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The law of the Library

REGULATIONS FOR VISITORS TO THE FREE PUBLIC LIBRARY. (1874, September 11). New South Wales Government Gazette

In celebration of Library & Information Week (23 - 29 May 2016) we thought we’d look back at our roots to see just how far one of Australia’s oldest libraries has come.

Browsing through the newly digitised collection of NSW Government Gazettes we found some gems from way back when we were known as the Sydney Free Public Library.

Regulations for visitors to the free public library lists the library’s rules in 1874,  including advice on the proper attire for your visit...

6. No person will be permitted to sit in the room with his hat on

...a slightly different approach to childhood literacy...

7. Children under 12 years of age are not admitted

...and a very specific set of guidelines on library decorum...

8. Any visitor writing in or upon, folding down a leaf, defacing, mutilating, or otherwise injuring any book, spitting on the floor, smoking in the doorway, or in any way injuring the furniture, & eating food or fruit, or not conducting himself with proper decorum, will be excluded from the Library. is nice to see that some things never change.

Librarians were just as happy to hear from the public back then, as we are today.

Just as it is today;

11. Readers desirous of proposing books for addition to the Library may do so by writing the same in a Suggestion Book, which will be submitted regularly to the Trustees for consideration.

Jumping forward to another time (and another name-change), we find by-laws for the Public Library of New South Wales which established our Mitchell Library.

The Public Library of New South Wales By-Laws for the Custody, Conduct, and Management of the Mitchell Library (1909) show that applying to become a library member then was quite a bit harder than it is now.

7. Any person desirous of being admitted to the Library must apply in writing to the Principal Librarian, specifying his or her profession or business, place of abode, and the particular purpose for which admission is sought.

Spitting in public and the eating of fruit appear to be persistent concerns in 1909, with an additional warning to those who...

14. … used offensive, profane, or indecent language, or behaved in an unbecoming manner, or otherwise been offensive to readers in, or officers of, the institution. doubt all members were sure to have paid close attention to the library’s rules, as disregarding them came at a high price...

39. Any person offending against or committing a breach of these By-laws shall be liable to a penalty not exceeding £20.

Today, that fine would be equal to $2,685!

While it’s fascinating to see just how many things have changed in our nearly 150 year history, it’s wonderful to know that libraries like ours continue to offer enormous value and great service to communities right across Australia.

With over 350 public libraries across New South Wales you’re sure to find a welcoming library near you.

With that in mind - happy Library & Information Week to you all!