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State Library of South Australia

Home > Adelaide > Libraries | Galleries | Free | Family | Books and Writing
by Graeme Fanning (subscribe)
I'm a tour guide who is passionate about South Australia and love to showcase to locals and visitors. Visit my facebook page at
Published September 2nd 2015
Be guided to the many State Library treasures
State Library of South Australia

How many of you have wandered into the State Library recently, located on North Terrace in the city?

Being the largest public reference library in South Australia, it focuses on our unique South Australiana collection of books, films, photographs, art works, letters, diaries, newspapers and other ephemera.

Did you know that apart from the collection, the State Library also runs regular tours, offers a free tutoring service for those whom English is a second language, has a large Family History section and also works closely with primary and secondary schools?

Facade of State Library of South Australia
Facade of State Library of South Australia


As part of the Marketing team, friendly and helpful "Ambassadors" are on tap to assist visitors both for general information, discovery walks around the Library as well as 1 hour free tours run Monday to Fridays at 11 am and 2 pm.

The tours take visitors through all parts of the State Library, including the magnificent Mortlock Wing, which last year was voted 19th in the top 20 beautiful libraries in the world, according to Travel and Leisure Magazine.

The general tour also visits the Spence Wing, which is the hub of the Library and this contains two of the most comprehensive collections in the Southern Hemisphere - the Paul McGuire Maritime Library as well as the Thomas Hardy Wine Library.

After visiting the ever-growing Family History section and swinging by both State Records and National Archives areas, which are now housed within the State Library complex, the tour visits several exhibition spaces.

Specialised themed tours are also conducted, which can be booked online through the State Library website including "Behind the Scenes - Care and Repair" - a tour which goes to areas not normally accessed by the public which show some of the vast archival material held in storage.

Other tours include "Your History Heartlands" - a tour which explores the precinct around the State Library, and "The Good, Bad and Barely Believable" - a tour which discusses the many stories about our early colonial characters, including the famed bushrangers.

Treasures Wall Space
Treasures Wall Space

Institute Building

The historic Institute Building which fronts on to North Terrace, is the original State Library building purposely built in 1860 and opened in 1861. Earlier this year, the building was given a major face-lift and is now even more imposing as part of the North Terrace "Cultural Boulevard".

These days the building houses several exhibition spaces, which regularly change over time. Also it contains the Basil Hetzel Lecture Theatre, the original Circulating Library, Friends of the State Library and Library Administration offices.

Institute Building
Institute Building

Treasures Wall

The Treasures Wall is an area within the State Library that is utilised as another exhibition outlet and again different exhibitions are held here throughout the year.

The panels surrounding the Wall are interesting in their own right, as they depict the varied products that South Australia is proud to call their own such as wheat, wool, green glass (used for making wine bottles), and copper.

State Library of South Australia
Institute Building c 1878 Source: State Library of South Australia 39362/1

English Language Learning Improvement Service (ELLIS)

A free Tutoring service is made available for those who are perhaps studying in Adelaide from overseas with English as their second language. Fully trained tutors are able to work with interested parties on a one-to-one basis and in conversational group work.

State Library of South Australia
Mortlock Wing c 1889 Source: State Library of South Australia 7661

The Mortlock Wing

This popular part of the State Library dates from 1884 and at one time it not only housed the Library, but also the Museum as well as the Art Gallery.

As soon as you walk in to the area, once your eyes adjust to the level of lighting, you are greeted with a magnificent view of many old books lining the upper level shelves, which were from the original Circulating Libraries which operated in South Australia early in our history, whereby people paid a subscription to be a member of the Library and could then borrow books.

The mezzanine clock dates from 1885 and was bought by Charles Todd, Government Astronomer, Post Master General and Head of Telecommunications, in England for 50 pounds. The clock still works today, wound once a week by a staff member.

There is also a great example of an 1890s Gentleman's Library up on the top floor of the northern section. This is the Symon Library, named after Josiah Symon, a nineteenth century lawyer and politician.

The very desk that Symon drafted constitution for Federation of Australia in 1901 is housed in the Library together with his donation of 7,500 English Literature/History books from his own collection, donated originally in the 1930s.

Today, 14 Exhibition Bays on the ground floor highlight the story of South Australia via different themes such as wine, religion, shipping, and social justice.

Mortlock Wing
Mortlock Wing


As South Australia's premier Reference Library, the Librarians are able to assist with most requests and much information can be sourced, as well as research undertaken.

Once you enter the State Library, you will be entranced and have the desire to make return visits over and over again.

Visitors walk through the doors from all over the world, as well as interstate and more and more locals are re-discovering our State Library.

Tours can be booked online via the State Library website

Also various online guides and resources are also available through the website.

Come and discover your own State Library - you'll be surprised when you walk through the doors!

Mortlock Wing from Eastern side
Mortlock Wing from Eastern side
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Why? Re-discover the resources of the State Library
When: Spence Wing - Mon to Wed 10 am - 8 pm Thurs & Friday 10 am - 6 pm, Sat & Sun 10 am - 5 pm
Phone: (08) 8207 7250
Where: Corner of Kintore Avenue & North Terrace, Adelaide SA 5000
Cost: Free
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