A library in darkness (Chronicles of State Library of Queensland)

At the turn of the twentieth century, the issue of evening opening hours at State Library of Queensland (formerly Public Library of Queensland) was one that vexed regular patrons. This can be evidenced by letters of complaint sent to local Brisbane newspapers at the time about the inequity of access and discrimination of the working classes.

Public Library of Queensland (later State Library of Queensland) building on William Street, Brisbane, Queensland, 1902. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 16388

"The Library, evidently, is to be a resort for the leisured classes exclusively - a place where those who can well afford to buy their books can obtain them gratis; while the great mass of the people, the working classes of small means, intelligent artisans or labourers anxious to improve their minds, find the doors of the Library closed against them during the only hours which they can call their own. The excuse that the institution cannot afford the expense of lighting and night attendance is the adding of insult to injury." writes 'Working Student' in The Worker on May 3, 1902.

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

Although some politicians agreed in principle that the public library should extend its opening hours into the evening, the public purse necessary to install lighting would remain closed. During a debate in the Queensland Parliament on September 11, 1902, MLA for Rockhampton, William Kidston raised the issue of evening opening times. The Queensland Hansard recorded that Queensland Premier Robert Philp supported the idea in theory, however felt that maybe the Brisbane Municipal Council should bear the costs. Kenneth Grant, MLA for Rockhampton was reported to have remarked "if the Brisbane people wanted art galleries and public libraries they should be prepared to support them."

Cartoon from The Truth, 23 July 1905. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 120535

The matter of lighting continued to linger in public discussion. In 1905, The Truth newspaper published a satirical cartoon mocking the inaction and inequality shown by politicians who themselves enjoyed the luxury of lighting at the Parliamentary Library whilst the "common people" and "grafters" could not access the Public Library after dark.

William Kidston, ca.1908. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 11875

In August 1906, William Kidston, now Premier of Queensland announced that he would endeavour in the not too distant future to open the library in the evening. The Week newspaper (31/08) reported - "...Mr Kidston regards it as essential that the advantages of the institution should be made available to the people at the times when they are free to enjoy them."

In October 1906, the Department of Public Works advertised for tenders to install electric lighting at the Public Library of Queensland. Tenders were received from four businesses, Synchronome Electrical Company, £195; Laurance and Hanson, £180; Trackson Bros. Limited, £165; Brisbane Electrical Company, £152. The department awarded the contract to the Trackson Bros. (at a cost of £165 - $23,500 today).

Notice for tenders for electric light installation at the Public Library. Published in The Telegraph, Oct 6, 1906

The library had its first night-time opening in mid-November 1906 with its opening hours extended to 10pm. Interestingly, a detailed account of the first evening opening was published in the Barcaldine newspaper, The Western Champion.

"At the invitation of the contractor I was present at the re-opening of the Public Library...There have been 168 lights installed, all of brilliant power. Over the reading desks for newspapers double lights are fixed, and at the latter are three standard lights; all of them are shaded and frosted...In the recesses the electric lights are moveable, and can be taken in the hand and carried to any part of the shelves...The opening of the Library at night must be of great assistance to students and readers who, under the old regulations, had no time or opportunity for study or recreation. Now the working man has access to the national property..."

Since 1906, State Library's opening hours have changed many times.

Myles Sinnamon - Project Coordinator, State Library of Queensland



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