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Sydney Public Libraryc 1931

by Normand Henry Baker

From 1845 a building on the corner of Bent and Macquarie streets housed a public library for Sydney residents which operated for 97 years. According to the Daily Telegraph in 1926 the library was ‘a dingy, evil-smelling, old building … hopelessly crammed with books’ In this painting, the library appears cramped and overflowing with readers — proving its popularity despite its shortcomings.

The Mitchell Library, on the corner diagonally opposite, had opened in 1910 and was added to over time, with the public library extensions, including the Reading Room completed in 1942. The old building on Bent Street closed the same year, and was finally demolished in 1967. However, it was material from the old public library which formed the basis of today’s collections in the State Library of NSW. The Macquarie Street building opened in 1988.