Libraries are not typically on my list of must dos when I visit somewhere but this one, Australia’s largest with approximately 10 million items comprising books, journals, newspapers, archives, manuscripts, pictures, photographs, musical scores, maps, websites and oral history and folklore recordings in its collection, is different somehow.
The focus in on Australian items but it also has an extensive Asian, Pacific and world collection.
You should certainly visit the Treasures Gallery (open 10am – 5pm daily) showcasing some of the collection highlights. The display is changed regularly but includes Beethoven’s Life Mask, the first printed Star Atlas, a 1715 translation of Homer’s The Iliad, James Cook’s Endeavour journal, William Bligh’s list of mutineers, Azaria Chamberlain’s birth records and hospital band and an original manuscript for Waltzing Matilda.
In the event that you are Australian and want to access the main collection you must join (free) and get a library card. International visitors can apply for a temporary onsite library card (free) when visiting the library in person. The library is a reference library, not a lending library, and its collection stacks are not open to the public. If you want to use material from the collections (having secured your library card – a painless process) you need to make a request and staff will deliver the material for you to use in one of the seven reading rooms.
The National Library of Australia was set up in Melbourne in 1901 as the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library and in 1927 was moved to Canberra with the relocation of Parliament.
In 1960 the National Library was formally separated from the Parliamentary Library and moved to its current location in August 1968. The very imposing building by the lakeside is certainly worth a look in itself – a ‘modern’ classical design with stunning Leonard French stained glass windows in the marble foyer, which is also endowed with a liberal collection of tapestries and other artwork.
Main reading room opening hours. Opening hours of other reading rooms vary.
Monday to Thursday 9:00am-9:00pm
Friday and Saturday 9:00am-5:00pm
Tours, exhibitions and events.
Treasures Gallery Tour – Come face-to-face with some of the Library’s greatest treasures and Australia’s greatest stories. Daily 10.30 (30 – 40 minutes – no charge) with an additional tour at 11.30 on Monday, Wednesday and Fridays.
Behind the Scenes Tour– Meet Charlie, the robotic book trolley, visit the enormous stacks where the books are stored, and learn about strange curiosities in the Library’s collection. Every Thursday, 2pm and Saturday, 11.30am (50 minutes – no charge).
The library has regular exhibitions (and other events) of a very high quality – check its website before you visit or just turn up and see what’s on.
The library hosts an excellent (all be it slightly expensive) café – The Bookplate Café. For my money this is one of, if not, the best café in the Parliamentary Triangle area and assess is available whether or not you are actually visiting the library.
Café opening hours are:
Monday to Thursday 8:30am to 6pm
Friday 8:30am to 4pm
Saturday and Sunday 10am to 3pm
The library also has a good book/gift shop.
Address: Parkes Place
Directions: On the shore of Lake Burley Griffin, in the Parliamentary triangle.
Phone: (02) 6262 1111