16 April 2014

Restoring the Mitchell Library

We have listened carefully to feedback since our December 2013 announcement of plans to renew the Mitchell Library building, and have been working on a revised plan to address them fully.

Under that plan, researchers and readers will continue to read and work with our rich collections in the Mitchell Library Reading Room  supported by our expert librarians at a dedicated service desk.

The current special collections area inside the Mitchell Library Reading Room will be extended for researchers and readers to access the Library’s original materials, related reference books and the card catalogues for manuscripts and Mitchell printed books.

View the revised plan for the ground floor of the Mitchell building, including the Mitchell Library Reading Room.

​​​Provide your feedback

10 April 2014

ANZAC Day Sydney CBD Road Closures

Major road closures and special event clearways will be in place in the Sydney CBD on Friday 25 April for the ANZAC Day Dawn Service and March. Roads around Martin Place will begin closing at 2am for the Dawn Service and will be reopened by 3pm.

The State Library of NSW will be open from 1pm - 5pm on ANZAC Day. If you plan to visit the Library please familiarise yourself with changed traffic conditions at or call the Traffic Information Line on 132 701.

To plan your trip via public transport visit or call 131 500.

10 March 2014

David Scott Mitchell's Will online

A certified copy of David Scott Mitchell’s Last Will and Testament from 1907 has now been digitised and is available on our website.

The Mitchell Library stems from the collection of David Scott Mitchell, Australia's greatest collector of Australiana, who bequeathed his personal collection to the Public (now State) Library of NSW in the following terms:

"I GIVE AND BEQUEATH TO THE Trustees of the Public Library of New South Wales all my books pictures engravings coins tokens medals and manuscripts now in and about my residence or elsewhere ... UPON THE TRUST AND CONDITION that the same shall be called and known as "The Mitchell Library" and shall be permanently arranged and kept for use in a special wing or set of rooms dedicated for that purpose either in the New Public Library proposed to be created in Sydney or in such other building as may be occupied by the Trustees of the said Library for the purpose of housing the Public Library of New South Wales and so that the said Mitchell Library may be permanently kept separately from and so as to avoid intermixture at any time with any other books or collection or collections".

In making his Will, David Scott Mitchell identifies the "Mitchell Library" to be his personal collection at the time. The collection has grown enormously since his bequest thanks to the endowment that he also gave and subsequent donations, purchases and legal deposit (whereby a copy of every newly published item in New South Wales must be deposited with the State Library). The Mitchell Collection is now a world-renowned collection which would amaze and delight Mitchell. It is used today by researchers from all over the world.

The Mitchell Library Collection, which includes not just printed books but manuscripts, photographs, painting and maps,  is carefully preserved in the Library and increases each year - over 8,000 books were added last year as well as many other materials. Major historical purchases continue to be made including the wonderful watercolours drawn in Sydney Cove in the 1790s which are now on show in the exhibition Artist Colony: Drawing Sydney’s Nature.

21 February 2014

Library sound recordings featured in ABC Mary Poppins documentary

Precious sound recordings held by the State Library of NSW of 1960s interviews with P L Travers, creator of Mary Poppins, have been featured in the ABC documentary The Real Mary Poppins released to coincide with the film Saving Mr Banks.

The biographical documentary gives further insight into the complex life of this enigmatic author and the Library’s interviews with Travers herself enhance the film's authenticity.

These recordings were included in a manuscripts and pictures collection that the Library purchased in 1989 and have recently been digitised under the Library’s Digital Excellence Program. The eight fragile reels were converted to digital sound using the highest technical standards.

These recordings were also highly valuable to the BBC during research for their own documentary special about PL Travers, The Secret Life of Mary Poppins.

Listen to an extract from a 1966 radio interview with Travers on how she felt about Disney’s interpretation of Mary Poppins.

14 February 2014

Review of the Division of the Mitchell Library

The State Library has conducted a number of internal reviews over the past year.  The reviews have identified opportunities to better deliver library services to the people of NSW while also addressing our budgetary constraints. 

As part of this ongoing process, Emeritus Professor Lesley Johnson AM FAHA has undertaken the review of the Mitchell Library Division, including the historical significance of the Mitchell Library- its physical space and renown- and the role of the Mitchell Librarian. 

Professor Johnson’s recent report outlines the changing needs of researchers and developments in the tertiary education sector and provides a range of options and recommendations for the State Library to consider over the coming months.  The report acknowledges the esteem in which this great library is held by staff and the researchers of the Library’s collections who both “desire to ensure that their significance is duly recognised”.

The State Library is grateful to Professor Johnson for the thoroughness of the Review of the Division of the Mitchell Librarian and the extensive recommendations and also to the many who so willingly provided input to the Review.

It will take some time to work through the individual recommendations but the Library endorses the thrust of each group of recommendations including the need to better resource the Division of the Mitchell Librarian, more strongly promote the Division’s work and the importance of the Mitchell collections, and to further develop partnerships and collaborative relationships with universities and other organisations.

The Library invites you to view a summary of the report.

11 February 2014

Open letter by NSW State Librarian

Dear Readers,

The iconic Mitchell Library is much loved by the public and the staff who work here. We are fortunate to work with an extraordinary and unrivalled Australian collection that is used by researchers, students and all interested in the history and culture of this country and region. There has been some misinformation circulating about the revitalisation of the Mitchell: it continues to be a reading room, one of Sydney’s most evocative places. What is happening is a story of improvement to provide our readers with greater access to our collection both onsite and online.

I share the view that the Mitchell Library – the collection that commenced with David Scott Mitchell’s generous legacy and has been assiduously built by generations of librarians, collectors and donors – is an invaluable collection of our nation’s historical records and is at the heart of reading and research in Australian history and culture. To that end, we continue to acquire major items of importance for the study of Australian history including the TAL & Dai-Ichi (Derby) collection of 745 early Australian natural history drawings which will feature in a landmark exhibition opening in March. In addition, we continue to acquire New South Wales publications comprehensively, most Australian publications, manuscript collections, photographic collections (such as the recently acquired archive of Max Dupain and Associates) and any other materials which are central to both research and creative work. Last year the Library added 8,433 books to the Mitchell collections, as well as 290 metres of manuscripts, 196,000 photographic negatives and 24,187 prints and drawings.

These acquisitions have been complemented by the completion last December of a five year project to create online records for our entire collection, much of which was previously only recorded in the card catalogues and often with limited detail. This achievement is a boon to researchers on site and at a distance. We are also fast - tracking the digitisation of much of our unique material under a State Government funded Digital Excellence Program which has already delivered close to two million pages of newspapers via Trove. Both initiatives will help make our rich collections more widely known and more readily available to researchers, writers, historians, students, indeed anyone, locally and internationally.

Storage is an ongoing concern for all major libraries with large collections. At the State Library of NSW, we need about two kilometres of additional storage every year. When the budget allows, we install additional compactus to keep more material on site and are working on ways of further increasing on site storage. Some materials are being relocated from unsuitable storage areas to ensure their long term preservation and to facilitate access and use. This is an ongoing process which will actually lead to greater accessibility for all those who wish to use the material. The combination of online catalogue records, digitisation of a growing proportion of historical documents and the ability to request items online means it is even easier to access to our extensive collections.

The core imperative for everything we do, and what the 1939 Library Act is built around, is providing free access to our collections and resources so that all of us can understand our past, consider our present and imagine our future. Through exhibitions, lectures and other activities, school programs and student seminars, we introduce the wider public and, especially, new generations to the importance of knowledge and research. The Amaze Gallery, opened last year, is a first step in enabling us to show the depth and breadth of our collection: we aim to add to those facilities. By seeing those wonders, many of those visitors of today become our readers and researchers of tomorrow.

We value all of our readers and are determined to provide appropriate spaces for them to access all forms of material - original and digital. To this end we are recreating a dedicated reading room to access manuscripts and other special collections in the original Mitchell wing where the likes of Manning Clark, Patrick White and Greg Dening researched and wrote. Together with an adjoining study room for State Library's Fellows, this will offer a place where ideas can be exchanged or quiet and concentrated research can be pursued, just as it did before this service was moved to the current Mitchell Reading Room in 1988. As always, our passionate staff will continue to deliver materials and provide advice and expertise.

Like all great libraries, we will continue to respond to the changing needs of readers. We have been speaking to individuals, associations and institutions to discuss how best to support the scholarly community, and this will continue. We remain committed to scholarship and this Library’s leading role in supporting research and writing in Australian history and culture is undiminished.

Your sincerely,

Dr Alex Byrne
State Librarian and Chief Executive
Tuesday, 11 February 2014

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NSW 2000, Australia
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