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The Molly Trolley

A Molly Trolley in the Mitchell Library Reading Room.

A 'Molly Trolley' in the Mitchell Library Reading Room, 2018.

Recently, a Reader visited our Family History team to start his research. He proudly commented that a relative in his mother’s family used to work at the Library.

"Do you know what a Molly trolley is? She invented it."

A quick poll of staff revealed that yes, the small library trolleys are known as 'Molly Trolleys'. A few knew that they were named after a previous staff member, but nobody could recall who.

The Reader said his relative was Mary (Molly) Hogue. With a bit more sleuthing, we found an entry for Molly in Brian Fletcher’s 2007 book, A Magnificent Obsession. Fletcher dedicates a paragraph to Molly and her invention of a small, lightweight metal trolley, suitable for manoeuvring through the narrow stacks of the Mitchell building.

Who is Molly?

Mary Barbour Hogue was born in Ireland in 1910. She was called Molly during her working life, but in an oral history with Rosie Block, she states that she prefers Mary, her real name. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Mary was working as the Training Librarian.

Part of her role including working monthly weekend shifts collecting material for Readers. She noticed that her colleagues had trouble navigating the narrow corridors of the Mitchell Library with the long wooden trolleys of the time. They were completely unsuitable for the Mitchell galleries, as collecting staff would need to take an armful of two or three books, run them upstairs for shelving, then come back down for the next load.

Mary started exploring alternative options. She looked at trolleys used on the railways and in hospitals, and even stopped people in the street with interesting looking trolleys. She designed a small, lightweight metal trolley, with curved sides and two levels – the original Molly trolley. She enlisted the help of her son, who worked in advertising, to find a company who could produce the trolley. He put her in touch with a furniture company which originally produced eight sample Molly trolleys for the Library. They were so successful that they caused some friction between staff as there weren’t enough to go around.  More were quickly ordered, and the design earned Mary a public service prize in 1972. She was about to take long leave for a trip back to Ireland and Europe. She used her $100 prize money to take a tour down the Rhine.

Over the years, the Library modified the design, but the Molly trolley is still a vital piece of Library equipment. And it originated here, at the State Library of New South Wales.