THE MORTLOCK WING OF THE STATE LIBRARY OF SOUTH AUSTRALIA has been named among world’s top 25 most beautiful library buildings.
(Others on the list include: Trinity College Library, Dublin; Austrian National Library, Vienna; Library of Congress, Washington D.C.; Biblioteque National de France, Paris; Stuttgart Municipal Library, Germany.)
The building (previously the Jervois Wing) was opened in 1884 as a public library, museum and art gallery for the colony of South Australia, with 23,000 books and a staff of three.
The origin of the State Library and other South Australia libraries can be traced back to a batch of 117 books brought out on the Tam O’Shanter in 1836. The books were chosen by the South Australian Literary and Scientific Association, founded in London in 1834, soon after the British parliament passed an act to set up the province. The association’s goal was “the cultivation and diffusion of useful knowledge throughout the colony”.
In Adelaide, the 117 books went into the library of the Mechanics Institute, which hosted educational and informative public lectures. The province’s economic depression in the 1840s forced the Mechanics Institute to merge with the South Australian Subscription Library in 1848.
Starting with 475 members, the merged body lacked a home and met at the Peacock Building in Hindley Street, Adelaide, and then at Neales Exchange in King William Street. With the Adelaide Philosophical Society (Royal Society of South Australia from 1880), it lobbied the government for a cultural and education institute.
Built in 1860, the South Australian Institute building remains one of Adelaide’s most historically significant. As the city’s first cultural centre, the institute was the origin of a state library, art gallery and museum as well as a meeting place, adult education and information centre. The University Association held classes there from 1874, before Adelaide University was built.