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As I retire today, 2 September, I am reflecting on the privilege and honour it has been to lead the State Library of NSW over the last five years. The oldest library in Australia, it is also one of the most innovative as it has become known for its digital excellence. But above all, it is a library which is so important to the people of New South Wales through its own collection and services and its support for the magnificent network of 367 public libraries across the state.
Many things come to mind at this time. The 2011 purchase from the Earl of Derby of the TAL & Dai-ichi Life Collection of 745 watercolours of flora, fauna and fish brought new understanding of the earliest days of the colony at Sydney Cove. The opening of AMAZE: The Michael Crouch Gallery in 2013, the first new gallery since 1929, allowed us to show curiosities, treasures and new acquisitions as never before and presaged the redevelopment of the Mitchell Galleries which is now under way.
The Digital Excellence Program has delivered a wonderful new website and a new catalogue to access all of our amazing collection but also a wealth of digitised stories from oral history, manuscripts, books, photographs, subdivision plans and newspapers across the state. Our capture of 80,000 social media messages during and after the Martin Place Siege showed how we can continue to keep the record today, as we have done over the last 190 years.
All of this has been achieved because of the commitment of our extraordinarily talented and dedicated staff, ongoing government support, generous donors, and the affection and support of the NSW people including especially our devoted readers and visitors. That community and government support has created a world recognised library that delivers great benefits for our state and nation.
Last year’s valuation of the collection at $3.15 billion, confirmed it as the third most valuable cultural collection in Australia and one of the state’s top 20 assets but more importantly reflects the Library’s inestimable cultural value. It truly enables Australians to interrogate our past, understand our present and imagine our future.
It has been a great honour and pleasure to end my career as the State Librarian of New South Wales.
Dr Alex Byrne
NSW State Librarian & Chief Executive