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Top 5 Things To See At The National Library of Australia

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by Sue W (subscribe)
Lover of exploring, family, food and fun!
Published January 5th 2017
Where you can borrow a book - and also eat cake
The National Library of Australia is located in the Parliamentary Triangle, alongside the scenic Lake Burley Griffin. It is the largest reference library in Australia, concentrating on material relating to Australia and the Australian people. When visitors first walk into the National Library, many of us expect to see thousands of books all lined up in dozens of rows. Unfortunately, not all of the books are on display, however you can order a book (or up to 15) and wait for approximately 45 minutes for the book to be delivered. It takes this long as the last time they officially counted the books in 2013, there were I6,496,772 items and 15,506 metres of manuscript material. Now, 4 years later, the number would be even more staggering. If you are interested in using this service and utilising the reading rooms, see here for how the system works.

For visitors who are just looking around however, what is there to see at the National Library? Although it may not be as large as the other national buildings in the Parliamentary Triangle, there is still a lot to discover.

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The National Library of Australia - more than just books!


1/ The Bookplate Café is a particularly popular venue, with hundreds of people visiting it every day. Located just inside the foyer, this café is an enjoyable place to sit with a coffee, cake and a book and watch the comings and goings of this busy library. If you sit inside, there is a beautiful light that streams through the floor to ceiling stained glass windows, designed by artist Leonard French (born 1928) in 1967. Run your hands over the thick material between each piece of glass and marvel at the time it would have taken to make. There are 16 of these stained glass panels in total, seen in the café, bookshop and foyer. If you sit outside, there is a spacious and shaded outdoor area with views over Lake Burley Griffin. Between 2pm - 4pm you can also see the top of the Captain Cook Memorial Jet over the trees from this higher vantage point. See here for the Bookplate Café website. For a full article on Bookplate Café, see here.

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The scenic Bookplate Café and Captain Cook Memorial Jet


2/ The Treasures Gallery is located on the Ground Floor, as you walk into the main part of the library. It is a free and permanent exhibition, with Australia's history represented in maps, rare books, photographs, paintings and items that represent our past and culture. This exhibition changes regularly, so depending on when you visit you may view the journal James Cook wrote on the Endeavour voyage (1768-1771), the journals of Burke and Wills or the original manuscript of "Waltzing Matilda". On our visit we were interested to see an Olympic torch from the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games and the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, side by side. See here for details of the Treasures Gallery.

Next to The Treasures Gallery is a temporary exhibition space, which also has free entry. At the time of writing the exhibition is titled "The Sell - Australian Advertising 1790's to 1990's". See here for What's On this month.

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The Treasures Gallery and exhibition space


3/ Artwork around the Library includes a large sculpture located across the top of the front entrance, which is a titled "Lintel Sculpture" by Tom Bass (1916 - 2010). It comprises three tonnes of copper and is inspired by the designs on ancient seals, dating back to 3000BC. Walk along the length of it and admire the designs that represents enlightenment and the continuous growth of knowledge. After walking through the front doors, look up behind you and see the "Three Tapestries" by artist Mathieu Mategot (1910 - 2001), made of merino wool. The first tapestry represents the radio telescope at Woomera, South Australia. The middle tapestry depicts Australian flora and fauna and the third tapestry depicts the whole of Australia with the Great Barrier Reef, pineapples representing the tropical north, a rams head representing our wool industry and the brown land of the outback, all woven into the tapestry. See here for more details of the artwork at the National Library of Australia.

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Left: Three Tapestries by Mathieu Mategot. Right: Lintel Sculpture by Tom Bass (above the front doors)


4/ The National Library Bookshop is located just inside the foyer and sells books, accessories, gifts, cards, wrapping paper, artwork and children's books that you don't often find anywhere else. It specialises in Australian fiction, non-fiction and children's literature titles, including the complete range of books produced by the National Library of Australia Publishing. If you are looking for a gift for a book lover that they may not have seen before, take a walk around this intriguing bookshop and discover something new. Whilst there, take some time to appreciate the Leonard French stained glass windows on this side of the building, which create an almost church-like feeling to the shop. See here for details of the Bookshop and here for a list of what you can buy - in person, or online.

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The National Library of Australia Bookshop


5/ School Holiday Activities can be found on the fourth floor in the Brindabella Room, every summer holidays and at various other times throughout the year. This large room has free entry and is set up with several tables for crafts, which teach children about language, reading or about an exhibition that is held in the temporary gallery. Each year there is a library corner to promote reading together as well as paper crafts, over-sized games and creative projects. See the What's On page for more details.

The National Library of Australia may not have as much to see as some of the other national buildings in Canberra, however if you take some time to look around, stop for a meal or take a free tour, then there are more ways to experience the National Library than meets the eye. Who would have thought the National Library of Australia would be renowned for its literature - and also for its cakes.

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...and they taste as good as they look! Chocolate and salted caramel cupcakes. Source: Bookplate Facebook

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Why? Explore this national attraction
When: See the National Library of Australia website for seasonal hours
Phone: 02 6262 1111
Where: National Library of Australia, Parkes Place, Parkes, Canberra
Cost: Free entry
Your Comment
Great article! I had no idea there was so much to do there.
by Brooke. A. R (score: 2|405) 649 days ago
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