Keen to share its rare collections and historic research resources, Sydney Living Museums is uploading its digitised trade catalogues and sheet music onto one of the world’s largest digital repositories.

The richness of the printed collections at Sydney Living Museums lies in the unique interplay between meticulous curatorial selection, such as at SLM’s library, and the haphazardness of extant family collections contained within some of our house museums. These differently formed collections enable SLM to share with the public material that is not only of considerable rarity, but also contexualised and representative of day-to-day life in 19th- and 20th-century Australia.

The Internet Archive offers a high-profile platform upon which SLM is distributing digitised publications from its collections via its library, The Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection (CSL&RC). These publications are searchable and SLM’s subject specialities sit alongside those of institutions and individuals with similar interests around the globe. Each record is linked to extended bibliographic descriptions in the CSL&RC’s library catalogue and some of the sheet music is linked to performance examples created in collaboration with the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.

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Pieces by composer Stephen Glover, digitised by SLM, appearing alongside similar items from collections around the world.

The CSL&RC specialises in the history of houses, interiors and gardens and has a significant printed collection that includes trade catalogues, architectural and furniture pattern books, paint charts, nursery plant catalogues, domestic manuals and sheet music. Since the library’s foundation in 1984, this material has been collected for both SLM staff and the public to access the best contemporary and historical sources available. The SLM Foundation has assisted the library in purchasing several of the rare trade catalogues digitised, and is encouraging donors to consider supporting a program to raise funds for the expanded digitisation of SLM’s rare sheet music collections. If you would like to help us to digitise our important music collections, you can donate here or contact Head of Development & Fundraising, Joy England 02 8239 2433.  

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Pages from digitised copy of A. Hutchinson & Cie, Tapis linoleum (188?). View on Internet Archive.

Sydney Living Museums’ curators have also acquired printed material to support the interpretation of those houses that do not have surviving collections. Although now museums, these properties remain dynamic interpretative spaces and the recent reinstating at Elizabeth Bay House of a lost collection of books, once belonging to the original family who built the house, is an example of how a historic domestic space can benefit from the acquisition of provenanced printed works.

The printed material in house museums with pre-existing collections, such as Rouse Hill House & Farm and Meroogal, consists of a cornucopia of subjects and formats including novels, non-fiction, trade catalogues, travel books, cookery books, magazines and sheet music.

The size and fragility of SLM’s printed collection requires an incremental approach to digitisation. The CSL&RC has uploaded 200 publications onto the Internet Archive with a focus on some of SLM’s rarest trade catalogue material and highlights from SLM’s domestic sheet music collections. At this stage, only items from the CSL&RC and Rouse Hill House & Farm are represented on the database but material from some of the other properties may be added as the project progresses.

Take a look at our digitised collections at

About the author

Dr Matthew Stephens

Research Librarian

Matthew Stephens is research librarian at the Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection.  He is particularly fascinated by early book, musical instrument and sheet music collections in NSW and the stories they tell.

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