This page uses content from Wikipedia and is licensed under CC BY-SA.

State Library of South Australia

The modern Spence Wing entrance of the State Library of South Australia connects the Institute Building (1861, left) and the Mortlock Wing (1884, right)

The State Library of South Australia, located on North Terrace, Adelaide, is the official library of the Australian state of South Australia. It is the largest public research library in the state with a collection focus on South Australian information, and general reference material for information and research purposes.

It holds the "South Australiana" collection, which documents South Australia from pre-European settlement to the present day. Reference material comes in a wide range of formats from digital and electronic to film, sound recordings, photographic, video and microfiche. Library collections are not for loan and must be used on site. Customers can gain access to a large array of journals, newspapers and other resources from the comfort of their own home by registering for Home Access.

The State Library of South Australia:

  • provides information, research and referral services for the community,
  • actively collects, preserves and give access to the state's documentary heritage (both historical and contemporary),
  • enhances the cultural life of the state through public programs and other lifelong learning opportunities,
  • supports public libraries, and
  • co-operates with other agencies to enhance economic, educational and social benefits of the state.


Home of the library before the building of the Mortlock Wing

The origins of the State Library of South Australia are found in the South Australian Institute, which had been established in 1856.[1] This consolidated the work of the Mechanics Institute, founded in 1847 which had merged with the South Australian Library in 1848 creating the "Mechanics' Institute and South Australian Library", based in Peacock's Buildings, Hindley Street.[1] However it was subsequently moved to Exchange Chambers, King William Street, and by 1855 had gone into decline. The South Australian Legislative Council passed Act No. 16 which incorporated the South Australian Institute, to whose ownership the old library was immediately transferred.[1] This act also ensured the library would be open to the public free of charge and grant funding was allocated to it. This made the library very popular particularly amongst artisans and workmen who filled it to capacity in the evenings. As new books arrived from Britain the library was expanded and soon needed new accommodation which was found in North Terrace in 1860.[1]

Mortlock Wing

Mortlock Wing.
Mortlock Wing interior, view to south

The building now known as the Mortlock Wing was opened on 18 December 1884 as a "Public Library, Museum and Art Gallery for the colony of South Australia" with 23,000 books and a staff of three. It had taken over 18 years to complete after the initial foundations were laid in 1866. (In 1873 the foundations of the western wing of a proposed new block were laid, but there the matter ended until 1876, when fresh plans were drawn, and another set of foundations put in. Again the work went no further until 1879 when the west wing was finally commenced. The earlier work was condemned, and had to be removed before the Public Library could be started.)[2] The foundation stone was laid on 7 November 1879 by Sir William Jervois and the building was constructed by Brown and Thompson at a total cost of £43,897, and opened in 1884. Supervision for the Board of Directors was undertaken by secretary Robert Kay (1825–1904), later general director and secretary of the Public Library, Museum, and Art Gallery of South Australia.

The building is French Renaissance in style with a mansard roof. The walls are constructed of brick with Sydney freestone facings with decorations in the darker shade of Manoora stone.

The interior has two galleries, the first supported by masonry columns, and the second by cast iron brackets. The balconies feature wrought iron balustrading ornamented with gold while the glass-domed roof allows the chamber to be lit with natural light. Two of the original gas "sunburner" lamps survive in the office space located on the second floor at the southern end.

Restoration of the building occurred in 1985 as a Jubilee 150 project by Danvers Architects, consultant architect to the South Australian Department of Housing and Construction. The $1.5 million project was jointly funded by the government and the community.

In honour of a substantial bequest from John Andrew Tennant Mortlock,[3] the Libraries Board of South Australia resolved that a percentage of the South Australiana Collections would be housed in the wing and named the Mortlock Library of South Australiana in 1986.

After the State Library underwent a substantial redevelopment, commencing in 2001 and reaching completion in 2004, the main chamber of the Mortlock Wing became an exhibition space providing a glimpse into the history and culture of South Australia.

In August 2014 the Mortlock Wing featured in a list of the top 20 most beautiful libraries of the world, compiled by the U.S. magazine Travel + Leisure.[4][5]


General reference collections

The general reference and research material in the State Library was named the Bray Reference Library in 1987 after former SA Chief Justice, Dr John Jefferson Bray, who served on the Libraries Board of South Australia from 1944 to 1987.

Heritage collections

The State Library has a national responsibility to collect, preserve and give access to historical and contemporary South Australian information. The South Australiana collections document South Australia from pre-white settlement to the present day, and the Northern Territory to 1911. The South Australiana collection is one of the most comprehensive in the world due to legal deposit requirements for published material, and through donations of unpublished material. A well known donation is the Bradman Collection of cricketing memorabilia.

York Gate Geographical and Colonial Library

The York Gate Library was acquired from the estate of Stephen William Silver, of S. W. Silver and Co. (William) a London based company who not only sold clothing, furniture and equipment suitable for emigrants to the British Colonies, but also a series books providing relevant information for such emigrants. William had started to collect objects and books related to the areas to which their customers were migrating. These were kept in his residence at 3 York Gate, London and hence became known as the York Gate Library. When he died on 7 March 1905, the South Australia branch of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia raised the money to buy the collection of nearly 5,000 volumes and pamphlets so they could be brought to Australia.[6] In 2006, the centenary of the establishment of the library in Australia, the collection was threatened with eviction.[6]

Rare books

Using items from its rare books collection, Keith Conlon gives a talk on the 200th anniversary of the death of Matthew Flinders, at the SLSA's Institute Building, 21 July 2014.

The State Library's rare books collection is the major collection of its kind in South Australia. It comprises Australian and international items which have been identified as having a special interest through subject matter or rarity.

Children's Literature Research Collection

The Children's Literature Research Collection was formed in 1959 and has over 65,000 books, periodicals, comics, board and table games, and toys. The collection has been enhanced by donations from South Australian individuals and families and from organisations. It is one of the State Library's heritage collections and is of international importance.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d "VII.—EDUCATIONAL". South Australian Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1858 - 1889) (27 October). South Australian Advertiser. 1863. p. 4.
  2. ^ "An Important Institution". South Australian Register. Adelaide. 4 June 1898. p. 5. Retrieved 4 May 2014 – via National Library of Australia. This reference contains interesting details of the "cultural precinct" of North Terrace and list of chairmen of the Board of Governors to 1898.
  3. ^ Valmai A. Hankel, 'Mortlock, John Andrew Tennant (1894 - 1950)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, Melbourne University Press, 2000, pp 426-427.
  4. ^ Travel + Leisure > Most Beautiful Libraries in the World Accessed 5 August 2014.
  5. ^ Adelaide's library in world's beautiful top 20 891 ABC Adelaide Accessed 5 August 2014.
  6. ^ a b Henderson, Kelly. "York Gate Geographical and Colonial Library" (PDF). ICOMOS. Retrieved 3 February 2019.

External links