120th anniversary - Genesis of State Library of Queensland

120 years ago this month, a public meeting was held at Centennial Hall in Brisbane on October 21. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss and vote on the introduction of a public library in Brisbane, a concept which had been much discussed over the years, but with little action taken. The Brisbane Courier reported that between 50 and 60 people were present, which included several ladies. The provisional committee at this meeting featured several influential identities, including the chairman Sir Charles Lilley (former Premier of Queensland and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Queensland) and Joshua Thomas Bell (politician).

Invitation to the Queensland Public Library meeting from Public Library Provisional Committee, October 21, 1895. Taken from OM79-78 John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Invitation to the Queensland Public Library meeting from Public Library Provisional Committee, October 21, 1895. Taken from OM79-78 John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Sir Charles Lilley. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 69369

Sir Charles Lilley. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 69369

The meeting decided unanimously the public library should be established by the Queensland government. This watershed meeting would eventually lead to the establishment of the Public Library of Queensland in William Street, which was officially opened to the public in 1902, with the name eventually changed to the State Library of Queensland in 1971. State Library holds several original items documenting this genesis of SLQ.

OM79-78 Public Library Provisional Committee Minutes 1895-1935 contains the handwritten minutes of the Public Library Provisional Committee from October 1895 to January 1896. It also contains numerous newspaper clippings on the establishment of the Library, continuing up to 1935.

OM79-78 Public Library Provisional Committee Minutes 1895-1935. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

OM79-78 Public Library Provisional Committee Minutes 1895-1935. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

OM70-10 Public Library of Queensland Records 1895-1927 includes a letter of support and advice to the Public Library Provisional Committee from Henry Charles Lennox Anderson, Principal Librarian of the Free Public Library in Sydney (now State Library of New South Wales). The letter is dated a few days prior to the meeting at Centennial Hall.

Henry Charles Lennox Anderson, Principal Librarian, 1893-1906. State Library of New South Wales collection

Henry Charles Lennox Anderson, Principal Librarian, 1893-1906. State Library of New South Wales collection

The letter from Anderson offers several tips into setting up a useful library service.

"I find it hard to give you estimates of the initial expenses, for so much depends on your own ideas. We have here two staffs, one 9 am till 4.30pm. the other 4pm till 10pm. In commencing you would have only one staff, and open, say at 11am and close at 8pm."

"Don't grudge a fair salary to your Librarian, as he will make or mar your early history. Don't let the public go to the shelves, or you will lose many books, and will not get rid of the system without public friction."

"I presume you will have a Reference Room with a few hundred of the best Works of Reference, and that the books for lending will be of a good sort, not trashy cheap novels."

First page of the letter of support and advice to the Public Library Provisional Committee from Henry Charles Lennox Anderson, Principal Librarian of the Free Public Library in Sydney. OM 70-10/1. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

First page of the letter of support and advice to the Public Library Provisional Committee from Henry Charles Lennox Anderson, Principal Librarian of the Free Public Library in Sydney. OM 70-10/1. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Anderson's signature

Anderson's signature

There is also a letter of support and advice from Michael Francis Dowden, Librarian at the Public Library of Victoria (now the State Library of Victoria), which is dated December 20, 1895.

Michael Francis Dowden, Librarian, Public Library of Victoria, 1895-96. State Library of Victoria collection

Michael Francis Dowden, Librarian, Public Library of Victoria, 1895-96. State Library of Victoria collection

Dowden offers the following advice to the Queensland Public Library Provisional Committee -

"Library management and administration has now been reduced almost to a science, and, in my opinion, it is of the first importance in founding a Library to place it in the hands of some one who has experience in Library work. General education is not by itself sufficient. In the Melbourne Public Library a great part of what was done in the first twenty years had to be completely undone, causing a lot of trouble and extra expense..."

Dowden's opinion on public access differs from his Sydney counterpart -

"On this point opinions are divided, but I should certainly admit the public to the shelves."

First page of the letter of support and advice from Michael Francis Dowden, Librarian at the Public Library of Victoria. OM 70-10/1. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

First page of the letter of support and advice from Michael Francis Dowden, Librarian at the Public Library of Victoria. OM 70-10/1. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Dowden's signature

Dowden's signature

OM70-10 Public Library of Queensland Records 1895-1927 contains a handwritten 'Catalogue of Judge R Harding's library'. Justice George Rogers Harding was a noted bibliophile and after his death in 1895, his collection of books was purchased by the Public Library. The original catalogue of his collection includes the title, author, number of volumes, publisher, date of publication, where purchased and the cost.

Justice George Rogers Harding 1879. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 67489

Justice George Rogers Harding 1879. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 67489

Catalogue of Justice Harding's Library. OM 70-10/2. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Catalogue of Justice Harding's Library. OM 70-10/2. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Public Library of Queensland (State Library of Queensland) on William Street, Brisbane, 1909. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 61289

Public Library of Queensland (State Library of Queensland) on William Street, Brisbane, 1909. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 61289

State Library of Queenslands reading room, Brisbane 1902. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 16387

State Library of Queenslands reading room, Brisbane 1902. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 16387

timeline of State Library of Queensland's history is available on our website.

Myles Sinnamon - Project Coordinator, State Library of Queensland

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State Library of Queensland is proud to be hosting the 12th Australian Library History Forum in July 2016. If you have an interest in the past and future of Australasian libraries, find out more at: http://www.slq.qld.gov.au/whats-on/programs/diverse-voices-australian-l…