Email usage at the UofA - a brief early history

Text prepared by Susan Coppin, Collection Archivist, University Archives and Recordkeeping (UniARK)

It is not unreasonable to say that the Barr Smith Library was a leading player in advocating for a consistent electronic mailing system across the university sector.


In 1982, University Librarian Eric Wainwright contacted Vice-Chancellor (VC) Donald Stranks to inform him that the Library had been experimenting with an “online message-switching service” called ACIMAIL which was being used by eleven other Australian universities.

After some months of exchanges regarding potential use of the system at UofA and comparisons with other options, Wainwright suggested to the VC that the matter be raised with the Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee [AVCC] as there would “be economies through some agreed developments which would easily allow all universities to communicate”.

This occurred and the AVCC resolved for UofA to set up a working party to look into the possible inter-university adoption of ACIMAIL (note in the attached document the VC’s comment regarding the AVCC “ignoring communication systems between cities!”) (Ref: 1982/2629)

With conflicting priorities and fast-changing technologies, by 1985 the working party was struggling to produce a meaningful report but noted agreement between universities was highly desirable as there was “considerable danger of an electronic ‘Tower of Babel’ emerging with different parts of the various universities using different systems”. The VC’s response indicates a low level of concern from the AVCC at that time. (Ref: 1982/2629)


After many years of ad hoc usage, in 1993 Lotus cc:Mail was chosen as the standard for staff email, but was not used consistently as the attached email examples indicate.

In 1994, the AVCC Deputy Secretary enquired (via email) if the University could provide a copy of any policy or guidelines regarding email use. A response was sent indicating that email regulations were included with the Rules for Student Use of University Computer Facilities that had been issued in 1990.

In 1995, the AVCC issued a Discussion Paper on Electronic Mail Use and Abuse – Issues for Australian Universities. This generated discourse within the University and the eventual adoption of the Computer Network Access and Usage Policy. (Ref: 1994/2436)

A 1997 draft discussion paper on Provision of a Standard Electronic Mail Service provides background information on email usage at the University – a later 1998 draft indicates that email had been in use for “well over 10 years”. (Ref: 1998/2671)

In October 1998, recommendations for a ‘modernised’ service were approved.  There was opposition to the proposal and in particular from the Engineering Faculty that wanted to maintain its own infrastructure. (Ref: 1998/2671)

In 1999, University email policy, conventions and etiquette documents were drafted. (Ref: 1998/2671)

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