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80 years of free public libraries in NSW!

Today, 13 November, we’re celebrating 80 years of free public libraries in NSW. 

Two men cutting a cake

Library Council President the Hon George Souris AM and State Librarian John Vallance

The Library Act 1939 was a landmark law passed by State Parliament, which led to the provision of free public library services for the people of NSW.

This morning the Library Council of NSW, including President the Hon George Souris AM and State Librarian John Vallance, celebrated this significant anniversary at the new Shellharbour City Library with a ceremonial cake-cutting. 

The Act encouraged local councils to open and operate public libraries, with State Government assistance provided through the State Library of NSW. Following the commencement of the Act’s financial provisions in 1944, NSW local councils adopted the Act and opened libraries at an astonishing rate.

This partnership continues 80 years later with 373 libraries across the state providing vital information services and programs tailored to the needs and interests of their communities. In fact, public libraries are stronger and more popular than ever with 33.9 million physical visits to NSW public libraries and 40.2 million loans per year.

The Act was informed by the NSW Parliament’s Libraries Advisory Committee of 1939 and its mission is still as relevant today. The Committee advised:

  • public library service is a necessity
  • without libraries the education of the citizen cannot be carried beyond the school or lecture room
  • research is essential to commerce and industry
  • without libraries the citizen has no check on indoctrination or propaganda
  • the library’s essential purpose is the supply of literature and information necessary to the progress and prosperity of the community as a whole.

“The public library remains the one place in our community where absolutely everyone is welcome to visit, to read, to think, create, explore and challenge ideas,” says Dr Vallance.

Over the next few days the Library Council members will also visit Kiama, Shoalhaven, Bowral and Wollondilly libraries as part of a series of annual library visits.