The State Library of South Australia, or SLSA, formerly known as the Public Library of South Australia, located on North Terrace, Adelaide, is the official library of the Australian state of South Australia. It is the largest public research library in the state, with a collection focus on South Australian information, being the repository of all printed and audiovisual material published in the state, as required by legal deposit legislation. It holds the “South Australiana” collection, which documents South Australia from pre-European settlement to the present day, as well as general reference material in a wide range of formats, including digital, film, sound and video recordings, photographs, and microfiche. Home access to many journals, newspapers and other resources online is available.
The State Library of South Australia’s core purpose is to collect and maintain the documented history of the state and provide access that connects people with our resources and world knowledge. To support these, we contribute to the wellbeing of the state by providing culturally enriching opportunities to our communities.
The State Library collects and maintains materials relating to South Australia and its people. SLSA have extensive South Australiana and family history resources.
For thousands of years the Kaurna people of the Adelaide plains have told their stories and kept their memories of this place alive in their oral tradition. Today, a greeting stone by Uncle Lewis O’Brien of the Kaurna people at the entrance to the State Library of South Australia welcomes visitors to a place that also keeps the memories of the state alive.
The Adelaide Mechanics Institute was founded just over a decade after the establishment of the colony, in 1847. This organisation merged with the South Australian Library in 1848, creating the “Mechanics’ Institute and South Australian Library”, based in Peacock’s Buildings, Hindley Street. Nathaniel Summers was appointed as the first librarian. It subsequently moved to Exchange Chambers, King William Street, but by 1855 had gone into decline.
In June 1856 the South Australian Legislative Council passed Act No. 16, the South Australian Institute Act, which incorporated the South Australian Institute under the control of a Board of Governors, to whose ownership all materials belonging to the old Library and Mechanics’ Institute was immediately transferred. This Act also ensured the library would be open to the public free of charge, and granted funding was allocated to it. This made the library very popular particularly amongst artisans and workmen who filled it to capacity in the evenings. At this point it was a lending library, and held a large amount of fictional work. The Act also provided for a museum as part of the new organisation.
As new books arrived from Britain, the library expanded and soon needed new accommodation, which was found in North Terrace in 1860.
The Copyright Act (1878), Part II section 15, required that a copy of every book published in South Australia was to be deposited in the Institute by a process known as legal deposit, for preservation of the books. (After Federation, the Copyright Act (1905) replaced the earlier state copyright legislation with regard to legal deposit, but the State Library continues to collect and preserve locally produced material.)
The Public Library, Museum and Art Gallery Act (1884) renamed the South Australian Institute as Public Library, Museum and Art Gallery, and also broadened the scope of the Board’s control to include the expanding network of regional and suburban institutes. It also created a new, independent body, the Adelaide Circulating Library, to take over the business of circulating books on a subscription basis.
The next important piece of legislation affecting SLSA was the 1939 number 44 Libraries and Institutes Act, which repealed the Public library, Museum and Art Gallery and Institutes Act and separated the Public Library from the (newly named) Art Gallery of South Australia and South Australian Museum, established its own board and changed its name to the Public Library of South Australia. The new entity thus became a statutory corporation.
Various reorganisations occurred through the years following, but the legislation still governing the Library is number 70 Libraries Act (1982), which repealed the Libraries and Institutes Act (1939−1979) and the Libraries (Subsidies) Act 1955-1977 (with the latest version as of July 2019 being 12 May 2011).
During the 1990s, the Library became a Division under a series of departments, responsible to the Minister for the Arts. The State Records Act 1997 separated the responsibility for management and disposal of state government records, bringing this under a State Records Council rather than the Libraries Board.
From 2001 the Library became part of the Division of Arts SA, which was part of the Department of the Premier and Cabinet, continuing to report to the Minister for the Arts.
After the election of the Marshall government in March 2018, the post of Minister for the Arts ceased to exist, Arts South Australia (as Arts SA was now known) was dismantled and its functions transferred to direct oversight by the Department of Premier and Cabinet, Arts and Culture section.
The State Library commemorates distinguished South Australians and major benefactors in its naming of buildings, rooms and spaces.
The building now known as the Mortlock Wing was opened on 18 December 1884 as a “Public Library, Museum and Art Gallery for the colony of South Australia” with 23,000 books and a staff of three. It had taken over 18 years to complete after the initial foundations were laid in 1866. (In 1873 the foundations of the western wing of a proposed new block were laid, but there the matter ended until 1876, when fresh plans were drawn, and another set of foundations put in. Again the work went no further until 1879 when the west wing was finally commenced. The earlier work was condemned, and had to be removed before the Public Library could be started.) The foundation stone was laid on 7 November 1879 by Sir William Jervois and the building was constructed by Brown and Thompson at a total cost of £43,897, and opened in 1884. Supervision for the Board of Directors was undertaken by secretary Robert Kay (1825–1904), later general director and secretary of the Public Library, Museum, and Art Gallery of South Australia.
The building is French Renaissance in style with a mansard roof. The walls are constructed of brick with Sydney freestone facings with decorations in the darker shade of Manoora stone.
The interior has two galleries, the first supported by masonry columns, and the second by cast iron brackets. The balconies feature wrought iron balustrading ornamented with gold while the glass-domed roof allows the chamber to be lit with natural light. Two of the original gas “sunburner” lamps survive in the office space located on the second floor at the southern end.
Restoration of the building occurred in 1985 as a Jubilee 150 project by Danvers Architects, consultant architect to the South Australian Department of Housing and Construction. The $1.5 million project was jointly funded by the government and the community.
In honour of a substantial bequest from John Andrew Tennant Mortlock, the Libraries Board of South Australia resolved that a percentage of the South Australiana Collections would be housed in the wing and named the Mortlock Library of South Australiana in 1986.
After the State Library underwent a substantial redevelopment, commencing in 2001 and reaching completion in 2004, the main chamber of the Mortlock Wing became an exhibition space providing a glimpse into the history and culture of South Australia.
In August 2014 the Mortlock Wing featured in a list of the top 20 most beautiful libraries of the world, compiled by the U.S. magazine Travel + Leisure.
General reference collections
The general reference and research material in the State Library was named the Bray Reference Library in 1987 after former SA Chief Justice, Dr John Jefferson Bray, who served on the Libraries Board of South Australia from 1944 to 1987.
The State Library has a national responsibility to collect, preserve and give access to historical and contemporary South Australian information. The South Australiana collections document South Australia from pre-white settlement to the present day, and the Northern Territory to 1911. The South Australiana collection is one of the most comprehensive in the world due to legal deposit requirements for published material, and through donations of unpublished material. A well known donation is the Bradman Collection of cricketing memorabilia.
York Gate Geographical and Colonial Library
The York Gate Library was acquired from the estate of Stephen William Silver, of S. W. Silver and Co. (William) a London-based company who not only sold clothing, furniture and equipment suitable for emigrants to the British Colonies, but also a series books providing relevant information for such emigrants. William had started to collect objects and books related to the areas to which their customers were migrating. These were kept in his residence at 3 York Gate, London and hence became known as the York Gate Library. When he died on 7 March 1905, the South Australia branch of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia raised the money to buy the collection of nearly 5,000 volumes and pamphlets so they could be brought to Australia. In 2006, the centenary of the establishment of the library in Australia, the collection was threatened with eviction.
The State Library’s rare books collection is the major collection of its kind in South Australia. It comprises Australian and international items which have been identified as having a special interest through subject matter or rarity.
Children’s Literature Research Collection
The Children’s Literature Research Collection was formed in 1959 and has over 65,000 books, periodicals, comics, board and table games, and toys. The collection has been enhanced by donations from South Australian individuals and families and from organisations. It is one of the State Library’s heritage collections and is of international importance.
The Library manages, in collaboration with the History Trust of South Australia, the Centre of Democracy on the corner of North Terrace and Kintore Avenue. The Centre’s gallery exhibits treasures from History Trust and State Library collections, as well as items on loan from State Records of South Australia, the Art Gallery of South Australia, the Courts Authority, Parliament House, Government House and private lenders.
The Mortlock Chamber exhibition bays showcase the richness and breadth of State Library collections, with historical and contemporary materials used to illustrate particular themes. The Mortlock Chamber is also a venue for hire.
Comprising nearly 1,000 items, the exhibition bay themes highlight areas of particular relevance to South Australia, and largely reflect State Library collection strengths providing an entry into those collections. The themes are:
A Trunk Full Of Books
South Australia was fortunate that its first Colonial Secretary, Robert Gouger, had the foresight to bring with him a trunk full of books, the nucleus of South Australia’s first public library.
Opened in 1861, the South Australian Institute Building on North Terrace was built to house a developing range of cultural collections and services. The Jervois Wing followed in 1884 and the Bastyan Wing in 1967.
The trunk full of books has grown into 50 kilometres of material as at 2004. Most of this is housed in the redeveloped Bastyan Wing that was reopened in 2003 as the Spence Wing.
The State Library continues to provide access to books and a myriad of other information sources for the people of South Australia.
A Rich Tapestry
Leaving all behind, men, women and children arrived on South Australia’s shores, shaping new lives and re-forming this most ancient of lands.
From ships’ deserters, whalers and sealers to ‘boat people’. From the carefully planned migration schemes of Edward Gibbon Wakefield, through the importation of Irish brides for lonely bushmen, to Barwell boys sent out as agricultural labourers. And more recently from those escaping nightmares in war-torn Europe and Asia.
The South Australian landscape is a rich tapestry in private ownership, in the traditional ownership of Aboriginal communities, or in the stewardship of local, state and commonwealth governments.
Wooden Walls And Iron Sides
Shipping in South Australia began with the immigrant ships, and traffic was largely one way as there was no outward cargo in 1836. Gradually exports of mineral ores, grain and wool built up as the colony grew, and cargoes went overseas or to the other colonies.
Steam took over from sail, although sailing ships were still taking the grain harvest to Europe in the 1930s. River trade on the Murray was an important component of South Australian trade.
Intercolonial passenger ships, gulf and river cruises, as well as overseas cruise ships were all part of the shipping at Port Adelaide and the outports. Sponsored by the Friends of the Paul McGuire Maritime Library
South Australia’s Christian Heritage
This exhibition is dedicated to South Australia’s founding men and women who brought to the state a rich Christian heritage that helped shape its unique identity. Many Christians believed that South Australia was distinctive because, unlike other Australian colonies, it was established by godly men and women on a religious basis. They saw it as a colony founded on the principles of religious and political liberty: a great and free colony…under the Blessing of Divine Providence as stated by Governor Hindmarsh in his Proclamation address on 28 December 1836.
During the nineteenth century, Christians worked vigorously to spread the Word, on horseback, by paddle-steamer, bicycle and camel-buggy; in the German, English, Ngarrindjeri and Aranda languages; in the bush, in farmhouses, stone chapels and cathedrals. Adelaide became known as ‘the city of churches’.
Taking It To The Edge
The discovery and exploration of South Australia by Europeans began long before colonisation in 1836. The coast was charted in 1627 and 1802, but no further exploration occurred until Charles Sturt followed the River Murray from the Great Dividing Range in the east to the sea in 1829-30.
After the establishment of Adelaide in 1836, the colonists gradually pushed out the boundaries of settlement in their search for pastures and minerals. The salt lakes of the arid interior barred initial progress, but 26 years after the first colonists landed at Glenelg, the north coast of Australia was finally reached by John McDouall Stuart.
To Be A Child
The games children play, the toys that amuse them, the books they read, all play a part in forming the adult that will be. Whether the toys are elaborately manufactured or hand made, they are an inherent part of childhood. In the world of books, children learn about the world outside the walls of their home or school or are carried away to magic worlds beyond their own.
Children’s books, toys and games are ephemeral items usually lost over time, but those displayed here have nearly all been read or played with by South Australian children and donated to the State Library for safekeeping.
The Radical Dream
South Australia was born of the ideas of a prisoner serving three years in Newgate Gaol on a conspiracy charge relating to marriage with a 15 year old heiress at Gretna Green. Edward Gibbon Wakefield’s experience of the English penal system convinced him of the need to alleviate the social problems of overpopulation by emigration to the colonies. Thus began a continuing social experiment in South Australia with high ideals being proclaimed if not always achieved in practice. When taken up they have placed South Australia at the forefront of reforms such as Women’s Suffrage, Aboriginal Land Rights and Equal Opportunity. South Australia in the 21st century is a society that Wakefield could hardly have imagined, but the tradition continues. Detail: Some recent SA Art. Flinders University Art Museum, 1989.
This Sporting Life
Sport has always been loved by South Australians, whether as participants or spectators, playing netball or bowls, cheering on their team in a Grand Final or participating in a watermelon race at a community picnic.
Because of this tradition, athletes from South Australia have tested themselves in local, national and international arenas. The colour of those areas are part of the fabric of the community.
Some of South Australia’s favourite sons and daughters are sporting icons, known around the world. The memorabilia of sport adds to the tradition, through photographs, films and videos, medals, badges and trophies, many donated to the State Library by the community.
State Of The Arts
The arts are regarded as one of South Australia’s strengths. The state enjoys an impressive reputation for creative achievement and vibrant artistic activities. South Australian artists continue to succeed nationally and internationally, in diverse fields such as visual arts, writing, film-making, music and dance. Known as ‘the festival state’, Adelaide and regional centres host approximately five hundred festivals and special events each year. These range from the multi-arts Adelaide Festival of Arts and Adelaide Fringe, to the Barossa Vintage Festival, Kernewek Lowender, and Coober Pedy Opal Festival.
Wine Literature Of The World
The State Library of South Australia has the largest collection of wine literature in the southern hemisphere and one of the biggest in the world. This is appropriate for a state whose wine industry is one of its major economic activities.
The collection ranges from an 11th-century manuscript leaf detailing punishments for drunken monks to recently published books and magazines in different languages.
Donations of wine and beer labels, menus and wine lists from the community, and diaries from wine-makers add colour and life. Although the collection is strong in South Australian and other Australian material, the aim is to cover the whole world of wine.
From The Ground Up
The architecture of South Australia is characterised by six chronological styles, beginning with Old Colonial to 1840, Victorian to 1890, Federation to 1915, Interwar, Postwar and the Late Twentieth Century from 1960. Many of the beautiful buildings standing today date from short periods of exceptional prosperity, such as the wheat boom of the 1870s and 1880s.
Architects were not required to be registered until 1939, but the major figures such as George Strickland Kingston, Thomas English, and Edmund Wright are well known. South Australia is noted for the use of corrugated iron, for underground houses at Coober Pedy, and for ‘Adelaide lace’ decorative cast iron on verandahs.
Education programs at the State Library are designed to be linked to key learning outcomes and complement the current Australian Curriculum. These programs have been created to connect learners with the rich history, collections, spaces and exhibitions of the State Library of South Australia.