R M S Wells (1929, Dixson Collection)
Cobden Parkes, Government Architect (1934–42, Main Reading Room)
Andrew Andersons (1988, Macquarie Street Wing)
HASSELL (2018, Mitchell building redesign)
1988 AIA (NSW) - Public Architecture Award
The State Library of NSW is the oldest library in Australia. It started out as a small subscription library in Pitt Street in 1826 for colonials who were desperate to read books. From these early beginnings it became the world class, global library it is today.
In 1869 the NSW Government purchased the library, then located on the corner of Bent and Macquarie streets, to form the Sydney Free Public Library, the first truly public library for the people of NSW.
In 1898 David Scott Mitchell promised to bequeath the NSW Government his extraordinary collections of Australian books and art (40,000 items), on the proviso that a new building was constructed to house them. Designed by the NSW Government Architect Walter Liberty Vernon, the Mitchell Library was opened in 1910 on the corner of Macquarie Street and Shakespeare Place. Sadly, DS Mitchell died before the building was completed.
In 1919 another benefactor, Sir William Dixson, offered the Library an extensive collection of historical paintings. The Dixson Wing, completed in 1929, was added to the south side of the Mitchell Wing to provide storage and gallery space for Dixson’s collection.
To rationalise the Library’s growing collections, the building was again extended in 1942. Cobden Parkes, the NSW Government Architect from 1935 to 1958, added the portico, the ornate vestibule with its reproduction of the Tasman Map in marble mosaic, and the main reading room. The name was changed to the Public Library of New South Wales.
In 1964 the Domain Wing was added to the southeast corner, and in 1975 the name changed again to the State Library of NSW. A final round of changes saw the Macquarie Wing addition in 1988 by Government Architect Andrew Andersons, bringing a new reading room (now the Governor Marie Bashir Reading Room), as well as upgrades to the public space and amenity.
Visitors should keep an eye out for the statues of Matthew Flinders and his faithful cat Trim, located outside the Library on the Macquarie Street forecourt.
The Mitchell Building has recently undergone a remarkable transformation. Heritage areas never before open to the public have been reimagined with beautiful new galleries, a learning centre and casual seating. Six new exhibitions stretch across the entire first floor of the Mitchell Building, including an impressive salon hang of over 300 paintings on permanent display for the first time.
The Mitchell Building has been a prominent Sydney icon since 1910, so improving public access to it while respecting its heritage features remains a priority for the Library. The building project uncovered some lovely heritage elements which have become features in the new spaces. Beautiful arch windows now provide previously unseen views onto The Domain. Ornate 1940s wooden doors removed from the Level 1 northern corridor of the Mitchell have been repurposed, and will now open up into the Michael Crouch Room.
New Michael Crouch Family Galleries, Dixson Galleries, Shakespeare Room, Mitchell Reading Room, Mitchell Vestibule, Friends Room & John B Fairfax Learning Centre.
Food & drink available
The library has a drop in space for families on the ground floor of the Mitchell Library.