State Library of New South Wales

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State Library of New South Wales

The State Library of New South Wales is a large public library owned by the state of New South Wales, Australia. It is located in Macquarie Street, Sydney near Shakespeare Place. The Library hosts many free exhibitions, both from its own collections and from other organisations such as World Press Photo and the Doug Moran National Portrait Prize.


The State Library of New South Wales is one of the oldest libraries in Australia, being the first library established in the colony of New South Wales (now a state of Australia) and Australia.


The public library started as the Australian Subscription Library in 1826. It was then bought for £5100 by the New South Wales Government in 1869 and became the Sydney Free Public Library. In 1895 it was renamed the Public Library of New South Wales until its most recent name change in 1975, when it became the State Library of New South Wales.


In December 1827 operations began in rented premises in Pitt Street and in the two years following, the Library led a peripatetic existence having been located a few years in George Street, Bridge Street, Macquarie Street and Macquarie Place. In 1845 it finally settled its own new building on the corner of Bent and Macquarie Streets.

By 1869 the subscription library was in serious debt, and the New South Wales Government was persuaded to buy it for £5100 (£1500 for the books and £3600 for the building). In September 1869, the Sydney Free Public Library opened its doors with a stock of 20 000 volumes.

The Library soon outgrew its premises and a new wing was built in the mid-1880s and again by the turn of the century this too was outgrown and plans were underway for a new ‘national’ library building. The stimulus for this was David Scott Mitchell’s offer of his immense and, at the time, unrivalled collection of Australiana, including the original journals of Abel Tasman, James Cook and Matthew Flinders, to the people of New South Wales.

The condition of his offer was that a new building be erected to house the collection as a separate library. Work on the Mitchell Wing began in 1906 and finished in 1910. It houses the Mitchell Library reading rooms, work areas and galleries. The Mitchell Wing celebrated its centenary in 2010 and in the lead-up to its centenary (from 2001), showcased their best collections.

From 21 February - 18 April 2011 the galleries will be closed to put up new exhibitions, Moran Prizes 2011 and Carved Trees.

20 years after the completion of the Mitchell Wing, more building took place on the site of the national library. The Dixson Wing, completed in 1929, was added to the south side of the Mitchell Wing to provide storage and gallery space for the extensive collection of historical paintings presented to the library by Sir William Dixson.

In 1939 work began on the central section of the building, including the portico, the ornate vestibule and its reproduced Tasman Map in marble mosaic and the main reading room. The building was ready to be used in June 1942 and the Library (as a whole) was under one roof. In 1964, the final section of the sandstone Mitchell Wing was laid on the south east corner. Within 10 years the Library outgrown this space too.

Work began on the Macquarie Street Wing in 1983 and it was opened in 1988 - Australia’s bicentenary - by Queen Elizabeth II in company with Prince Philip. The new building fronts Macquarie Street and links up with the Mitchell Wing above ground and below ground. Andrew Andersons was the design architect for the Macquarie Street Wing. The refurbishment of the Macquarie Street Wing and construction of a contemporary learning space in the glasshouse is currently underway.

Located within the Macquarie Street Wing, the State Reference Library reading room contains a comprehensive and diverse collection of Australian and international research material. A number of specialist services are located within the State Reference Library, including the Legal Information Access Centre, Health Information Service and Family History Service.


The library contains over 5 million items including more than 2 million books, 1.2 million microforms, 1.1 million photographs, as well as newspapers, maps, architectural plans, manuscripts and other items. As well as being a general purpose reference and research library, it contains many historically significant collections dating from the European colonisation of Australia, including accounts from Australian explorers and other pioneers, paintings and sketches, and many other historical records.

These are held in the Australiana research collections known as the Mitchell Library (named for David Scott Mitchell, first collector of Australiana) which is continually being added to and the Dixson Library (named after Sir William Dixson), Dixson's personal collection which is not added to. Both are housed within the State Library precinct. The collections grow through purchase, other acquisitions of material and legal deposit for all books published in New South Wales.

Recent acquisitions include 201 personal letters of surveyor John Septimus Roe (1797–1878) and the Edward Close sketchbook (1817–1818).


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