly Campbell sees, as ever, the ideal solution!

In the Theory of National and International Bibliography Campbell appears as an idealist, whose keen apprehension of basic principles took him at times perilously far from what seemed to his contemporaries to be practically possible. It may come as a surprise that he showed himself extremely practical in his work with government publications at the British Museum.

He invented numerous office and library appliances, some of which are still lingering on in a state of decay in the State Paper Room. These included a map stand, collapsible book rests, zinc shelf labels (bearing names of countries), three book label cases, one of which was retained at the Chicago Exhibition, 1893, a card rack to take several hundred cards on three ledges "thus economising space while classifying cards" (this was also at Chicago), large numbers of form books for receipts, improved readers’ application forms, correspondence folios, and a "patent expanding magazine and pamphlet holder".

He left his mark on our serial registration system, instituting what are known as "Continuation slips" (still not entirely displaced by Kardex). The system of shelf marking government publications by country and department of origin, which, with some development, is still in use, was due to Campbell. We owe to him the extraction from official departmental correspondence (now destroyed) of all the primary documents relating to the international exchanges that were concluded in the last twenty years of the 19th century. He found that many of these arrangements had already fallen into arrears when he came on the scene, and he did much to revive them.

There is, in short, scarcely a single aspect of our work with Government publications in the State Paper Room, eighty years later, in which we cannot find traces of Campbell’s influence. "I have", he said in 1899, "so far as circumstances have permitted, instituted a bona fide Official Documents Branch, Indian and Colonial".

All this in about eight years in a new field in which he had to find his own way without precedent or training!

To those in the Library Association who read his articles or heard his lectures, it must have seemed that when he published his Theory of National and International Bibliography in 1896 he had laid already the foundations of a distinguished career in the British Museum Library, and had put government documents librarianship there on a firm footing once and for all. Yet in little over three years time he resigned from the Department to become a curate in India. Four years after that he was dead. The Official Documents branch at the British Museum, the State Paper Room, did not become a reality for another thirty years: thirty years of drift and neglect so far as this particular branch of librarianship was concerned.

The reasons for this astonishing peripeteia are complex. If we only had the official account to go on there would be a simple answer; a breakdown in health. In 1896 he had six weeks illness. At the end of 1897 he was given six months paid leave of absence to go to India to try to recover his health. At the end of 1899 he asked for leave to resign on the grounds of ill health. He produced a letter from his doctor, Dr. Byres Moir, to the effect that he was suffering from gastric trouble (probably a gastric ulcer) and needed to escape the confined life of a London winter by going to a warmer climate.

This was confirmed by two independent Civil Service doctors who said it was inadvisable for him to continue in the Museum’s service. His resignation was accepted from 20 January, 1900.

But after his death in 1905, a small portfolio of Campbell’s papers was sent to the Museum, where it was retained in the Department of Printed Books Archives. This contains a few older documents, but mainly personal notes written at intervals during his last year, 1899. They make sad poignant reading. Campbell was obviously under severe strain, and was rapidly approaching a breakdown. In these papers he chronicles the injuries and slights which he felt were put upon him by his seniors during his last year, and sets out a case in defence of his Museum career.

To interpret the final act of his personal tragedy, we need to go back to 1887. When in this year Campbell was assigned to the work of putting into order the Colonial and Indian official publications, he was not given a post, but merely a responsibility. To this responsibility many others were added as the years went on -- such as maintenance of all serials received by exchange and donation from governments and learned bodies (no sinecure at the best of times!).

A man of Campbell’s thoroughness inevitably took on many other chores that needed doing in this very neglected aspect of Departmental work. Because there was no official post that he could be described as filling -- for there was no Government Documents Section as such -- no official report had to be made about his activities to the Trustees, unless the Keeper might care to make special mention of something.

His work seems to have been largely ignored. He was, he says, given no recognition or encouragement by his seniors, despite the reputation he was gaining through his public papers. Because he had no officially recognized branch or section he could not be allotted permanent staff, such as attendants or porters, to help him (as the Map and Music Rooms enjoyed). He had to borrow them when and how he could, or do the work himself. As he says in his notes, "if I want a duster, I have to fight a battle. If I want a porter, I have to fight a battle. If I want any books bound, I have to fight a battle".

Campbell soldiered on under these difficult conditions, buoyed up by the success he was having in his external relations, and expecting that one day virtue would be rewarded, and his small sub-department of official publications (Indian and Colonial) would be recognized as such, and perhaps even be allowed to grow to include all official publications entering the Department. The test would come, he thought, when he submitted for publication the main fruit of his labours, his Catalogue of Indian government publications. The Department was often publishing small special catalogues at the time – for example separate catalogues of the bibliographies and reference books in the Reading Room and a catalogue of Accessions of Old Music. It must have seemed to him not unreasonable to hope that the list which he had been asked to produce on cards, but had subsequently, with infinite labour, turned into an elaborate catalogue, would also be put out by the Department. But to his first request to be allowed to publish it, probably in 1894, Garnett, the Keeper, sent no reply at all. His second request, a year later, was similarly treated. To a man like Campbell these two rejections, without a word of explanation, apology or advice, must have come as a severe shock. He kept the Catalogue up to date as best he could, and at last, probably in 1896, Garnett called him and said he thought it might be possible to print it, and asked for estimates of cost. These Campbell provided, but unfortunately at a time of financial stringency, when the Department had just been asked to retrench. Garnett drew back from his half promise, and handed over further negotiations about the matter to Fortescue, his Deputy. Fortescue was strongly against publication; the Department had never issued subject catalogues before: the work was too complicated, too full of cross references. Indian official publications were not sufficiently important to justify the expense.

Campbell was now in despair. The strain and disappointments of the past few years had taken toll of his health and his gastric trouble grew worse. He made one further effort to get his work recognised and spent a further £100 in printing a short catalogue of bibliographical works relating to India (extracted from the main "Catalogue"), which received favourable comment in the "Times". It was, however, totally ignored by Garnett and Fortescue. Gossip in the Department even charged him with trying to bribe his way to success with his private money!

He then fell seriously ill, and the Director, Maunde Thompson, gave him six months sick leave with pay in November 1897.

He took the sea voyage to India and back. When he returned six months later, somewhat restored, in May 1898, he approached Garnettonce more about printing the catalogue, reminding him of his previous interest. Garnett now lost patience and replied curtly in such terms as to force Campbell to give up hope of official support. But he continued fighting. He was convinced that if only the catalogue could be printed the public reception would be such that the Trustees might compensate him for his costs. He resolved to spend his last few hundred pounds in that way. But early in 1899 Garnett retired and was succeeded in May by Fortescue. The climate changed abruptly for the worse. Campbell always believed that much of the drudgery which was borne by junior Assistants could be taken off them by the lower grades, library boys and library attendants. With this in mind he had trained a Boy, F. D. Cooper, to register official serials. This was work hitherto done only by the top ‘Assistant’ grade. Campbell had used his Boy as his personal helper to work only on government publications. But this, besides undermining the staff grading system, was tantamount to claiming that there was a Sub-Department of Official publications. Fortescue was an ex-Navy man and he applied the traditional treatment given to insubordinate juniors who did not know their place. He sent for Campbell, and told him that Cooper (now an attendant 2nd class) belonged to the Department as a whole, and must work a token two hours a day on book deliveries to the Reading Room. Campbell, too, must take his turn in the general work of the Department ("as if," notes Campbell bitterly, "I had done nothing for it all these years").

He was relieved of his responsibilities for government publications, and assigned to the monotonous work of preparing an index to the heading Periodical Publications in the General Catalogues, "hack work" says Campbell, "that would normally be given to a new Assistant of a few months’ standing". Campbell also records that his hours of attendance were strictly watched, and that he was blamed for "neglect" whenever a government or academic serial was found to be overdue. This must have infuriated him, for his system was sound enough, but could not be maintained properly because the Department ignored his requests for staff to run it.

A young midshipman might have survived this kind of treatment, but when applied to a man of Campbell’s disposition and record, who was suffering severely from gastric trouble (probably brought on by frustration) it can only be described as sadistic. He had no choice but to resign. His one fear was that his catalogue would be ‘ruined’ by being re-edited (perhaps on the lines of Fortescue's own Subject Index?) after he was gone.

To prevent this, he applied to the Trustees for leave to publish it, inviting them either to become responsible for the costs, or to leave him to finance it himself. Fortescue presented his application to the Trustees, advising them to take Campbell’s second alternative, which they did. They also accepted his resignation a month later, and allowed him a pension of £67 and 10 shillings p.a.

There is no evidence that the Trustees were ever informed of the rest of the story. They certainly never heard Campbell’s ‘case’, which he prepared so carefully. The Departmental cover-up was complete.

Campbell sought solace in Mother India, where he acted as private secretary to Bishop Welldon of Calcutta, being ordained at the end of 1900. The Bishop returned to England as Canon of Westminster Abbey in 1901, and Campbell followed him soon after as curate of St. Margaret’s, Westminster, where he had a parish in the poorer parts of the district. He seems to have been very popular with his flock, and when he died on 4 December 1905, his funeral service was crowded with mourners. W. R. Wilson, Reading Room Superintendent at the British Museum, contributed a memoir to the Library Association Record:

There is little doubt that Campbell’s temperament was a powerful factor in his downfall. His aristocratic background made it easy to take his reserve for aloofness. His single-minded devotion to the cause of scientific bibliography probably seemed like unbridled personal ambition to colleagues who pursued less exacting ideals.

In defence of Garnett and Fortescue it can be said that the Keeper of the Department must retain the right to choose what works are submitted to the Trustees for publication. Campbell’s constant pressure to get his catalogue published, despite their obvious reluctance, was a challenge to their authority. Similarly, it was their right to choose whether the Department was to set up a special division to deal with government publications or not. To allow a man with Campbell’s drive to pioneer a new division might well create a Frankenstein-like monster which would become quite uncontrollable. Campbell was obviously a sick man, and Fortescue may have thought that to take him out of the area of stress would give him a chance to recover. On the score of administrative legality the Keepers cannot be faulted.

Where they must be blamed, is for their failure to realise that there might be some truth in Campbell’s claim that government documents require and deserve special treatment, and for their reluctance to give him any credit for the valuable work he had done both in and out of the Department. In the background lies a prejudice. The antipathy among librarians against government documents has always been very strong. As Campbell says (p. 119) "The most interesting work in the world, if it has the misfortune to be printed as a Blue-Book, will fail to overcome the prejudice". It is possible that Campbell’s ill health would have closed his career prematurely, even if he had been given encouragement, and was less thwarted. But had he lived to complete a full term in the Department, and achieved the promotion that his talents deserved, the British Museum Library would surely have been led to exercise national functions and responsibilities for national bibliography and library leadership fifty years ago, and the difficult birth pangs of the present British Library would have been avoided.

When Campbell resigned, his boy, F. D. Cooper, carried on as best he could with the Indian and Colonial publications, and many years later, in 1933, was promoted to be Assistant Keeper in charge of the newly formed State Paper Room.

He was still there in 1946 when the present writer was posted to the State Paper Room to succeed him. Cooper talked occasionally of Campbell, always with immense respect and something of hero-worship. In some of his set responses and disciplined reactions it was possible to fancy that one was hearing residual echoes of the force of Campbell’s personality, as he trained the boy Cooper some fifty years before.