The Reading Room turns 75

The Mitchell Library Reading Room, one of Sydney's most iconic spaces, was opened 75 years ago on June 22, 1942.  It opened as the main reading room for the Public Library of New South Wales which had relocated from the old Bent Street Building across the road.  The Reading Room was part of a major extension to the original 1910 Mitchell Library building . The official opening ceremony was postponed until November 1943 due to wartime restrictions on large public gatherings. It was also too difficult to blackout the large roof skylight for an evening event. 

This much-loved Reading Room now includes a dedicated space to access the original  and rare printed material from the Library's collections including the Mitchell and Dixson collections.  The Reading Room also provides a magnificent location for quiet study in the heart of the city.

The Reading Room floor space covers 25 x 50 metres and is surrounded by three tiers of Tasmanian blackwood bookshelves, with the upper levels accessed by balconies of brass and timber. There are 1700 metres of shelving which can hold 50,000 books. The panelling, door and window frames, and facings of the book galleries are made of cream Travertine (limestone). The Bentwood chairs remain from the original 1942 fit-out and many of the teak tables date back to the very first Mitchell Library Reading Room, dating from 1910. 
The glass ceiling provides the chief source of light and is made of shatter-proof glass with an outer roof of heat-resistant glass. The natural light diffused through the glass ceiling is supplemented on cloudy days by lights between the outer and inner panelling. The lights are turned on when a sensor is activated.

The Southern wall of the Reading Room features two griffins above the central clock with a Greek inscription which reads  'In books flows the fountain of wisdom'.

Photographs of the Mitchell Reading Room taken in 1943

Exterior of sandstone building
About this item: 

Photographs are part of the ACP Magazines Ltd. photographic archive including Pix magazine negatives, 1930s-1980s

Pix Magazine 29-10-1943: NSW Public Library
1943
Digital ID: 
FL493798
View collection item detail
Large room in Library with glass ceiling and books shelves around the circumference of the room. People at desks reading.
About this item: 

Photographs are part of the ACP Magazines Ltd. photographic archive including Pix magazine negatives, 1930s-1980s

Pix Magazine 29-10-1943 : NSW Public Library
1943
Digital ID: 
FL493811
View collection item detail
Woman sitting at desk in Reading Room
About this item: 

Photographs are part of the ACP Magazines Ltd. photographic archive including Pix magazine negatives, 1930s-1980s

Pix Magazine 29-10-1943: NSW Public Library
1943
Digital ID: 
IE493640
View collection item detail
Woman sitting on stairs in Reading Room
About this item: 

Photographs are part of the ACP Magazines Ltd. photographic archive including Pix magazine negatives, 1930s-1980s

Pix Magazine 29-10-1943 : NSW Public Library
1943
Digital ID: 
FL493826
View collection item detail
Woman at desk answering enquires from woman and men in the Library
About this item: 

Photographs are part of the ACP Magazines Ltd. photographic archive including Pix magazine negatives, 1930s-1980s

Pix Magazine 29-10-1943 : NSW Public Library
1943
Digital ID: 
FL493840
View collection item detail


Maggie Patton, Research and Discovery, State Library of New South Wales

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