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).
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.
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.
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."
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."
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.
A timeline of State Library of Queensland's history is available on our website.
Myles Sinnamon - Project Coordinator, State Library of Queensland