Did you know that the first semi-public library in the colony of New South Wales was opened in 1810? According to Neil Hinsch’s Master’s dissertation on ‘A History of the City of Sydney Public Library,’ the genius responsible for the foundation of the public library system, by building a small room near his garden in Parramatta for the benefit of colonists and their children, was Reverend Samuel Marsden. With the support of his friends, who gave him books when he visited them in England in 1809, Marsden established a reading room which transformed the penal colony separated from the general population, a dumping site for convicts, into a place for the enlightened.
Acknowledging the role of the public libraries in the moral and intellectual development of individuals like many, Commissioner Bigge recorded in his report that since the reading requirements of the colonists could not be met adequately, the establishment of a ‘Reading Room and Circulating Library’ was essential. With the intention of providing free access to books in subjects such as theology or divinity, history, science, agriculture, minerology, biography, travels, etc., at all times, an order was placed for books, and when the first order arrived from London, ‘The Australian Subscription Library and Reading Room’, the forerunner of State Library of NSW, was opened on 1st December 1827 with thousand volumes at 86 Pitt Street in the office of the management of the Sydney Dispensary and the first librarian of this institution was Peter Cooke.
In 1843, at the corner of Bent Street and Macquarie Street where the current State Library of NSW is situated, construction work for ‘Free Public Library of Sydney’ began and was inaugurated on 1st October 1869 with a grant of $2000 per annum. As this amount was insufficient to meet all the expenditures incurred by the business service, the institution faced financial difficulties and was taken over by the Municipal Council of Sydney in 1909. How the institution evolved could be comprehended by taking a quick glance at the timeline provided below. Isn’t’ history of places a fascinating subject?